Herbert West: Reanimator and Other Stories
High upcrowning the grassy summit of a swelling mount whose sides arewooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest stands theold chateau of my ancestors. For centuries its lofty battlements have frowneddown upon the wild and rugged countryside aboutserving as a home andstronghold for the proud house whose honored line is older even than themoss-grown castle walls. These ancient turretsstained by the storms ofgenerations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of timeformed inthe ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in allFrance. From its machicolated parapets and mounted battlements BaronsCountsand even Kings had been defiedyet never had its spacious halls resounded tothe footsteps of the invader.
But since those glorious yearsall is changed. A poverty but little abovethe level of dire wanttogether with a pride of name that forbids itsalleviation by the pursuits of commercial lifehave prevented the scions of ourline from maintaining their estates in pristine splendour; and the fallingstones of the wallsthe overgrown vegetation in the parksthe dry and dustymoatthe ill-paved courtyardsand toppling towers withoutas well as thesagging floorsthe worm-eaten wainscotsand the faded tapestries withinalltell a gloomy tale of fallen grandeur. As the ages passedfirst onethenanother of the four great turrets were left to ruinuntil at last but a singletower housed the sadly reduced descendants of the once mighty lords of theestate.
It was in one of the vast and gloomy chambers of this remaining tower that IAntoinelast of the unhappy and accursed Counts de C-first saw the light ofdayninety long years ago. Within these walls and amongst the dark and shadowyforeststhe wild ravines and grottos of the hillside belowwere spent thefirst years of my troubled life. My parents I never knew. My father had beenkilled at the age of thirty-twoa month before I was bornby the fall of astone somehow dislodged from one of the deserted parapets of the castle. And mymother having died at my birthmy care and education devolved solely upon oneremaining servitoran old and trusted man of considerable intelligencewhosename I remember as Pierre. I was an only child and the lack of companionshipwhich this fact entailed upon me was augmented by the strange care exercised bymy aged guardianin excluding me from the society of the peasant children whoseabodes were scattered here and there upon the plains that surround the base ofthe hill. At that timePierre said that this restriction was imposed upon mebecause my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company.Now I know tht its real object was to keep from my ears the idle tales of thedread curse upon our line that were nightly told and magnified by the simpletenantry as they conversed in hushed accents in the glow of their cottagehearths.
Thus isolatedand thrown upon my own resourcesI spent the hours of mychildhood in poring over the ancient tomes that filled the shadow-hauntedlibrary of the chateauand in roaming without aim or purpose through theperpetual dust of the spectral wood that clothes the side of the hill near itsfoot. It was perhaps an effect of such surroundings that my mind early acquireda shade of melancholy. Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark andoccult in nature most strongly claimed my attention.
Of my own race I was permitted to learn singularly littleyet what smallknowledge of it I was able to gain seemed to depress me much. Perhaps it was atfirst only the manifest reluctance of my old preceptor to discuss with me mypaternal ancestry that gave rise to the terror which I ever felt at the mentionof my great houseyet as I grew out of childhoodI was able. to piece togetherdisconnected fragments of discourselet slip from the unwilling tongue whichhad begun to falter in approaching senilitythat had a sort of relation to acertain circumstance which I had always deemed strangebut which now becamedimly terrible. The circumstance to which I allude is the early age at which allthe Counts of my line had met their end. Whilst I had hitherto considered thisbut a natural attribute of a family of short-lived menI afterward ponderedlong upon these premature deathsand began to connect them with the wanderingsof the old manwho often spoke of a curse which for centuries had prevented thelives of the holders of my title from much exceeding the span of thirty-twoyears. Upon my twenty-first birthdaythe aged Pierre gave to me a familydocument which he said had for many generations been handed down from father tosonand continued by each possessor. Its contents were of the most startlingnatureand its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. At this timemy belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seatedelse I should havedismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.
The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth centurywhen the oldcastle in which I sat had been a feared and impregnable fortress. It told of acertain ancient man who had once dwelled on our estatesa person of no smallaccomplishmentsthough little above the rank of peasantby nameMichelusually designated by the surname of Mauvaisthe Evilon account of hissinister reputation. He had studied beyond the custom of his kindseeking suchthings as the Philosopher's Stone or the Elixir of Eternal Lifeand was reputedwise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy. Michel Mauvais had onesonnamed Charlesa youth as proficient as himself in the hidden artswho hadtherefore been called Le Sorcieror the Wizard. This pairshunned by allhonest folkwere suspected of the most hideous practices. Old Michel was saidto have burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Deviland the unaccountabledisappearance of many small peasant children was laid at the dreaded door ofthese two. Yet through the dark natures of the father and son ran one redeemingray of humanity; the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensitywhilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.
One night the castle on the hill was thrown into the wildest confusion by thevanishment of young Godfreyson to Henrithe Count. A searching partyheadedby the frantic fatherinvaded the cottage of the sorcerers and there came uponold Michel Mauvaisbusy over a huge and violently boiling cauldron. Withoutcertain causein the ungoverned madness of fury and despairthe Count laidhands on the aged wizardand ere he released his murderous holdhis victim wasno more. Meanwhilejoyful servants were proclaiming the finding of youngGodfrey in a distant and unused chamber of the great edificetelling too latethat poor Michel had been killed in vain. As the Count and his associates turnedaway from the lowly abode of the alchemistthe form of Charles Le Sorcierappeared through the trees. The excited chatter of the menials standing abouttold him what had occurredyet he seemed at first unmoved at his father's fate.Thenslowly advancing to meet the Counthe pronounced in dull yet terribleaccents the curse that ever afterward haunted the house of C-.
`May ne'er a noble of they murd'rous line Survive to reach a greater age thanthine!'
spake hewhensuddenly leaping backwards into the black woodshe drew fromhis tunic a phial of colourless liquid which he threw into the face of hisfather's slayer as he disappeared behind the inky curtain of the night. TheCount died without utteranceand was buried the next daybut little more thantwo and thirty years from the hour of his birth. No trace of the assassin couldbe foundthough relentless bands of peasants scoured the neighboring woods andthe meadowland around the hill.
Thus time and the want of a reminder dulled the memory of the curse in theminds of the late Count's familyso that when Godfreyinnocent cause of thewhole tragedy and now bearing the titlewas killed by an arrow whilst huntingat the age of thirty-twothere were no thoughts save those of grief at hisdemise. But whenyears afterwardthe next young CountRobert by namewasfound dead in a nearby field of no apparent causethe peasants told in whispersthat their seigneur had but lately passed his thirty-second birthday whensurprised by early death. Louisson to Robertwas found drowned in the moat atthe same fateful ageand thus down through the centuries ran the ominouschronicle: HenrisRobertsAntoinesand Armands snatched from happy andvirtuous lives when little below the age of their unfortunate ancestor at hismurder.
That I had left at most but eleven years of further existence was madecertain to me by the words which I had read. My lifepreviously held at smallvaluenow became dearer to me each dayas I delved deeper and deeper into themysteries of the hidden world of black magic. Isolated as I wasmodern sciencehad produced no impression upon meand I laboured as in the Middle Agesaswrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition ofdemonological and alchemical learning. Yet read as I mightin no manner could Iaccount for the strange curse upon my line. In unusually rational moments Iwould even go so far as to seek a natural explanationattributing the earlydeaths of my ancestors to the sinister Charles Le Sorcier and his heirs; yethaving found upon careful inquiry that there were no known descendants of thealchemistI would fall back to occult studiesand once more endeavor to find aspellthat would release my house from its terrible burden. Upon one thing Iwas absolutely resolved. I should never wedforsince no other branch of myfamily was in existenceI might thus end the curse with myself.
As I drew near the age of thirtyold Pierre was called to the land beyond.Alone I buried him beneath the stones of the courtyard about which he had lovedto wander in life. Thus was I left to ponder on myself as the only humancreature within the great fortressand in my utter solitude my mind began tocease its vain protest against the impending doomto become almost reconciledto the fate which so many of my ancestors had met. Much of my time was nowoccupied in the exploration of the ruined and abandoned halls and towers of theold chateauwhich in youth fear had caused me to shunand some of which oldPierre had once told me had not been trodden by human foot for over fourcenturies. Strange and awesome were many of the objects I encountered. Furniturecovered by the dust of ages and crumbling with the rot of long dampnessmet myeyes. Cobwebs in a profusion never before seen by me were spun everywhereandhuge bats flapped their bony and uncanny wings on all sides of the otherwiseuntenanted gloom.
Of my exact ageeven down to days and hoursI kept a most careful recordfor each movement of the pendulum of the massive clock in the library told offso much of my doomed existence. At length I approached that time which I had solong viewed with apprehension. Since most of my ancestors had been seized somelittle while before they reached the exact age of Count Henri at his endI wasevery moment on the watch for the coming of the unknown death. In what strangeform the curse should overtake meI knew not; but I was resolved at least thatit should not find me a cowardly or a passive victim. With new vigour I appliedmyself to my examination of the old chateau and its contents.
It was upon one of the longest of all my excursions of discovery in thedeserted portion of the castleless than a week before that fatal hour which Ifelt must mark the utmost limit of my stay on earthbeyond which I could havenot even the slightest hope of continuing to draw breath. that I came upon theculminating event of my whole life. I had spent the better part of the morningin climbing up and down half ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated ofthe ancient turrets. As the afternoon progressedI sought the lower levelsdescending into what appeared to be either a mediaeval place of confinementora more recently excavated storehouse for gunpowder. As I slowly traversed thenitre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircasethe paving becamevery dampand soon I saw by the light of my flickering torch that a blankwater-stained wall impeded my journey. Turning to retrace my stepsmy eye fellupon a small trapdoor with a ringwhich lay directly beneath my foot. PausingI succeeded with difficulty in raising itwhereupon there was revealed a blackapertureexhaling noxious fumes which caused my torch to sputteranddisclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps.
As soon as the torch which I lowered into the repellent depths burned freelyand steadilyI commenced my descent. The steps were manyand led to a narrowstone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. This passage provedof great lengthand terminated in a massive oaken doordripping with themoisture of the placeand stoutly resisting all my attempts to open it. Ceasingafter a time my efforts in this directionI had proceeded back some distancetoward the steps when there suddenly fell to my experience one of the mostprofound and maddening shocks capable of reception by the human mind. WithoutwarningI heard the heavy door behind me creak slowly open upon its rustedhinges. My immediate sensations were incapable of analysis. To be confronted ina place as thoroughly deserted as I had deemed the old castle with evidence ofthe presence of man or spirit produced in my brain a horror of the most acutedescription. When at last I turned and faced the seat of the soundmy eyes musthave started from their orbits at the sight that they beheld.
There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure. It was that of aman clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour. His long hairand flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hueand of incredibleprofusion. His foreheadhigh beyond the usual dimensions; his cheeksdeep-sunken and heavily lined with wrinkles; and his handslongclaw-likeandgnarledwere of such a deadly marble-like whiteness as I have never elsewhereseen in man. His figurelean to the proportions of a skeletonwas strangelybent and almost lost within the voluminous folds of his peculiar garment. Butstrangest of all were his eyestwin caves of abysmal blacknessprofound inexpression of understandingyet inhuman in degree of wickedness. These were nowfixed upon mepiercing my soul with their hatredand rooting me to the spotwhereon I stood.
At last the figure spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with itsdull hollowness and latent malevolence. The language in which the discourse wasclothed was that debased form of Latin in use amongst the more learned men ofthe Middle Agesand made familiar to me by my prolonged researches into theworks of the old alchemists and demonologists. The apparition spoke of the cursewhich had hovered over my housetold me of my coming enddwelt on the wrongperpetrated by my ancestor against old Michel Mauvaisand gloated over therevenge of Charles Le Sorcier. He told how young Charles has escaped into thenightreturning in after years to kill Godfrey the heir with an arrow just ashe approached the age which had been his father's at his assassination; how hehad secretly returned to the estate and established himselfunknownin theeven then deserted subterranean chamber whose doorway now framed the hideousnarratorhow he had seized Robertson of Godfreyin a fieldforced poisondown his throatand left him to die at the age of thirty-twothus maintaingthe foul provisions of his vengeful curse. At this point I was left to imaginethe solution of the greatest mystery of allhow the curse had been fulfilledsince that time when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of nature have diedfor the man digressed into an account of the deep alchemical studies of the twowizardsfather and sonspeaking most particularly of the researches of CharlesLe Sorcier concerning the elixir which should grant to him who partook of iteternal life and youth.
His enthusiasm had seemed for the moment to remove from his terrible eyes theblack malevolence that had first so haunted mebut suddenly the fiendish glarereturned andwith a shocking sound like the hissing of a serpentthe strangerraised a glass phial with the evident intent of ending my life as had Charles LeSorciersix hundred years beforeended that of my ancestor. Prompted by somepreserving instinct of self-defenseI broke through the spell that had hithertoheld me immovableand flung my now dying torch at the creature who menaced myexistence. I heard the phial break harmlessly against the stones of the passageas the tunic of the strange man caught fire and lit the horrid scene with aghastly radiance. The shriek of fright and impotent malice emitted by thewould-be assassin proved too much for my already shaken nervesand I fell proneupon the slimy floor in a total faint.
When at last my senses returnedall was frightfully darkand my mindremembering what had occurredshrank from the idea of beholding any more; yetcuriosity over-mastered all. WhoI asked myselfwas this man of eviland howcame he within the castle walls? Why should he seek to avenge the death ofMichel Mauvaisand how bad the curse been carried on through all the longcenturies since the time of Charles Le Sorcier? The dread of years was liftedfrom my shoulderfor I knew that he whom I had felled was the source of all mydanger from the curse; and now that I was freeI burned with the desire tolearn more of the sinister thing which had haunted my line for centuriesandmade of my own youth one long-continued nightmare. Determined upon furtherexplorationI felt in my pockets for flint and steeland lit the unused torchwhich I had with me.
First of allnew light revealed the distorted and blackened form of themysterious stranger. The hideous eyes were now closed. Disliking the sightIturned away and entered the chamber beyond the Gothic door. Here I found whatseemed much like an alchemist's laboratory. In one corner was an immense pile ofshining yellow metal that sparkled gorgeously in the light of the torch. It mayhave been goldbut I did not pause to examine itfor I was strangely affectedby that which I had undergone. At the farther end of the apartment was anopening leading out into one of the many wild ravines of the dark hillsideforest. Filled with wonderyet now realizing how the man had obtained access tothe chauteauI proceeded to return. I had intended to pass by the remains ofthe stranger with averted face butas I approached the bodyI seemed to hearemanating from it a faint sound. as though life were not yet wholly extinct.AghastI turned to examine the charred and shrivelled figure on the floor.
Then all at once the horrible eyesblacker even than the seared face inwhich they were setopened wide with an expression which I was unable tointerpret. The cracked lips tried to frame words which I could not wellunderstand. Once I caught the name of Charles Le Sorcierand again I fanciedthat the words `years' and `curse' issued from the twisted mouth. Still I was ata loss to gather the purport of his disconnnected speech. At my evidentignorance of his meaningthe pitchy eyes once more flashed malevolently at meuntilhelpless as I saw my opponent to beI trembled as I watched him.
Suddenly the wretchanimated with his last burst of strengthraised hispiteous head from the damp and sunken pavement. Thenas I remainedparalyzedwith fearhe found his voice and in his dying breath screamed forth those wordswhich have ever afterward haunted my days and nights. `Fool!' he shrieked`Canyou not guess my secret? Have you no brain whereby you may recognize the willwhich has through six long centuries fulfilled the dreadful curse upon thehouse? Have I not told you of the great elixir of eternal life? Know you not howthe secret of Alchemy was solved? I tell youit is I! I! I! that have lived forsix hundred years to maintain my revengefor I am Charles Le Sorcier!'
The Beast in the Cave
The horrible conclusion which had been gradually obtruding itself upon myconfused and reluctant mind was now an awful certainty. I was lostcompletelyhopelessly lost in the vast and labyrinthine recess of the Mammoth Cave. Turn asI mightIn no direction could my straining vision seize on any object capableof serving as a guidepost to set me on the outward path. That nevermore should Ibehold the blessed light of dayor scan the pleasant bills and dales of thebeautiful world outsidemy reason could no longer entertain the slightestunbelief. Hope had departed. Yetindoctrinated as I was by a life ofphilosophical studyI derived no small measure of satisfaction from myunimpassioned demeanour; for although I had frequently read of the wild frenziesinto which were thrown the victims of similar situationI experienced none ofthesebut stood quiet as soon as I clearly realised the loss of my bearings.
Nor did the thought that I had probably wandered beyond the utmost limits ofan ordinary search cause me to abandon my composure even for a moment. If I mustdieI reflectedthen was this terrible yet majestic cavern as welcome asepulchre as that which any churchyard might afforda conception which carriedwith it more of tranquillity than of despair.
Starving would prove my ultimate fate; of this I was certain. SomeI knewhad gone mad under circumstances such as thesebut I felt that this end wouldnot be mine. My disaster was the result of no fault save my ownsince unknownto the guide I had separated myself from the regular party of sightseers; andwandering for over an hour in forbidden avenues of the cavehad found myselfunable to retrace the devious windings which I had pursued since forsaking mycompanions.
Already my torch had begun to expire; soon I would be enveloped by the totaland almost palpable blackness of the bowels of the earth. As I stood in thewaningunsteady lightI idly wondered over the exact circumstances of mycoming end. I remembered the accounts which I had heard of the colony ofconsumptiveswhotaking their residence in this gigantic grotto to find healthfrom the apparently salubrious air of the underground worldwith its steadyuniform temperaturepure airand peaceful quiethad foundinsteaddeath instrange and ghastly form. I had seen the sad remains of their ill-made cottagesas I passed them by with the partyand had wondered what unnatural influence along sojourn in this immense and silent cavern would exert upon one as healthyand vigorous as I. NowI grimly told myselfmy opportunity for settling thispoint had arrivedprovided that want of food should not bring me too speedy adeparture from this life.
As the last fitful rays of my torch faded into obscurityI resolved to leaveno stone unturnedno possible means of escape neglected; sosummoning all thepowers possessed by my lungsI set up a series of loud shoutingsin the vainhope of attracting the attention of the guide by my clamour. Yetas I calledIbelieved in my heart that my cries were to no purposeand that my voicemagnified and reflected by the numberless ramparts of the black maze about mefell upon no ears save my own.
All at oncehowevermy attention was fixed with a start as I fancied that Iheard the sound of soft approaching steps on the rocky floor of the cavern.
Was my deliverance about to be accomplished so soon? Hadthenall myhorrible apprehensions been for naughtand was the guidehaving marked myunwarranted absence from the partyfollowing my course and seeking me out inthis limestone labyrinth? Whilst these joyful queries arose in my brainI wason the point of renewing my criesin order that my discovery might come thesoonerwhen in an instant my delight was turned to horror as I listened; for myever acute earnow sharpened in even greater degree by the complete silence ofthe cavebore to my benumbed understanding the unexpected and dreadfulknowledge that these footfalls were not like those of any mortal man. In theunearthly stillness of this subterranean regionthe tread of the booted guidewould have sounded like a series of sharp and incisive blows. These impacts weresoftand stealthyas of the paws of some feline. Besideswhen I listenedcarefullyI seemed to trace the falls of four instead of two feet.
I was now convinced that I had by my own cries aroused and attracted somewild beastperhaps a mountain lion which had accidentally strayed within thecave. PerhapsI consideredthe Almighty had chosen for me a swifter and moremerciful death than that of hunger; yet the instinct of self-preservationneverwholly dormantwas stirred in my breastand though escape from the on-comingperil might but spare me for a sterner and more lingering endI determinednevertheless to part with my life at as high a price as I could command. Strangeas it may seemmy mind conceived of no intent on the part of the visitor savethat of hostility. AccordinglyI became very quietIn the hope that theunknown beast wouldIn the absence of a guiding soundlose its direction ashad Iand thus pass me by. But this hope was not destined for realisationforthe strange footfalls steadily advancedthe animal evidently having obtained myscentwhich in an atmosphere so absolutely free from all distracting influencesas is that of the cavecould doubtless be followed at great distance.
Seeing therefore that I must be armed for defense against an uncanny andunseen attack in the darkI groped about me the largest of the fragments ofrock which were strewn upon all parts of the floor of the cavern In the vicinityand grasping one in each hand for immediate useawaited with resignation theinevitable result. Meanwhile the hideous pattering of the paws drew near.Certainlythe conduct of the creature was exceedingly strange. Most of thetimethe tread seemed to be that of a quadrupedwalking with a singular lackof unison betwixt hind and fore feetyet at brief and infrequent intervals Ifancied that but two feet were engaged in the process of locomotion. I wonderedwhat species of animal was to confront me; it mustI thoughtbe someunfortunate beast who had paid for its curiosity to investigate one of theentrances of the fearful grotto with a life-long confinement in its interminablerecesses. It doubtless obtained as food the eyeless fishbats and rats of thecaveas well as some of the ordinary fish that are wafted in at every freshetof Green Riverwhich communicates in some occult manner with the waters of thecave. I occupied my terrible vigil with grotesque conjectures of what alterationcave life might have wrought In the physical structure of the beastrememberingthe awful appearances ascribed by local tradition to the consumptives who haddied after long residence in the cave. Then I remembered with a start thatevenshould I succeed in felling my antagonistI should never behold its formas mytorch had long since been extinctand I was entirely unprovided with matches.The tension on my brain now became frightful. My disordered fancy conjured uphideous and fearsome shapes from the sinister darkness that surrounded meandthat actually seemed to press upon my body. Nearernearerthe dreadfulfootfalls approached. It seemed that I must give vent to a piercing screamyethad I been sufficiently irresolute to attempt such a thingmy voice couldscarce have responded. I was petrifiedrooted to the spot. I doubted if myright arm would allow me to hurl its missile at the oncoming thing when thecrucial moment should arrive. Now the steady patpatof the steps was close athand; now very close. I could hear the laboured breathing of the animalandterror-struck as I wasI realised that it must have come from a considerabledistanceand was correspondingly fatigued. Suddenly the spell broke. My righthandguided by my ever trustworthy sense of hearingthrew with full force thesharp-angled bit of limestone which it containedtoward that point in thedarkness from which emanated the breathing and patteringandwonderful torelateit nearly reached its goalfor I heard the thing jump landing at adistance awaywhere it seemed to pause.
Having readjusted my aimI discharged my second missilethis time moateffectivelyfor with a flood of joy I listened as the creature fell in whatsounded like a complete collapse and evidently remained prone and unmoving.Almost overpowered by the great relief which rushed over meI reeled backagainst the wall. The breathing continuedin heavygasping inhalation. andexpirationswhence I realised that I had no more than wounded the creature. Andnow all desire to examine the thing ceased. At last something allied togroundlesssuperstitious fear had entered my brainand I did not approach thebodynor did I continue to cast stones at it in order to complete theextinction of its life. InsteadI ran at full speed in what wasas nearly as Icould estimate in my frenzied conditionthe direction from which I had come.Suddenly I heard a sound or rathera regular succession of sounds. In anotherInstant they had resolved themselves into a series of sharpmetallic clicks.This time there was no doubt. It was the guide. And then I shoutedyelledscreamedeven shrieked with joy as I beheld in the vaulted arches above thefaint and glimmering effulgence which I knew to be the reflected light of anapproaching torch. I ran to meet the flareand before I could completelyunderstand what had occurredwas lying upon the ground at the feet of theguideembracing his boots and gibbering. despite my boasted reservein a mostmeaningless and idiotic mannerpouring out my terrible storyand at the sametime overwhelming my auditor with protestations of gratitude. At lengthI awoketo something like my normal consciousness. The guide had noted my absence uponthe arrival of the party at the entrance of the caveand hadfrom his ownintuitive sense of directionproceeded to make a thorough canvass ofby-passages just ahead of where he had last spoken to melocating mywhereabouts after a quest of about four hours.
By the time he had related this to meIemboldened by his torch and hiscompanybegan to reflect upon the strange beast which I had wounded but a shortdistance back in the darknessand suggested that we ascertainby theflashlight's aidwhat manner of creature was my victim. Accordingly I retracedmy stepsthis time with a courage born of companionshipto the scene of myterrible experience. Soon we descried a white object upon the flooran objectwhiter even than the gleaming limestone itself. Cautiously advancingwe gavevent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wondermentfor of all the unnaturalmonsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheldthis was in surpassing degreethe strangest. It appeared to be an anthropoid ape of large proportionsescapedperhapsfrom some itinerant menagerie. Its hair was snow-whitea thing due nodoubt to the bleaching action of a long existence within the inky confines ofthe cavebut it was also surprisingly thinbeing indeed largely absent save onthe headwhere it was of such length and abundance that it fell over theshoulders in considerable profusion. The face was turned away from usas thecreature lay almost directly upon it. The inclination of the limbs was verysingularexplaininghoweverthe alternation in their use which I bad beforenotedwhereby the beast used sometimes all fourand on other occasions but twofor its progress. From the tips of the fingers or toeslong rat-like clawsextended. The hands or feet were not prehensilea fact that I ascribed to thatlong residence in the cave whichas I before mentionedseemed evident from theall-pervading and almost unearthly whiteness so characteristic of the wholeanatomy. No tail seemed to be present.
The respiration had now grown very feebleand the guide had drawn his pistolwith the evident intent of despatching the creaturewhen a sudden sound emittedby the latter caused the weapon to fall unused. The sound was of a naturedifficult to describe. It was not like the normal note of any known species ofsimianand I wonder if this unnatural quality were not the result of a longcontinued and complete silencebroken by the sensations produced by the adventof the lighta thing which the beast could not have seen since its firstentrance into the cave. The soundwhich I might feebly attempt to classify as akind of deep-tone chatteringwas faintly continued.
All at once a fleeting spasm of energy seemed to pass through the frame ofthe beast. The paws went through a convulsive motionand the limbs contracted.With a jerkthe white body rolled over so that its face was turned in ourdirection. For a moment I was so struck with horror at the eyes thus revealedthat I noted nothing else. They were blackthose eyesdeep jetty blackinhideous contrast to the snow-white hair and flesh. Like those of other cavedenizensthey were deeply sunken in their orbitsand were entirely destituteof iris. As I looked more closelyI saw that they were set in a face lessprognathous than that of the average apeand infinitely less hairy. The nosewas quite distinct. As we gazed upon the uncanny sight presented to our visionthe thick lips openedand several sounds issued from themafter which thething relaxed in death.
The guide clutched my coatsleeve and trembled so violently that the lightshook fitfullycasting weird moving shadows on the walls.
I made no motionbut stood rigidly stillmy horrified eyes fixed upon thefloor ahead.
The fear leftand wonderawecompassionand reverence succeeded in itsplacefor the sounds uttered by the stricken figure that lay stretched out onthe limestone had told us the awesome truth. The creature I had killedthestrange beast of the unfathomed cavewasor had at one time been a MAN!!!
In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinlytearing a pathfor its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree.And within the depths of the valleywhere the light reaches notmove forms notmeant to be beheld. Rank is the herbage on each slopewhere evil vines andcreeping plants crawl amidst the stones of ruined palacestwining tightly aboutbroken columns and strange monolithsand heaving up marble pavements laid byforgotten hands. And in trees that grow gigantic in crumbling courtyards leaplittle apeswhile in and out of deep treasure-vaults writhe poison serpents andscaly things without a name. Vast are the stones which sleep beneath coverletsof dank mossand mighty were the walls from which they fell. For all time didtheir builders erect themand in sooth they yet serve noblyfor beneath themthe grey toad makes his habitation.
At the very bottom of the valley lies the river Thanwhose waters are slimyand filled with weeds. From hidden springs it risesand to subterraneangrottoes it flowsso that the Daemon of the Valley knows not why its waters arerednor whither they are bound.
The Genie that haunts the moonbeams spake to the Daemon of the Valleysaying"I am oldand forget much. Tell me the deeds and aspect and name of themwho built these things of Stone." And the Daemon replied"I am Memoryand am wise in lore of the pastbut I too am old. These beings were like thewaters of the river Thannot to be understood. Their deeds I recall notforthey were but of the moment. Their aspect I recall dimlyit was like to that ofthe little apes in the trees. Their name I recall clearlyfor it rhymed withthat of the river. These beings of yesterday were called Man."
So the Genie flew back to the thin horned moonand the Daemon lookedintently at a little ape in a tree that grew in a crumbling courtyard.
The Picture in the House
Searchers after horror haunt strangefar places. For them are the catacombsof Ptolemaisand the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb tothe moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castlesand falter down black cobwebbedsteps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted woodand the desolate mountain are their shrinesand they linger around the sinistermonoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terribleto whoma new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification ofexistenceesteems most of all the ancientlonely farmhouses of backwoods NewEngland; for there the dark elements of strengthsolitudegrotesqueness andignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.
Most horrible of all sights are the little unpainted wooden houses remotefrom travelled waysusually squatted upon some damp grassy slope or leaningagainst some gigantic outcropping of rock. Two hundred years and more they haveleaned or squatted therewhile the vines have crawled and the trees haveswelled and spread. They are almost hidden now in lawless luxuriances of greenand guardian shrouds of shadow; but the small-paned windows still stareshockinglyas if blinking through a lethal stupor which wards off madness bydulling the memory of unutterable things.
In such houses have dwelt generations of strange peoplewhose like the worldhas never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them fromtheir kindtheir ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scionsof a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of theirfellowsbut cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of theirown minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilizationthe strength ofthese Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolationmorbidself-repressionand struggle for life with relentless Naturethere came tothem dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northernheritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy sternthese folks were notbeautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals mustthey were forced by theirrigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less andless taste in what they concealed. Only the silentsleepystaring houses inthe backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early daysand theyare not communicativebeing loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps themforget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these housesfor they must often dream.
It was to a time-battered edifice of this description that I was driven oneafternoon in November1896by a rain of such chilling copiousness that anyshelter was preferable to exposure. I had been travelling for some time amongstthe people of the Miskatonic Valley in quest of certain genealogical data; andfrom the remotedeviousand problematical nature of my coursehad deemed itconvenient to employ a bicycle despite the lateness of the season. Now I foundmyself upon an apparently abandoned road which I had chosen as the shortest cutto Arkhamovertaken by the storm at a point far from any townand confrontedwith no refuge save the antique and repellent wooden building which blinked withbleared windows from between two huge leafless elms near the foot of a rockyhill. Distant though it is from the remnant of a roadthis house none the lessimpressed me unfavorably the very moment I espied it. Honestwholesomestructures do not stare at travellers so slyly and hauntinglyand in mygenealogical researches I had encountered legends of a century before whichbiased me against places of this kind. Yet the force of the elements was such asto overcome my scruplesand I did not hesitate to wheel my machine up the weedyrise to the closed door which seemed at once so suggestive and secretive.
I had somehow taken it for granted that the house was abandonedyet as Iapproached it I was not so surefor though the walks were indeed overgrown withweedsthey seemed to retain their nature a little tco well to argue completedesertion. Therefore instead of trying the dcor I knockedfeeling as I did so atrepidation I could scarcely explain. As I waited on the roughmossy rock whichserved as a dcor-stepI glanced at the neighboring windows and the panes of thetransom above meand noticed that although oldrattlingand almost opaquewith dirtthey were not broken. The buildingthenmust still be inhabiteddespite its isolation and general neglect. Howevermy rapping evoked noresponseso after repeating the summons I tried the rusty latch and found thedoor unfastened. Inside was a little vestibule with walls from which the plasterwas fallingand through the doorway came a faint but peculiarly hateful odor. Ienteredcarrying my bicycleand closed the door behind me. Ahead rose a narrowstaircaseflanked by a small door probably leading to the cellarwhile to theleft and right were closed doors leading to rooms on the ground floor.
Leaning my cycle against the wall I opened the door at the leftand crossedinto a small low-ceiled chamber but dimly lighted by its two dusty windows andfurnished in the barest and most primitive possible way. It appeared to be akind of sitting-roomfor it had a table and several chairsand an immensefireplace above which ticked an antique clock on a mantel. Books and papers werevery fewand in the prevailing gloom I could not readily discern the titles.What interested me was the uniform air of archaism as displayed in every visibledetail. Most of the houses in this region I had found rich in relics of thepastbut here the antiquity was curiously complete; for in all the room I couldnot discover a single article of definitely post-revolutionary date. Had thefurnishings been less humblethe place would have been a collector's paradise.
As I surveyed this quaint apartmentI felt an increase in that aversionfirst excited by the bleak exterior of the house. Just what it was that I fearedor loathedI could by no means define; but something in the whole atmosphereseemed redolent of unhallowed ageof unpleasant crudenessand of secrets whichshould be forgotten. I felt disinclined to sit downand wandered aboutexamining the various articles which I had noticed. The first object of mycuriosity was a book of medium size lying upon the table and presenting such anantediluvian aspect that I marvelled at beholding it outside a museum orlibrary. It was bound in leather with metal fittingsand was in an excellentstate of preservation; being altogether an unusual sort of volume to encounterin an abode so lowly. When I opened it to the title page my wonder grew evengreaterfor it proved to be nothing less rare than Pigafetta's account of theCongo regionwritten in Latin from the notes of the sailor Lopex and printed atFrankfurt in 1598. I had often heard of this workwith its curiousillustrations by the brothers De Bryhence for a moment forgot my uneasiness inmy desire to turn the pages before me. The engravings were indeed interestingdrawn wholly from imagination and careless descriptionsand represented negroeswith white skins and Caucasian features; nor would I soon have closed the bookhad not an exceedingly trivial circumstance upset my tired nerves and revived mysensation of disquiet. What annoyed me was merely the persistent way in whichthe volume tended to fall open of itself at Plate XIIwhich represented ingruesome detail a butcher's shop of the cannibal Anziques. I experienced someshame at my susceptibility to so slight a thingbut the drawing neverthelessdisturbed meespecially in connection with some adjacent passages descriptiveof Anzique gastronomy.
I had turned to a neighboring shelf and was examining its meagre literarycontents - an eighteenth century Biblea "Pilgrim's Progress" of likeperiodillustrated with grotesque woodcuts and printed by the almanack-makerIsaiah Thomasthe rotting bulk of Cotton Mather's "Magnalia ChristiAmericana" and a few other books of evidently equal age - when myattention was aroused by the unmistakable sound of walking in the room overhead.At first astonished and startledconsidering the lack of response to my recentknocking at the doorI immediately afterward concluded that the walker had justawakened from a sound sleepand listened with less surprise as the footstepssounded on the creaking stairs. The tread was heavyyet seemed to contain acurious quality of cautiousness; a quality which I disliked the more because thetread was heavy. When I had entered the room I had shut the door behind me. Nowafter a moment of silence during which the walker may have been inspecting mybicycle in the hallI heard a fumbling at the latch and saw the paneled portalswing open again.
In the doorway stood a person of such singular appearance that I should haveexclaimed aloud but for the restraints of good breeding. Oldwhite-beardedandraggedmy host possessed a countenance and physique which inspired equal wonderand respect. His height could not have been less than six feetand despite ageneral air of age and poverty he was stout and powerful in proportion. Hisfacealmost hidden by a long beard which grew high on the cheeksseemedabnormally ruddy and less wrinkled than one might expect; while over a highforehead fell a shock of white hair little thinned by the years. His blue eyesthough a trifle bloodshotseemed inexplicably keen and burning. But for hishorrible unkemptness the man would have been as distinguished-looking as he wasimpressive. This unkemptnesshowevermade him offensive despite his face andfigure. Of what his clothing consisted I could hardly tellfor it seemed to meno more than a mass of tatters surmounting a pair of highheavy boots; and hislack of cleanliness surpassed description.
The appearance of this manand the instinctive fear he inspiredprepared mefor something like enmity; so that I almost shuddered through surprise and asense of uncanny incongruity when he motioned me to a chair and addressed me ina thinweak voice full of fawning respect and ingratiating hospitality. Hisspeech was very curiousan extreme form of Yankee dialect I had thought longextinct; and I studied it closely as he sat down opposite me for conversation.
"Ketched in the rainbe ye?" he greeted. "Glad ye was nighthe haouse en' hed the sense ta come right in. I calc'late I was alseepelseI'd a heerd ye-I ain't as young as I uster bean' I need a paowerful sight o'naps naowadays. Trav'lin fur? I hain't seed many folks 'long this rud sence theytuk off the Arkham stage."
I replied that I was going to Arkhamand apologized for my rude entry intohis domicilewhereupon he continued.
"Glad ta see yeyoung Sir - new faces is scurce arount herean' Ihain't got much ta cheer me up these days. Guess yew hail from Bostingdon'tye? I never ben tharbut I kin tell a taown man when I see 'im - we hed one ferdeestrick schoolmaster in 'eighty-fourbut he quit suddent an' no one neverheerd on 'im sence - " here the old man lapsed into a kind of chuckleandmade no explanation when I questioned him. He seemed to be in an aboundinglygood humoryet to possess those eccentricities which one might guess from hisgrooming. For some time he rambled on with an almost feverish genialitywhen itstruck me to ask him how he came by so rare a book as Pigafetta's "RegnumCongo." The effect of this volume had not left meand I felt a certainhesitancy in speaking of itbut curiosity overmastered all the vague fearswhich had steadily accumulated since my first glimpse of the house. To myreliefthe question did not seem an awkward onefor the old man answeredfreely and volubly.
"Ohthat Afriky book? Cap'n Ebenezer Holt traded me thet in'sixty-eight - him as was kilt in the war." Something about the name ofEbenezer Holt caused me to look up sharply. I had encountered it in mygenealogical workbut not in any record since the Revolution. I wondered if myhost could help me in the task at which I was laboringand resolved to ask himabout it later on. He continued.
"Ebenezer was on a Salem merchantman for yearsan' picked up a sight o'queer stuff in every port. He got this in LondonI guess - he uster like terbuy things at the shops. I was up ta his haouse oncton the hilltradin'hosseswhen I see this book. I relished the pictersso he give it in on aswap. 'Tis a queer book - hereleave me git on my spectacles-" The old manfumbled among his ragsproducing a pair of dirty and amazingly antique glasseswith small octagonal lenses and steel bows. Donning thesehe reached for thevolume on the table and turned the pages lovingly.
"Ebenezer cud read a leetle o' this-'tis Latin - but I can't. I had twoer three schoolmasters read me a bitand Passon Clarkhim they say gotdraownded in the pond - kin yew make anything outen it?" I told him that Icouldand translated for his benefit a paragraph near the beginning. If Ierredhe was not scholar enough to correct me; for he seemed childishly pleasedat my English version. His proximity was becoming rather obnoxiousyet I saw noway to escape without offending him. I was amused at the childish fondness ofthis ignorant old man for the pictures in a book he could not readand wonderedhow much better he could read the few books in English which adorned the room.This revelation of simplicity removed much of the ill-defined apprehension I hadfeltand I smiled as my host rambled on:
"Queer haow picters kin set a body thinkin'. Take this un here near thefront. Hey yew ever seed trees like thetwith big leaves a floppin' over an'daown? And them men - them can't be niggers - they dew beat all. Kinder likeInjunsI guesseven ef they be in Afriky. Some o' these here critters lookslike monkeysor half monkeys an' half menbut I never heerd o' nothin' likethis un." Here he pointed to a fabulous creature of the artistwhich onemight describe as a sort of dragon with the head of an alligator.
"But naow I'll show ye the best un - over here nigh the middle -"The old man's speech grew a trifle thicker and his eyes assumed a brighterglow; but his fumbling handsthough seemingly clumsier than beforewereentirely adequate to their mission. The book fell openalmost of its own accordand as if from frequent consultation at this placeto the repellent twelfthplate showing a butcher's shop amongst the Anzique cannibals. My sense ofrestlessness returnedthough I did not exhibit it. The especially bizarre thingwas that the artist had made his Africans look like white men - the limbs andquarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastlywhile the butcherwith his axe was hideously incongruous. But my host seemed to relish the view asmuch as I disliked it.
"What d'ye think o' this - ain't never see the like hereaboutseh? WhenI see this I telled Eb Holt'That's suthin' ta stir ye up an' make yer bloodtickle.' When I read in Scripter about slayin' - like them Midianites was slew -I kinder think thingsbut I ain't got no picter of it. Here a body kin see allthey is to it - I s'pose 'tis sinfulbut ain't we all born an' livin' in sin? -Thet feller bein' chopped up gives me a tickle every time I look at 'im - I heyta keep lookin' at 'im - see whar the butcher cut off his feet? Thar's his headon thet benchwith one arm side of itan' t'other arm's on the other side o'the meat block."
As the man mumbled on in his shocking ecstasy the expression on his hairyspectacled face became indescribablebut his voice sank rather than mounted. Myown sensations can scarcely be recorded. All the terror I had dimly felt beforerushed upon me actively and vividlyand I knew that I loathed the ancient andabhorrent creature so near me with an infinite intensity. His madnessor atleast his partial perversionseemed beyond dispute. He was almost whisperingnowwith a huskiness more terrible than a screamand I trembled as I listened.
"As I says'tis queer haow picters sets ye thinkin'. D'ye knowyoungSirI'm right sot on this un here. Arter I got the book off Eb I uster look atit a lotespecial when I'd heerd Passon Clark rant o' Sundays in his big wig.Onct I tried suthin' funny - hereyoung Sirdon't git skeert - all I done waster look at the picter afore I kilt the sheep for market - killin' sheep waskinder more fun arter lookin' at it - " The tone of the old man now sankvery lowsometimes becoming so faint that his words were hardly audible. Ilistened to the rainand to the rattling of the blearedsmall-paned windowsand marked a rumbling of approaching thunder quite unusual for the season. Oncea terrific flash and peal shook the frail house to its foundationsbut thewhisperer seemed not to notice it.
"Killin' sheep was kinder more fun - but d'ye know'twan't quitesatisfyin'. Queer haow a cravin' gits a holt on ye - As ye love the Almightyyoung mandon't tell nobodybut I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun to make mehungry fer victuals I couldn't raise nor buy - hereset stillwhat's ailin'ye? - I didn't do nothin'only I wondered haow 'twud be ef I did - They saymeat makes blood an' fleshan' gives ye new lifeso I wondered ef 'twudn'tmake a man live longer an' longer ef 'twas more the same - " But thewhisperer never continued. The interruption was not produced by my frightnorby the rapidly increasing storm amidst whose fury I was presently to open myeyes on a smoky solitude of blackened ruins. It was produced by a very simplethough somewhat unusual happening.
The open book lay flat between uswith the picture staring repulsivelyupward. As the old man whispered the words "more the same" a tinysplattering impact was heardand something showed on the yellowed paper of theupturned volume. I thought of the rain and of a leaky roofbut rain is not red.On the butcher's shop of the Anzique cannibals a small red spattering glistenedpicturesquelylending vividness to the horror of the engraving. The old man sawitand stopped whispering even before my expression of horror made itnecessary; saw it and glanced quickly toward the floor of the room he had leftan hour before. I followed his glanceand beheld just above us on the looseplaster of the ancient ceiling a large irregular spot of wet crimson whichseemed to spread even as I viewed it. I did not shriek or movebut merely shutmy eyes. A moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blastingthat accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alonesaved my mind.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
I have often wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect uponthe occasionally titanic significance of dreamsand of the obscure world towhich they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions areperhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences -Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism - there are still a certainremainder whose immundane and ethereal character permit of no ordinaryinterpretationand whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggestspossible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less importantthan physical lifeyet separated from that life by an all but impassablebarrier. From my experience I cannot doubt but that manwhen lost toterrestrial consciousnessis indeed sojourning in another and uncorporeal lifeof far different nature from the life we knowand of which only the slightestand most indistinct memories linger after waking. From those blurred andfragmentary memories we may infer muchyet prove little. We may guess that indreams lifematterand vitalityas the earth knows such thingsare notnecessarily constant; and that time and space do not exist as our waking selvescomprehend them. Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truerlifeand that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself thesecondary or merely virtual phenomenon.
It was from a youthful revery filled with speculations of this sort that Iarose one afternoon in the winter of 1900-01when to the state psychopathicinstitution in which I served as an intern was brought the man whose case hasever since haunted me so unceasingly. His nameas given on the recordswas JoeSlateror Slaaderand his appearance was that of the typical denizen of theCatskill Mountain region; one of those strangerepellent scions of a primitiveColonial peasant stock whose isolation for nearly three centuries in the hillyfastnesses of a little-traveled countryside has caused them to sink to a kind ofbarbaric degeneracyrather than advance with their more fortunately placedbrethren of the thickly settled districts. Among these odd folkwho correspondexactly to the decadent element of "white trash" in the Southlaw andmorals are non-existent; and their general mental status is probably below thatof any other section of native American people.
Joe Slaterwho came to the institution in the vigilant custody of four statepolicemenand who was described as a highly dangerous charactercertainlypresented no evidence of his perilous disposition when I first beheld him.Though well above the middle statureand of somewhat brawny framehe was givenan absurd appearance of harmless stupidity by the palesleepy blueness of hissmall watery eyesthe scantiness of his neglected and never-shaven growth ofyellow beardand the listless drooping of his heavy nether lip. His age wasunknownsince among his kind neither family records nor permanent family tiesexist; but from the baldness of his head in frontand from the decayedcondition of his teeththe head surgeon wrote him down as a man of about forty.
From the medical and court documents we learned all that could be gathered ofhis case: this mana vagabondhunter and trapperhad always been strange inthe eyes of his primitive associates. He had habitually slept at night beyondthe ordinary timeand upon waking would often talk of unknown things in amanner so bizarre as to inspire fear even in the hearts of an unimaginativepopulace. Not that his form of language was at all unusualfor he never spokesave in the debased patois of his environment; but the tone and tenor of hisutterances were of such mysterious wildnessthat none might listen withoutapprehension. He himself was generally as terrified and baffled as his auditorsand within an hour after awakening would forget all that he had saidor atleast all that had caused him to say what he did; relapsing into a bovinehall-amiable normality like that of the other hilldwellers.
As Slater grew olderit appearedhis matutinal aberrations had graduallyincreased in frequency and violence; till about a month before his arrival atthe institution had occurred the shocking tragedy which caused his arrest by theauthorities. One day near noonafter a profound sleep begun in a whiskeydebauch at about five of the previous afternoonthe man had roused himself mostsuddenlywith ululations so horrible and unearthly that they brought severalneighbors to his cabin - a filthy sty where he dwelt with a family asindescribable as himself. Rushing out into the snowhe had flung his arms aloftand commenced a series of leaps directly upward in the air; the while shoutinghis determination to reach some "bigbig cabin with brightness in the roofand walls and floor and the loud queer music far away." As two men ofmoderate size sought to restrain himhe had struggled with maniacal force andfuryscreaming of his desire and need to find and kill a certain "thingthat shines and shakes and laughs." At lengthafter temporarily fellingone of his detainers with a sudden blowhe had flung himself upon the other ina demoniac ecstasy of blood-thirstinessshrieking fiendishly that he would"jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stoppedhim."
Family and neighbors had now fled in a panicand when the more courageous ofthem returnedSlater was goneleaving behind an unrecognizable pulp-like thingthat had been a living man but an hour before. None of the mountaineers haddared to pursue himand it is likely that they would have welcomed his deathfrom the cold; but when several mornings later they heard his screams from adistant ravine they realized that he had somehow managed to surviveand thathis removal in one way or another would be necessary. Then had followed an armedsearching-partywhose purpose (whatever it may have been originally) becamethat of a sheriff's posse after one of the seldom popular state troopers had byaccident observedthen questionedand finally joined the seekers.
On the third day Slater was found unconscious in the hollow of a treeandtaken to the nearest jailwhere alienists from Albany examined him as soon ashis senses returned. To them he told a simple story. He hadhe saidgone tosleep one afternoon about sundown after drinking much liquor. He had awakened tofind himself standing bloody-handed in the snow before his cabinthe mangledcorpse of his neighbor Peter Slader at his feet. Horrifiedhe had taken to thewoods in a vague effort to escape from the scene of what must have been hiscrime. Beyond these things he seemed to know nothingnor could the expertquestioning of his interrogators bring out a single additional fact.
That night Slater slept quietlyand the next morning he awakened with nosingular feature save a certain alteration of expression. Doctor Barnardwhohad been watching the patientthought he noticed in the pale blue eyes acertain gleam of peculiar qualityand in the flaccid lips an all butimperceptible tighteningas if of intelligent determination. But whenquestionedSlater relapsed into the habitual vacancy of the mountaineerandonly reiterated what he had said on the preceding day.
On the third morning occurred the first of the man's mental attacks. Aftersome show of uneasiness in sleephe burst forth into a frenzy so powerful thatthe combined efforts of four men were needed to bind him in a straightjacket.The alienists listened with keen attention to his wordssince their curiosityhad been aroused to a high pitch by the suggestive yet mostly conflicting andincoherent stories of his family and neighbors. Slater raved for upward offifteen minutesbabbling in his backwoods dialect of green edifices of lightoceans of spacestrange musicand shadowy mountains and valleys. But most ofall did he dwell upon some mysterious blazing entity that shook and laughed andmocked at him. This vastvague personality seemed to have done him a terriblewrongand to kill it in triumphant revenge was his paramount desire. In orderto reach ithe saidhe would soar through abysses of emptinessburning everyobstacle that stood in his way. Thus ran his discourseuntil with the greatestsuddenness he ceased. The fire of madness died from his eyesand in dull wonderhe looked at his questioners and asked why he was bound. Dr. Barnard unbuckledthe leather harness and did not restore it till nightwhen he succeeded inpersuading Slater to don it of his own volitionfor his own good. The man hadnow admitted that he sometimes talked queerlythough he knew not why.
Within a week two more attacks appearedbut from them the doctors learnedlittle. On the source of Slater's visions they speculated at lengthfor sincehe could neither read nor writeand had apparently never heard a legend orfairy-talehis gorgeous imagery was quite inexplicable. That it could not comefrom any known myth or romance was made especially clear by the fact that theunfortunate lunatic expressed himself only in his own simple manner. He raved ofthings he did not understand and could not interpret; things which he claimed tohave experiencedbut which he could not have learned through any normal orconnected narration. The alienists soon agreed that abnormal dreams were thefoundation of the trouble; dreams whose vividness could for a time completelydominate the waking mind of this basically inferior man. With due formalitySlater was tried for murderacquitted on the ground of insanityand committedto the institution wherein I held so humble a post.
I have said that I am a constant speculator concerning dream-lifeand fromthis you may judge of the eagerness with which I applied myself to the study ofthe new patient as soon as I had fully ascertained the facts of his case. Heseemed to sense a certain friendliness in meborn no doubt of the interest Icould not concealand the gentle manner in which I questioned him. Not that heever recognized me during his attackswhen I hung breathlessly upon his chaoticbut cosmic word-pictures; but he knew me in his quiet hourswhen he would sitby his barred window weaving baskets of straw and willowand perhaps pining forthe mountain freedom he could never again enjoy. His family never called to seehim; probably it had found another temporary headafter the manner of decadentmountain folk.
By degrees I commenced to feel an overwhelming wonder at the mad andfantastic conceptions of Joe Slater. The man himself was pitiably inferior inmentality and language alike; but his glowingtitanic visionsthough describedin a barbarous disjointed jargonwere assuredly things which only a superior oreven exceptional brain could conceive HowI often asked myselfcould thestolid imagination of a Catskill degenerate conjure up sights whose verypossession argued a lurking spark of genius? How could any backwoods dullardhave gained so much as an idea of those glittering realms of supernal radianceand space about which Slater ranted in his furious delirium? More and more Iinclined to the belief that in the pitiful personality who cringed before me laythe disordered nucleus of something beyond my comprehension; somethinginfinitely beyond the comprehension of my more experienced but less imaginativemedical and scientific colleagues.
And yet I could extract nothing definite from the man. The sum of all myinvestigation wasthat in a kind of semi-corporeal dream-life Slater wanderedor floated through resplendent and prodigious valleysmeadowsgardenscitiesand palaces of lightin a region unbounded and unknown to man; that there hewas no peasant or degeneratebut a creature of importance and vivid lifemoving proudly and dominantlyand checked only by a certain deadly enemywhoseemed to be a being of visible yet ethereal structureand who did not appearto be of human shapesince Slater never referred to it as a manor as aughtsave a thing. This thing had done Slater some hideous but unnamed wrongwhichthe maniac (if maniac he were) yearned to avenge.
From the manner in which Slater alluded to their dealingsI judged that heand the luminous thing had met on equal terms; that in his dream existence theman was himself a luminous thing of the same race as his enemy. This impressionwas sustained by his frequent references to flying through space and burning allthat impeded his progress. Yet these conceptions were formulated in rustic wordswholly inadequate to convey thema circumstance which drove me to theconclusion that if a dream world indeed existedoral language was not itsmedium for the transmission of thought. Could it be that the dream soulinhabiting this inferior body was desperately struggling to speak things whichthe simple and halting tongue of dullness could not utter? Could it be that Iwas face to face with intellectual emanations which would explain the mystery ifI could but learn to discover and read them? I did not tell the older physiciansof these thingsfor middle age is skepticalcynicaland disinclined to acceptnew ideas. Besidesthe head of the institution had but lately warned me in hispaternal way that I was overworking; that my mind needed a rest.
It had long been my belief that human thought consists basically of atomic ormolecular motionconvertible into ether waves or radi ant energy like heatlight and electricity. This belief had early led me to contemplate thepossibility of telepathy or mental communication by means of suitable apparatusand I had in my college days prepared a set of transmitting and receivinginstruments somewhat similar to the cumbrous devices employed in wirelesstelegraphy at that crudepre-radio period. These I had tested with afellow-studentbut achieving no resulthad soon packed them away with otherscientific odds and ends for possible future use.
Nowin my intense desire to probe into the dream-life of Joe SlaterIsought these instruments againand spent several days in repairing them foraction. When they were complete once more I missed no opportunity for theirtrial. At each outburst of Slater's violenceI would fit the transmitter to hisforehead and the receiver to my ownconstantly making delicate adjustments forvarious hypothetical wave-lengths of intellectual energy. I had but littlenotion of how the thought-impressions wouldif successfully conveyedarouse anintelligent response in my brainbut I felt certain that I could detect andinterpret them. Accordingly I continued my experimentsthough informing no oneof their nature.
It was on the twenty-first of February1901that the thing occurred. As Ilook back across the years I realize how unreal it seemsand sometimes wonderif old Doctor Fenton was not right when he charged it all to my excitedimagination. I recall that he listened with great kindness and patience when Itold himbut afterward gave me a nerve-powder and arranged for the half-year'svacation on which I departed the next week.
That fateful night I was wildly agitated and perturbedfor despite theexcellent care he had receivedJoe Slater was unmistakably dying. Perhaps itwas his mountain freedom that he missedor perhaps the turmoil in his brain hadgrown too acute for his rather sluggish physique; but at all events the flame ofvitality flickered low in the decadent body. He was drowsy near the endand asdarkness fell he dropped off into a troubled sleep.
I did not strap on the straightjacket as was customary when he sleptsince Isaw that he was too feeble to be dangerouseven if he woke in mental disorderonce more before passing away. But I did place upon his head and mine the twoends of my cosmic "radio" hoping against hope for a first and lastmessage from the dream world in the brief time remaining. In the cell with uswas one nursea mediocre fellow who did not understand the purpose of theapparatusor think to inquire into my course. As the hours wore on I saw hishead droop awkwardly in sleepbut I did not disturb him. I myselflulled bythe rhythmical breathing of the healthy and the dying manmust have nodded alittle later.
The sound of weird lyric melody was what aroused me. Chordsvibrationsandharmonic ecstasies echoed passionately on every handwhile on my ravished sightburst the stupendous spectacle ultimate beauty. Wallscolumnsand architravesof living fire blazed effulgently around the spot where I seemed to float inairextending upward to an infinitely high vaulted dome of indescribablesplendor. Blending with this display of palatial magnificenceor rathersupplanting it at times in kaleidoscopic rotationwere glimpses of wide plainsand graceful valleyshigh mountains and inviting grottoescovered with everylovely attribute of scenery which my delighted eyes could conceive ofyetformed wholly of some glowingethereal plastic entitywhich in consistencypartook as much of spirit as of matter. As I gazedI perceived that my ownbrain held the key to these enchanting metamorphoses; for each vista whichappeared to me was the one my changing mind most wished to behold. Amidst thiselysian realm I dwelt not as a strangerfor each sight and sound was familiarto me; just as it had been for uncounted eons of eternity beforeand would befor like eternities to come.
Then the resplendent aura of my brother of light drew near and held colloquywith mesoul to soulwith silent and perfect interchange of thought. The hourwas one of approaching triumphfor was not my fellow-being escaping at lastfrom a degrading periodic bondage; escaping foreverand preparing to follow theaccursed oppressor even unto the uttermost fields of etherthat upon it mightbe wrought a flaming cosmic vengeance which would shake the spheres? We floatedthus for a little timewhen I perceived a slight blurring and fading of theobjects around usas though some force were recalling me to earth - where Ileast wished to go. The form near me seemed to feel a change alsofor itgradually brought its discourse toward a conclusionand itself prepared to quitthe scenefading from my sight at a rate somewhat less rapid than that of theother objects. A few more thoughts were exchangedand I knew that the luminousone and I were being recalled to bondagethough for my brother of light itwould be the last time. The sorry planet shell being well-nigh spentin lessthan an hour my fellow would be free to pursue the oppressor along the Milky Wayand past the hither stars to the very confines of infinity.
A well-defined shock separates my final impression of the fading scene oflight from my sudden and somewhat shamefaced awakening and straightening up inmy chair as I saw the dying figure on the couch move hesitantly. Joe Slater wasindeed awakingthough probably for the last time. As I looked more closelyIsaw that in the sallow cheeks shone spots of color which had never before beenpresent. The lipstooseemed unusualbeing tightly compressedas if by theforce of a stronger character than had been Slater's. The whole face finallybegan to grow tenseand the head turned restlessly with closed eyes.
I did not rouse the sleeping nursebut readjusted the slightly disarrangedheadband of my telepathic "radio" intent to catch any parting messagethe dreamer might have to deliver. All at once the head turned sharply in mydirection and the eyes fell opencausing me to stare in blank amazement at whatI beheld. The man who had been Joe Slaterthe Catskill decadentwas gazing atme with a pair of luminousexpanding eyes whose blue seemed subtly to havedeepened. Neither mania nor degeneracy was `visible in that gazeand I feltbeyond a doubt that I was viewing a face behind which lay an active mind of highorder.
At this juncture my brain became aware of a steady external influenceoperating upon it. I closed my eyes to concentrate my thoughts more profoundlyand was rewarded by the positive knowledge that my long-sought mental messagehad come at last. Each transmitted idea formed rapidly in my mindand though noactual language was employedmy habitual association of conception andexpression was so great that I seemed to be receiving the message in ordinaryEnglish.
"Joe Slater is dead" came the soul-petrifying voice of an agencyfrom beyond the wall of sleep. My opened eyes sought the couch of pain incurious horrorbut the blue eyes were still calmly gazingand the countenancewas still intelligently animated. "He is better deadfor he was unfit tobear the active intellect of cosmic entity. His gross body could not undergo theneeded adjustments between ethereal life and planet life. He was too much ananimaltoo little a man; yet it is through his deficiency that you have come todiscover mefor the cosmic and planet souls rightly should never meet. He hasbeen in my torment and diurnal prison for forty-two of your terrestrial years.
"I am an entity like that which you yourself become in the freedom ofdreamless sleep. I am your brother of lightand have floated with you in theeffulgent valleys. It is not permitted me to tell your waking earth-self of yourreal selfbut we are all roamers of vast spaces and travelers in many ages.Next year I may be dwelling in the Egypt which you call ancientor in the cruelempire of Tsan Chan which is to come three thousand years hence. You and I havedrifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturusand dwelt in the bodiesof the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.How little does the earth self know life and its extent! How littleindeedought it to know for its own tranquility!
"Of the oppressor I cannot speak. You on earth have unwittingly felt itsdistant presence - you who without knowing idly gave the blinking beacon thename of Algolthe Demon-Star It is to meet and conquer the oppressor that Ihave vainly striven for eonsheld back by bodily encumbrances. Tonight I go asa Nemesis bearing just and blazingly cataclysmic vengeance. Watch me in the skyclose by the Demon-Star.
"I cannot speak longerfor the body of Joe Slater grows cold and rigidand the coarse brains are ceasing to vibrate as I wish. You have been my onlyfriend on this planet - the only soul to sense and seek for me within therepellent form which lies on this couch. We shall meet again - perhaps in theshining mists of Orion's Swordperhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asiaperhaps in unremembered dreams tonightperhaps in some other form an eon hencewhen the solar system shall have been swept away."
At this point the thought-waves abruptly ceasedthe pale eyes of the dreamer- or can I say dead man? - commenced to glaze fishily. In a half-stupor Icrossed over to the couch and felt of his wristbut found it coldstiffandpulseless. The sallow cheeks paled againand the thick lips fell opendisclosing the repulsively rotten fangs of the degenerate Joe Slater. Ishiveredpulled a blanket over the hideous faceand awakened the nurse. Then Ileft the cell and went silently to my room. I had an instant and unaccountablecraving for a sleep whose dreams I should not remember.
The climax? What plain tale of science can boast of such a rhetorical effect?I have merely set down certain things appealing to me as factsallowing you toconstrue them as you will. As I have already admittedmy superiorold DoctorFentondenies the reality of everything I have related. He vows that I wasbroken down with nervous strainand badly in need of a long vacation on fullpay which he so generously gave me. He assures me on his professional honor thatJoe Slater was but a low-grade paranoiacwhose fantastic notions must have comefrom the crude hereditary folk-tales which circulated in even the most decadentof communities. All this he tells me - yet I cannot forget what I saw in the skyon the night after Slater died. Lest you think me a biased witnessanother penmust add this final testimonywhich may perhaps supply the climax you expect. Iwill quote the following account of the star Nova Persei verbatim from the pagesof that eminent astronomical authorityProfessor Garrett P. Serviss:
"On February 221901a marvelous new star was discovered by DoctorAnderson of Edinburghnot very far from Algol. No star had been visible at thatpoint before. Within twenty-four hours the stranger had become so bright that itoutshone Capella. In a week or two it had visibly fadedand in the course of afew months it was hardly discernible with the naked eye."
I am writing this under an appreciable mental strainsince by tonight Ishall be no more. Pennilessand at the end of my supply of the drug whichalonemakes life endurableI can bear the torture no longer; and shall castmyself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think frommy slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have readthese hastily scrawled pages you may guessthough never fully realisewhy itis that I must have forgetfulness or death.
It was in one of the most open and least frequented parts of the broadPacific that the packet of which I was supercargo fell a victim to the Germansea-raider. The great war was then at its very beginningand the ocean forcesof the Hun had not completely sunk to their later degradation; so that ourvessel was made a legitimate prizewhilst we of her crew were treated with allthe fairness and consideration due us as naval prisoners. So liberalindeedwas the discipline of our captorsthat five days after we were taken I managedto escape alone in a small boat with water and provisions for a good length oftime.
When I finally found myself adrift and freeI had but little idea of mysurroundings. Never a competent navigatorI could only guess vaguely by the sunand stars that I was somewhat south of the equator. Of the longitude I knewnothingand no island or coastline was in sight. The weather kept fairand foruncounted days I drifted aimlessly beneath the scorching sun; waiting either forsome passing shipor to be cast on the shores of some habitable land. Butneither ship nor land appearedand I began to despair in my solitude upon theheaving vastness of unbroken blue.
The change happened whilst I slept. Its details I shall never know; for myslumberthough troubled and dream-infestedwas continuous. When at last Iawakenedit was to discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellishblack mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I couldseeand in which my boat lay grounded some distance away.
Though one might well imagine that my first sensation would be of wonder atso prodigious and unexpected a transformation of sceneryI was in reality morehorrified than astonished; for there was in the air and in the rotting soil asinister quality which chilled me to the very core. The region was putrid withthe carcasses of decaying fishand of other less describable things which I sawprotruding from the nasty mud of the unending plain. Perhaps I should not hopeto convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolutesilence and barren immensity. There was nothing within hearingand nothing insight save a vast reach of black slime; yet the very completeness of thestillness and the homogeneity of the landscape oppressed me with a nauseatingfear.
The sun was blazing down from a sky which seemed to me almost black in itscloudless cruelty; as though reflecting the inky marsh beneath my feet. As Icrawled into the stranded boat I realised that only one theory could explain myposition. Through some unprecedented volcanic upheavala portion of the oceanfloor must have been thrown to the surfaceexposing regions which forinnumerable millions of years had lain hidden under unfathomable watery depths.So great was the extent of the new land which had risen beneath methat I couldnot detect the faintest noise of the surging oceanstrain my ears as I might.Nor were there any sea-fowl to prey upon the dead things.
For several hours I sat thinking or brooding in the boatwhich lay upon itsside and afforded a slight shade as the sun moved across the heavens. As the dayprogressedthe ground lost some of its stickinessand seemed likely to drysufficiently for travelling purposes in a short time. That night I slept butlittleand the next day I made for myself a pack containing food and waterpreparatory to an overland journey in search of the vanished sea and possiblerescue.
On the third morning I found the soil dry enough to walk upon with ease. Theodour of the fish was maddening; but I was too much concerned with graver thingsto mind so slight an eviland set out boldly for an unknown goal. All day Iforged steadily westwardguided by a far-away hummock which rose higher thanany other elevation on the rolling desert. That night I encampedand on thefollowing day still travelled toward the hummockthough that object seemedscarcely nearer than when I had first espied it. By the fourth evening Iattained the base of the moundwhich turned out to be much higher than it hadappeared from a distancean intervening valley setting it out in sharper relieffrom the general surface. Too weary to ascendI slept in the shadow of thehill.
I know not why my dreams were so wild that night; but ere the waning andfantastically gibbous moon had risen far above the eastern plainI was awake ina cold perspirationdetermined to sleep no more. Such visions as I hadexperienced were too much for me to endure again. And in the glow of the moon Isaw how unwise I had been to travel by day. Without the glare of the parchingsunmy journey would have cost me less energy; indeedI now felt quite able toperform the ascent which had deterred me at sunset. Picking up my packIstarted for the crest of the eminence.
I have said that the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was a source ofvague horror to me; but I think my horror was greater when I gained the summitof the mound and looked down the other side into an immeasurable pit or canyonwhose black recesses the moon had not yet soared high enough to illumine. I feltmyself on the edge of the worldpeering over the rim into a fathomless chaos ofeternal night. Through my terror ran curious reminiscences of Paradise LostandSatan's hideous climb through the unfashioned realms of darkness.
As the moon climbed higher in the skyI began to see that the slopes of thevalley were not quite so perpendicular as I had imagined. Ledges andoutcroppings of rock afforded fairly easy footholds for a descentwhilst aftera drop of a few hundred feetthe declivity became very gradual. Urged on by animpulse which I cannot definitely analyseI scrambled with difficulty down therocks and stood on the gentler slope beneathgazing into the Stygian deepswhere no light had yet penetrated.
All at once my attention was captured by a vast and singular object on theopposite slopewhich rose steeply about a hundred yards ahead of me; an objectthat gleamed whitely in the newly bestowed rays of the ascending moon. That itwas merely a gigantic piece of stoneI soon assured myself; but I was consciousof a distinct impression that its contour and position were not altogether thework of Nature. A closer scrutiny filled me with sensations I cannot express;for despite its enormous magnitudeand its position in an abyss which hadyawned at the bottom of the sea since the world was youngI perceived beyond adoubt that the strange object was a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk hadknown the workmanship and perhaps the worship of living and thinking creatures.
Dazed and frightenedyet not without a certain thrill of the scientist's orarchaeologist's delightI examined my surroundings more closely. The moonnownear the zenithshone weirdly and vividly above the towering steeps that hemmedin the chasmand revealed the fact that a far-flung body of water flowed at thebottomwinding out of sight in both directionsand almost lapping my feet as Istood on the slope. Across the chasmthe wavelets washed the base of theCyclopean monolithon whose surface I could now trace both inscriptions andcrude sculptures. The writing was in a system of hieroglyphics unknown to meand unlike anything I had ever seen in booksconsisting for the most part ofconventionalised aquatic symbols such as fisheseelsoctopicrustaceansmolluscswhales and the like. Several characters obviously represented marinethings which are unknown to the modern worldbut whose decomposing forms I hadobserved on the ocean-risen plain.
It was the pictorial carvinghoweverthat did most to hold me spellbound.Plainly visible across the intervening water on account of their enormous sizewas an array of bas-reliefs whose subjects would have excited the envy of aDore. I think that these things were supposed to depict men -- at leastacertain sort of men; though the creatures were shown disporting like fishes inthe waters of some marine grottoor paying homage at some monolithic shrinewhich appeared to be under the waves as well. Of their faces and forms I darenot speak in detailfor the mere remembrance makes me grow faint. Grotesquebeyond the imagination of a Poe or a Bulwerthey were damnably human in generaloutline despite webbed hands and feetshockingly wide and flabby lipsglassybulging eyesand other features less pleasant to recall. Curiously enoughtheyseemed to have been chiselled badly out of proportion with their scenicbackground; for one of the creatures was shown in the act of killing a whalerepresented as but little larger than himself. I remarkedas I saytheirgrotesqueness and strange size; but in a moment decided that they were merelythe imaginary gods of some primitive fishing or seafaring tribe; some tribewhose last descendant had perished eras before the first ancestor of thePiltdown or Neanderthal Man was born. Awestruck at this unexpected glimpse intoa past beyond the conception of the most daring anthropologistI stood musingwhilst the moon cast queer reflections on the silent channel before me.
Then suddenly I saw it. With only a slight churning to mark its rise to thesurfacethe thing slid into view above the dark waters. VastPolyphemus-likeand loathsomeit darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to themonolithabout which it flung its gigantic scaly armsthe while it bowed itshideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.
Of my frantic ascent of the slope and cliffand of my delirious journey backto the stranded boatI remember little. I believe I sang a great dealandlaughed oddly when I was unable to sing. I have indistinct recollections of agreat storm some time after I reached the boat; at any rateI knew that I heardpeals of thunder and other tones which Nature utters only in her wildest moods.
When I came out of the shadows I was in a San Francisco hospital; broughtthither by the captain of the American ship which had picked up my boat inmid-ocean. In my delirium I had said muchbut found that my words had beengiven scant attention. Of any land upheaval in the Pacificmy rescuers knewnothing; nor did I deem it necessary to insist upon a thing which I knew theycould not believe. Once I sought out a celebrated ethnologistand amused himwith peculiar questions regarding the ancient Philistine legend of DagontheFish-God; but soon perceiving that he was hopelessly conventionalI did notpress my inquiries.
It is at nightespecially when the moon is gibbous and waningthat I seethe thing. I tried morphine; but the drug has given only transient surceaseandhas drawn me into its clutches as a hopeless slave. So now I am to end it allhaving written a full account for the information or the contemptuous amusementof my fellow-men. Often I ask myself if it could not all have been a purephantasm -- a mere freak of fever as I lay sun-stricken and raving in the openboat after my escape from the German man-of-war. This I ask myselfbut everdoes there come before me a hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think ofthe deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this verymoment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bedworshipping their ancientstone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks ofwater-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows todrag down in their reeking talons the remnants of punywar-exhausted mankind --of a day when the land shall sinkand the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidstuniversal pandemonium.
The end is near. I hear a noise at the dooras of some immense slippery bodylumbering against it. It shall not find me. Godthat hand! The window! Thewindow!
The White Ship
I am Basil Eltonkeeper of the North Point light that my father andgrandfather kept before me. Far from the shore stands the gray lighthouseabovesunken slimy rocks that are seen when the tide is lowbut unseen when the tideis high. Past that beacon for a century have swept the majestic barques of theseven seas. In the days of my grandfather there were many; in the days of myfather not so many; and now there are so few that I sometimes feel strangelyaloneas though I were the last man on our planet.
From far shores came those white-sailed argosies of old; from far Easternshores where warm suns shine and sweet odors linger about strange gardens andgay temples. The old captains of the sea came often to my grandfather and toldhim of these things which in turn he told to my fatherand my father told to mein the long autumn evenings when the wind howled eerily from the East. And Ihave read more of these thingsand of many things besidesin the books mengave me when I was young and filled with wonder.
But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is thesecret lore of ocean. Bluegreengraywhite or black; smoothruffledormountainous; that ocean is not silent. All my days have I watched it andlistened to itand I know it well. At first it told to me only the plain littletales of calm beaches and near portsbut with the years it grew more friendlyand spoke of other things; of things more strange and more distant in space andtime. Sometimes at twilight the gray vapors of the horizon have parted to grantme glimpses of the ways beyond; and sometimes at night the deep waters of thesea have grown clear and phosphorescentto grant me glimpses of the waysbeneath. And these glimpses have been as often of the ways that were and theways that might beas of the ways that are; for ocean is more ancient than themountainsand freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.
Out of the South it was that the White Ship used to come when the moon wasfull and high in the heavens. Out of the South it would glide very smoothly andsilently over the sea. And whether the sea was rough or calmand whether thewind was friendly or adverseit would always glide smoothly and silentlyitssails distant and its long strange tiers of oars moving rhythmically. One nightI espied upon the deck a manbearded and robedand he seemed to beckon me toembark for far unknown shores. Many times afterward I saw him under the fullmoonand never did he beckon me.
Very brightly did the moon shine on the night I answered the calland Iwalked out over the waters to the White Ship on a bridge of moonbeams. The manwho had beckoned now spoke a welcome to me in a soft language I seemed to knowwelland the hours were filled with soft songs of the oarsmen as we glided awayinto a mysterious Southgolden with the glow of that fullmellow moon.
And when the day dawnedrosy and effulgentI beheld the green shore of farlandsbright and beautifuland to me unknown. Up from the sea rose lordlyterraces of verduretree-studdedand shewing here and there the gleaming whiteroofs and colonnades of strange temples. As we drew nearer the green shore thebearded man told me of that landthe land of Zarwhere dwell all the dreamsand thoughts of beauty that come to men once and then are forgotten. And when Ilooked upon the terraces again I saw that what he said was truefor among thesights before me were many things I had once seen through the mists beyond thehorizon and in the phosphorescent depths of ocean. There too were forms andfantasies more splendid than any I had ever known; the visions of young poetswho died in want before the world could learn of what they had seen and dreamed.But we did not set foot upon the sloping meadows of Zarfor it is told that hewho treads them may nevermore return to his native shore.
As the White Ship sailed silently away from the templed terraces of Zarwebeheld on the distant horizon ahead the spires of a mighty city; and the beardedman said to me“This is Thalarionthe City of a Thousand Wonderswhereinreside all those mysteries that man has striven in vain to fathom.” And Ilooked againat closer rangeand saw that the city was greater than any city Ihad known or dreamed of before. Into the sky the spires of its temples reachedso that no man might behold their peaks; and far back beyond the horizonstretched the grimgray wallsover which one might spy only a few roofsweirdand ominousyet adorned with rich friezes and alluring sculptures. I yearnedmightily to enter this fascinating yet repellent cityand besought the beardedman to land me at the stone pier by the huge carven gate Akariel; but he gentlydenied my wishsaying“Into Thalarionthe City of a Thousand Wondersmanyhave passed but none returned. Therein walk only daemons and mad things that areno longer menand the streets are white with the unburied bones of those whohave looked upon the eidolon Lathithat reigns over the city.” So the WhiteShip sailed on past the walls of Thalarionand followed for many days asouthward-flying birdwhose glossy plumage matched the sky out of which it hadappeared.
Then came we to a pleasant coast gay with blossoms of every huewhere as farinland as we could see basked lovely groves and radiant arbors beneath ameridian sun. From bowers beyond our view came bursts of song and snatches oflyric harmonyinterspersed with faint laughter so delicious that I urged therowers onward in my eagerness to reach the scene. And the bearded man spoke nowordbut watched me as we approached the lily-lined shore. Suddenly a windblowing from over the flowery meadows and leafy woods brought a scent at which Itrembled. The wind grew strongerand the air was filled with the lethalcharnel odor of plague-stricken towns and uncovered cemeteries. And as we sailedmadly away from that damnable coast the bearded man spoke at lastsaying"This is Xurathe Land of Pleasures Unattained.”
So once more the White Ship followed the bird of heavenover warm blessedseas fanned by caressingaromatic breezes. Day after day and night after nightdid we sailand when the moon was full we would listen to soft songs of theoarsmensweet as on that distant night when we sailed away from my far nativeland. And it was by moonlight that we anchored at last in the harbor ofSona-Nylwhich is guarded by twin headlands of crystal that rise from the seaand meet in a resplendent arch. This is the Land of Fancyand we walked to theverdant shore upon a golden bridge of moonbeams.
In the Land of Sona-Nyl there is neither time nor spaceneither sufferingnor death; and there I dwelt for many aeons. Green are the groves and pasturesbright and fragrant the flowersblue and musical the streamsclear and coolthe fountainsand stately and gorgeous the templescastlesand cities ofSona-Nyl. Of that land there is no boundfor beyond each vista of beauty risesanother more beautiful. Over the countryside and amidst the splendor of citiescan move at will the happy folkof whom all are gifted with unmarred grace andunalloyed happiness. For the aeons that I dwelt there I wandered blissfullythrough gardens where quaint pagodas peep from pleasing clumps of bushesandwhere the white walks are bordered with delicate blossoms. I climbed gentlehills from whose summits I could see entrancing panoramas of lovelinesswithsteepled towns nestling in verdant valleysand with the golden domes ofgigantic cities glittering on the infinitely distant horizon. And I viewed bymoonlight the sparkling seathe crystal headlandsand the placid harborwherein lay anchored the White Ship.
It was against the full moon one night in the immemorial year of Tharp that Isaw outlined the beckoning form of the celestial birdand felt the firststirrings of unrest. Then I spoke with the bearded manand told him of my newyearnings to depart for remote Cathuriawhich no man hath seenbut which allbelieve to lie beyond the basalt pillars of the West. It is the Land of Hopeand in it shine the perfect ideals of all that we know elsewhere; or at least somen relate. But the bearded man said to me“Beware of those perilous seaswherein men say Cathuria lies. In Sona-Nyl there is no pain or deathbut whocan tell what lies beyond the basalt pillars of the West?” Natheless at thenext full moon I boarded the White Shipand with the reluctant bearded man leftthe happy harbor for untraveled seas.
And the bird of heaven flew beforeand led us toward the basalt pillars ofthe Westbut this time the oarsmen sang no soft songs under the full moon. Inmy mind I would often picture the unknown Land of Cathuria with its splendidgroves and palacesand would wonder what new delights there awaited me. “Cathuria”I would say to myself“is the abode of gods and the land of unnumbered citiesof gold. Its forests are of aloe and sandalwoodeven as the fragrant groves ofCamorinand among the trees flutter gay birds sweet with song. On the green andflowery mountains of Cathuria stand temples of pink marblerich with carven andpainted gloriesand having in their courtyards cool fountains of silverwherepurr with ravishing music the scented waters that come from the grotto-bornriver Narg. And the cities of Cathuria are cinctured with golden wallsandtheir pavements also are of gold. In the gardens of these cities are strangeorchidsand perfumed lakes whose beds are of coral and amber. At night thestreets and the gardens are lit with gay lanthorns fashioned from thethree-colored shell of the tortoiseand here resound the soft notes of thesinger and the lutanist. And the houses of the cities of Cathuria are allpalaceseach built over a fragrant canal bearing the waters of the sacred Narg.Of marble and porphyry are the housesand roofed with glittering gold thatreflects the rays of the sun and enhances the splendor of the cities as blissfulgods view them from the distant peaks. Fairest of all is the palace of the greatmonarch Doriebwhom some say to be a demi-god and others a god. High is thepalace of Dorieband many are the turrets of marble upon its walls. In its widehalls many multitudes assembleand here hang the trophies of the ages. And theroof is of pure goldset upon tall pillars of ruby and azureand having suchcarven figures of gods and heroes that he who looks up to those heights seems togaze upon the living Olympus. And the floor of the palace is of glassunderwhich flow the cunningly lighted waters of the Narggay with gaudy fish notknown beyond the bounds of lovely Cathuria.”
Thus would I speak to myself of Cathuriabut ever would the bearded man warnme to turn back to the happy shore of Sona-Nyl; for Sona-Nyl is known of menwhile none hath ever beheld Cathuria.
And on the thirty-first day that we followed the birdwe beheld the basaltpillars of the West. Shrouded in mist they wereso that no man might peerbeyond them or see their summits -- which indeed some say reach even to theheavens. And the bearded man again implored me to turn backbut I heeded himnot; for from the mists beyond the basalt pillars I fancied there came the notesof singers and lutanists; sweeter than the sweetest songs of Sona-Nylandsounding mine own praises; the praises of mewho had voyaged far from the fullmoon and dwelt in the Land of Fancy. So to the sound of melody the White Shipsailed into the mist betwixt the basalt pillars of the West. And when the musicceased and the mist liftedwe beheld not the Land of Cathuriabut aswift-rushing resistless seaover which our helpless barque was borne towardsome unknown goal. Soon to our ears came the distant thunder of falling watersand to our eyes appeared on the far horizon ahead the titanic spray of amonstrous cataractwherein the oceans of the world drop down to abysmalnothingness. Then did the bearded man say to mewith tears on his cheek"We have rejected the beautiful Land of Sona-Nylwhich we may never beholdagain. The gods are greater than menand they have conquered." And Iclosed my eyes before the crash that I knew would comeshutting out the sightof the celestial bird which flapped its mocking blue wings over the brink of thetorrent.
Out of that crash came darknessand I heard the shrieking of men and ofthings which were not men. From the East tempestuous winds aroseand chilled meas I crouched on the slab of damp stone which had risen beneath my feet. Then asI heard another crash I opened my eyes and beheld myself upon the platform ofthat lighthouse whence I had sailed so many aeons ago. In the darkness belowthere loomed the vast blurred outlines of a vessel breaking up on the cruelrocksand as I glanced out over the waste I saw that the light had failed forthe first time since my grandfather had assumed its care.
And in the later watches of the nightwhen I went within the towerI saw onthe wall a calendar which still remained as when I had left it at the hour Isailed away. With the dawn I descended the tower and looked for wreckage uponthe rocksbut what I found was only this: a strange dead bird whose hue was asof the azure skyand a single shattered sparof a whiteness greater than thatof the wave-tips or of the mountain snow.
And thereafter the ocean told me its secrets no more; and though many timessince has the moon shone full and high in the heavensthe White Ship from theSouth came never again.
The Statement of Randolph Carter
Again I sayI do not know what has become of Harley Warrenthough Ithink--almost hope--that he is in peaceful oblivionif there be anywhere soblessed a thing. It is true that I have for five years been his closest friendand a partial sharer of his terrible researches into the unknown. I will notdenythough my memory is uncertain and indistinctthat this witness of yoursmay have seen us together as he sayson the Gainsville pikewalking toward BigCypress Swampat half past 11 on that awful night. That we bore electriclanternsspadesand a curious coil of wire with attached instrumentsI willeven affirm; for these things all played a part in the single hideous scenewhich remains burned into my shaken recollection. But of what followedand ofthe reason I was found alone and dazed on the edge of the swamp next morningImust insist that I know nothing save what I have told you over and over again.You say to me that there is nothing in the swamp or near it which could form thesetting of that frightful episode. I reply that I knew nothing beyond what Isaw. Vision or nightmare it may have been--vision or nightmare I fervently hopeit was--yet it is all that my mind retains of what took place in those shockinghours after we left the sight of men. And why Harley Warren did not returnheor his shade--or some nameless thing I cannot describe-- alone can tell.
As I have said beforethe weird studies of Harley Warren were well known tomeand to some extent shared by me. Of his vast collection of strangerarebooks on forbidden subjects I have read all that are written in the languages ofwhich I am master; but these are few as compared with those in languages Icannot understand. MostI believeare in Arabic; and the fiend-inspired bookwhich brought on the end--the book which he carried in his pocket out of theworld--was written in characters whose like I never saw elsewhere. Warren wouldnever tell me just what was in that book. As to the nature of our studies--mustI say again that I no longer retain full comprehension? It seems to me rathermerciful that I do notfor they were terrible studieswhich I pursued morethrough reluctant fascination than through actual inclination. Warren alwaysdominated meand sometimes I feared him. I remember how I shuddered at hisfacial expression on the night before the awful happeningwhen he talked soincessantly of his theorywhy certain corpses never decaybut rest firm andfat in their tombs for a thousand years. But I do not fear him nowfor Isuspect that he has known horrors beyond my ken. Now I fear for him.
Once more I say that I have no clear idea of our object on that night.Certainlyit had much to do with something in the book which Warren carriedwith him--that ancient book in undecipherable characters which had come to himfrom India a month before--but I swear I do not know what it was that weexpected to find. Your witness says he saw us at half past 11 on the Gainsvillepikeheaded for Big Cypress Swamp. This is probably truebut I have nodistinct memory of it. The picture seared into my soul is of one scene onlyandthe hour must have been long after midnight; for a waning crescent moon was highin the vaporous heavens.
The place was an ancient cemetery; so ancient that I trembled at the manifoldsigns of immemorial years. It was in a deepdamp hollowovergrown with rankgrassmossand curious creeping weedsand filled with a vague stench which myidle fancy associated absurdly with rotting stone. On every hand were the signsof neglect and decrepitudeand I seemed haunted by the notion that Warren and Iwere the first living creatures to invade a lethal silence of centuries. Overthe valley's rim a wanwaning crescent moon peered through the noisome vaporsthat seemed to emanate from unheard of catacombsand by its feeblewaveringbeams I could distinguish a repellent array of antique slabsurnscenotaphsand mausoleum facades; all crumblingmoss-grownand moisture-stainedandpartly concealed by the gross luxuriance of the unhealthy vegetation.
My first vivid impression of my own presence in this terrible necropolisconcerns the act of pausing with Warren before a certain half- obliteratedsepulcher and of throwing down some burdens which we seemed to have beencarrying. I now observed that I had with me an electric lantern and two spadeswhilst my companion was supplied with a similar lantern and a portable telephoneoutfit. No word was utteredfor the spot and the task seemed known to us; andwithout delay we seized our spades and commenced to clear away the grassweedsand drifted earth from the flatarchaic mortuary. After uncovering the entiresurfacewhich consisted of three immense granite slabswe stepped back somedistance to survey the charnel scene; and Warren appeared to make some mentalcalculations. Then he returned to the sepulcherand using his spade as a leversought to pry up the slab lying nearest to a stony ruin which may have been amonument in its day. He did not succeedand motioned to me to come to hisassistance. Finally our combined strength loosened the stonewhich we raisedand tipped to one side.
The removal of the slab revealed a black aperturefrom which rushed aneffluence of miasmal gases so nauseous that we started back in horror. After anintervalhoweverwe approached the pit againand found the exhalations lessunbearable. Our lanterns disclosed the top of a flight of stone stepsdrippingwith some detestable ichor of the inner earthand bordered by moist wallsencrusted with niter. And now for the first time my memory records verbaldiscourseWarren addressing me at length in his mellow tenor voice; a voicesingularly unperturbed by our awesome surroundings.
"I'm sorry to have to ask you to stay on the surface" he said"but it would be a crime to let anyone with your frail nerves go downthere. You can't imagineeven from what you have read and from what I've toldyouthe things I shall have to see and do. It's fiendish workCarterand Idoubt if any man without ironclad sensibilities could ever see it through andcome up alive and sane. I don't wish to offend youand Heaven knows I'd be gladenough to have you with me; but the responsibility is in a certain sense mineand I couldn't drag a bundle of nerves like you down to probable death ormadness. I tell youyou can't imagine what the thing is really like! But Ipromise to keep you informed over the telephone of every move--you see I'veenough wire here to reach to the center of the earth and back!"
I can still hearin memorythose coolly spoken words; and I can stillremember my remonstrances. I seemed desperately anxious to accompany my friendinto those sepulchral depthsyet he proved inflexibly obdurate. At one time hethreatened to abandon the expedition if I remained insistent; a threat whichproved effectivesince he alone held the key to the thing. All this I can stillrememberthough I no longer know what manner of thing we sought. After he hadobtained my reluctant acquiescence in his designWarren picked up the reel ofwire and adjusted the instruments. At his nod I took one of the latter andseated myself upon an ageddiscolored gravestone close by the newly uncoveredaperture. Then he shook my handshouldered the coil of wireand disappearedwithin that indescribable ossuary.
For a minute I kept sight of the glow of his lanternand heard the rustle ofthe wire as he laid it down after him; but the glow soon disappeared abruptlyas if a turn in the stone staircase had been encounteredand the sound diedaway almost as quickly. I was aloneyet bound to the unknown depths by thosemagic strands whose insulated surface lay green beneath the struggling beams ofthat waning crescent moon.
I constantly consulted my watch by the light of my electric lanternandlistened with feverish anxiety at the receiver of the telephone; but for morethan a quarter of an hour heard nothing. Then a faint clicking came from theinstrumentand I called down to my friend in a tense voice. Apprehensive as IwasI was nevertheless unprepared for the words which came up from that uncannyvault in accents more alarmed and quivering than any I had heard before fromHarley Warren. He who had so calmly left me a little while previouslynowcalled from below in a shaky whisper more portentous than the loudest shriek:
"God! If you could see what I am seeing!"
I could not answer. SpeechlessI could only wait. Then came the frenziedtones again:
This time my voice did not fail meand I poured into the transmitter a floodof excited questions. TerrifiedI continued to repeat"Warrenwhat isit? What is it?"
Once more came the voice of my friendstill hoarse with fearand nowapparently tinged with despair:
"I can't tell youCarter! It's too utterly beyond thought--I dare nottell you--no man could know it and live--Great God! I never dreamed ofthis!"
Stillness againsave for my now incoherent torrent of shuddering inquiry.Then the voice of Warren in a pitch of wilder consternation:
"Carter! for the love of Godput back the slab and get out of this ifyou can! Quick!--leave everything else and make for the outside--it's your onlychance! Do as I sayand don't ask me to explain!"
I heardyet was able only to repeat my frantic questions. Around me were thetombs and the darkness and the shadows; below mesome peril beyond the radiusof the human imagination. But my friend was in greater danger than Iandthrough my fear I felt a vague resentment that he should deem me capable ofdeserting him under such circumstances. More clickingand after a pause apiteous cry from Warren:
"Beat it! For God's sakeput back the slab and beat itCarter!"
Something in the boyish slang of my evidently stricken companion unleashed myfaculties. I formed and shouted a resolution"Warrenbrace up! I'm comingdown!" But at this offer the tone of my auditor changed to a scream ofutter despair:
"Don't! You can't understand! It's too late--and my own fault. Put backthe slab and run--there's nothing else you or anyone can do now!"
The tone changed againthis time acquiring a softer qualityas of hopelessresignation. Yet it remained tense through anxiety for me.
"Quick--before it's too late!"
I tried not to heed him; tried to break through the paralysis which held meand to fulfil my vow to rush down to his aid. But his next whisper found mestill held inert in the chains of stark horror.
"Carter--hurry! It's no use--you must go--better one than two--theslab--"
A pausemore clickingthen the faint voice of Warren:
"Nearly over now--don't make it harder--cover up those damned steps andrun for your life--you're losing time--so longCarter--won't see youagain."
Here Warren's whisper swelled into a cry; a cry that gradually rose to ashriek fraught with all the horror of the ages--
"Curse these hellish things--legions--My God! Beat it! Beat it! BEATIT!"
After that was silence. I know not how many interminable eons I satstupefied; whisperingmutteringcallingscreaming into that telephone. Overand over again through those eons I whispered and mutteredcalledshoutedandscreamed"Warren! Warren! Answer me--are you there?"
And then there came to me the crowning horror of all--the unbelievableunthinkablealmost unmentionable thing. I have said that eons seemed to elapseafter Warren shrieked forth his last despairing warningand that only my owncries now broke the hideous silence. But after a while there was a furtherclicking in the receiverand I strained my ears to listen. Again I called down"Warrenare you there?" and in answer heard the thing which hasbrought this cloud over my mind. I do not trygentlemento account for thatthing--that voice--nor can I venture to describe it in detailsince the firstwords took away my consciousness and created a mental blank which reaches to thetime of my awakening in the hospital. Shall I say that the voice was deep;hollow; gelatinous; remote; unearthly; inhuman; disembodied? What shall I say?It was the end of my experienceand is the end of my story. I heard itandknew no more--heard it as I sat petrified in that unknown cemetery in thehollowamidst the crumbling stones and the falling tombsthe rank vegetationand the miasmal vapors-- heard it well up from the innermost depths of thatdamnable open sepulcher as I watched amorphousnecrophagous shadows dancebeneath an accursed waning moon.
And this is what it said:
"You foolWarren is DEAD!"
The Doom That Came to Sarnath
There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no streamandout of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shorethe mighty city of Sarnathbut Sarnath stands there no more.
It is told that in the immemorial years when the world was youngbefore everthe men of Sarnath came to the land of Mnaranother city stood beside the lake;the gray stone city of Ibwhich was old as the lake itseliand peopled withbeings not pleasing to behold. Very odd and ugly were these beingsas indeedare most beings of a world yet inchoate and rudely fashioned. It is written onthe brick cylinders of Kadatheron that the beings of lb were in hue as green asthe lake and the mists that rise above it; that they had bulging eyespoutingflabby lipsand curious earsand were without voice. It is also written thatthey descended one night from the moon in a mist; they and the vast still lakeand gray stone city lb. However this may beit is certain that they worshippeda sea-green stone idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrugthe greatwater-lizard; before which they danced horribly when the moon was gibbous. Andit is written in the papyrus of Ilarnekthat they one day discovered fireandthereafter kindled flames on many ceremonial occasions. But not much is writtenof these beingsbecause they lived in very ancient timesand man is youngandknows but little of the very ancient living things.
After many eons men came to the land of Mnardark shepherd folk with theirfleecy flockswho built ThraaIlarnekand Kadatheron on the winding river Ai.And certain tribesmore hardy than the restpushed on to the border of thelake and built Sarnath at a spot where precious metals were found in the earth.
Not far from the gray city of lb did the wandering tribes lay the firststones of Sarnathand at the beings of lb they marveled greatly. But with theirmarveling was mixed hatefor they thought it not meet that beings of suchaspect should walk about the world of men at dusk. Nor did they like the strangesculptures upon the gray monoliths of Ibfor why those sculptures lingered solate in the worldeven until the coming mennone can tell; unless it wasbecause the land of Mnar is very stilland remote from most other landsbothof waking and of dream.
As the men of Sarnath beheld more of the beings of lb their hate grewand itwas not less because they found the beings weakand soft as jelly to the touchof stones and arrows. So one day the young warriorsthe slingers and thespearmen and the bowmenmarched against lb and slew all the inhabitantsthereofpushing the queer bodies into the lake with long spearsbecause theydid not wish to touch them. And because they did not like the gray sculpturedmonoliths of lb they cast these also into the lake; wondering from the greatnessof the labor how ever the stones were brought from afaras they must have beensince there is naught like them in the land of Mnar or in the lands adjacent.
Thus of the very ancient city of lb was nothing sparedsave the sea-greenstone idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrugthe water-lizard. This the youngwarriors took back with them as a symbol of conquest over the old gods andbeings of Thand as a sign of leadership in Mnar. But on the night after it wasset up in the templea terrible thing must have happenedfor weird lights wereseen over the lakeand in the morning the people found the idol gone and thehigh-priest Taran-Ish lying deadas from some fear unspeakable. And before hediedTaran-Ish had scrawled upon the altar of chrysolite with coarse shakystrokes the sign of DOOM.
After Taran-Ish there were many high-priests in Sarnath but never was thesea-green stone idol found. And many centuries came and wentwherein Sarnathprospered exceedinglyso that only priests and old women remembered whatTaran-Ish had scrawled upon the altar of chrysolite. Betwixt Sarnath and thecity of flarnek arose a caravan routeand the precious metals from the earthwere exchanged for other metals and rare cloths and jewels and books and toolsfor artificers and all things of luxury that are known to the people who dwellalong the winding river Ai and beyond. So Sarnath waxed mighty and learned andbeautifuland sent forth conquering armies to subdue the neighboring cities;and in time there sate upon a throne in Sarnath the kings of all the land ofMnar and of many lands adjacent.
The wonder of the world and the pride of all mankind was Sarnath themagnificent. Of polished desert-quarried marble were its wallsin height threehundred cubits and in breadth seventy-fiveso that chariots might pass eachother as men drove them along the top. For full five hundred stadia did theyrunbeing open only on the side toward the lake where a green stone sea-wallkept back the waves that rose oddly once a year at the festival of the`destroying of lb. In Sarnath were fifty streets from the lake to the gates ofthe caravansand fifty more intersecting them. With onyx were they pavedsavethose whereon the horses and camels and elephants trodwhich were paved withgranite. And the gates of Sarnath were as many as the landward ends of thestreetseach of bronzeand flanked by the figures of lions and elephantscarven from some stone no longer known among men. The houses of Sarnath were ofglazed brick and chalcedonyeach having its walled garden and crystal lakelet.With strange art were they buildedfor no other city had houses like them; andtravelers from Thraa and Ilarnek and Kadatheron marveled at the shining domeswherewith they were surmounted.
But more marvelous still were the palaces and the templesand the gardensmade by Zokkar the olden king. There were many palacesthe last of which weremightier than any in Thraa or Ilarnek or Kadatheron. So high were they that onewithin might sometimes fancy himself beneath only the sky; yet when lighted withtorches dipt in the oil of Dother their walls showed vast paintings of kings andarmiesof a splendor at once inspiring and stupefying to the beholder. Manywere the pillars of the palacesall of tinted marbleand carven into designsof surpassing beauty. And in most of the palaces the floors were mosaics ofberyl and lapis lazuli and sardonyx and carbuncle and other choice materialssodisposed that the beholder might fancy himself walking over beds of the rarestflowers. And there were likewise fountainswhich cast scented waters about inpleasing jets arranged with cunning art. Outshining all others was the palace ofthe kings of Mnar and of the lands adjacent. On a pair of golden crouching lionsrested the thronemany steps above the gleaming floor. And it was wrought ofone piece of ivorythough no man lives who knows whence so vast a piece couldhave come. In that palace there were also many galleriesand many amphitheaterswhere lions and men and elephants battled at the pleasure of the kings.Sometimes the amphitheaters were flooded with water conveyed from the lake inmighty aqueductsand then were enacted stirring sea-fightsor combats betwixtswimmers and deadly marine things.
Lofty and amazing were the seventeen tower-like temples of Sarnathfashionedof a bright multi-colored stone not known elsewhere. A full thousand cubits highstood the greatest among themwherein the high-priests dwelt with amagnificence scarce less than that of the kings. On the ground were halls asvast and splendid as those of the palaces; where gathered throngs in worship ofZo-Kalar and Tamash and Lobonthe chief gods of Sarnathwhoseincense-enveloped shrines were as the thrones of monarchs. Not like the eikonsof other gods were those of Zo-Kalar and Tamash and Lobon. For so close to lifewere they that one might swear the graceful bearded gods themselves sate on theivory thrones. And up unending steps of zircon was the tower-chamberwherefromthe high-priests looked out over the city and the plains and the lake by day;and at the cryptic moon and significant stars and planetsand their reflectionsin the lakeat night. Here was done the very secret and ancient rite indetestation of Bokrugthe water-lizardand here rested the altar of chrysolitewhich bore the Doom-scrawl of Taran-Ish.
Wonderful likewise were the gardens made by Zokkar the olden king. In thecenter of Sarnath they laycovering a great space and encircled by a high wall.And they were surmounted by a mighty dome of glassthrough which shone the sunand moon and planets when it was clearand from which were hung fulgent imagesof the sun and moon and stars and planets when it was not clear. In summer thegardens were cooled with fresh odorous breezes skilfully wafted by fansand inwinter they were heated with concealed firesso that in those gardens it wasalways spring. There ran little streams over bright pebblesdividing meads ofgreen and gardens of many huesand spanned by a multitude of bridges. Many werethe waterfalls in their coursesand many were the hued lakelets into which theyexpanded. Over the streams and lakelets rode white swanswhilst the music ofrare birds chimed in with the melody of the waters. In ordered terraces rose thegreen banksadorned here and there with bowers of vines and sweet blossomsandseats and benches of marble and porphyry. And there were many small shrines andtemples where one might rest or pray to small gods.
Each year there was celebrated in Sarnath the feast of the destroying of lbat which time winesongdancingand merriment of every kind abounded. Greathonors were then paid to the shades of those who had annihilated the odd ancientbeingsand the memory of those beings and of their elder gods was derided bydancers and lutanists crowned with roses from the gardens of Zokkar. And thekings would look out over the lake and curse the bones of the dead that laybeneath it.
At first the high-priests liked not these festivalsfor there had descendedamongst them queer tales of how the sea-green eikon had vanishedand howTaran-Ish had died from fear and left a warning. And they said that from theirhigh tower they sometimes saw lights beneath the waters of the lake. But as manyyears passed without calamity even the priests laughed and cursed and joined inthe orgies of the feasters. Indeedhad they not themselvesin their hightoweroften performed the very ancient and secret rite in detestation ofBokrugthe water-lizard? And a thousand years of riches and delight passed overSarnathwonder of the world.
Gorgeous beyond thought was the feast of the thousandth year of thedestroying of lb. For a decade had it been talked of in the land of Mnarand asit drew nigh there came to Sarnath on horses and camels and elephants men fromThraallarnekand Kadetheronand all the cities of Mnar and the lands beyond.Before the marble walls on the appointed night were pitched the pavilions ofprinces and the tents of travelers. Within his banquet-hall reclined Nargis-Heithe kingdrunken with ancient wine from the vaults of conquered Pnothandsurrounded by feasting nobles and hurrying slaves. There were eaten many strangedelicacies at that feast; peacocks from the distant hills of linplanheels ofcamels from the Bnazic desertnuts and spices from Sydathrian grovesandpearls from wave-washed Mtal dissolved in the vinegar of Thraa. Of sauces therewere an untold numberprepared by the subtlest cooks in all Mnarand suited tothe palate of every feaster. But most prized of all the viands were the greatfishes from the lakeeach of vast sizeand served upon golden platters setwith rubies and diamonds.
Whilst the king and his nobles feasted within the palaceand viewed thecrowning dish as it awaited them on golden plattersothers feasted elsewhere.In the tower of the great temple the priests held revelsand in pavilionswithout the walls the princes of neighboring lands made merry. And it was thehigh-priest Gnai-Kah who first saw the shadows that descended from the gibbousmoon into the lakeand the damnable green mists that arose from the lake tomeet the moon and to shroud in a sinister haze the towers and the domes of fatedSarnath. Thereafter those in the towers and without the walls beheld strangelights on the waterand saw that the gray rock Akurionwhich was wont to rearhigh above it near the shorewas almost submerged. And fear grew vaguely yetswiftlyso that the princes of Ilarnek and of far Rokol took down and foldedtheir tents and pavilions and departedthough they scarce knew the reason fortheir departing.
Thenclose to the hour of midnightall the bronze gates of Sarnath burstopen and emptied forth a frenzied throng that blackened the plainso that allthe visiting princes and travelers fled away in fright. For on the faces of thisthrong was writ a madness born of horror unendurableand on their tongues werewords so terrible that no hearer paused for proof. Men whose eyes were wild withfear shrieked aloud of the sight within the king's banquet-hallwhere throughthe windows were seen no longer the forms of Nargis-Hei and his nobles andslavesbut a horde of indescribable green voiceless things with bulging eyespoutingflabby lipsand curious ears; things which danced horriblybearing intheir paws golden platters set with rubies and diamonds and containing uncouthflames. And the princes and travelersas they fled from the doomed city ofSarnath on horses and camels and elephantslooked again upon the mist-begettinglake and saw the gray rock Akurion was quite submerged. Through all the land ofMnar and the land adjacent spread the tales of those who had fled from Sarnathand caravans sought that accursed city and its precious metals no more. It waslong ere any travelers went thitherand even then only the brave andadventurous young men of yellow hair and blue eyeswho are no kin to the men ofMnar. These men indeed went to the lake to view Sarnath; but though they foundthe vast still lake itselfand the gray rock Akurion which rears high above itnear the shorethey beheld not the wonder of the world and pride of allmankind. Where once had risen walls of three hundred cubits and towers yethighernow stretched only the marshy shoreand where once had dwelt fiftymillion of men now crawled the detestable water-lizard. Not even the mines ofprecious metal remained. DOOM had come to Sarnath.
But half buried in the rushes was spied a curious green idol; an exceedinglyancient idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrugthe great water-lizard. Thatidolenshrined in the high temple at llarnekwas subsequently worshippedbeneath the gibbous moon throughout the land of Mnar.
Nyarlathotep... the crawling chaos... I am the last... I will tell theaudient void...
I do not recall distinctly when it beganbut it was months ago. The generaltension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added astrange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a dangerwidespread and all-embracingsuch a danger as may be imagined only in the mostterrible phantasms of the night. I recall that the people went about with paleand worried facesand whispered warnings and prophecies which no one daredconsciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense ofmonstrous guilt was upon the landand out of the abysses between the starsswept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places. There was ademoniac alteration in the sequence of the seasons—the autumn heat lingeredfearsomelyand everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passedfrom the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which wereunknown.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he wasnone couldtellbut he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahinknelt when they saw himyet could not say why. He said he had risen up out ofthe blackness of twenty-seven centuriesand that he had heard messages fromplaces not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotepswarthyslenderand sinisteralways buying strange instruments of glass andmetal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of thesciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power whichsent his spectators away speechlessyet which swelled his fame to exceedingmagnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotepand shuddered. And whereNyarlathotep wentrest vanishedfor the small hours were rent with the screamsof nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a publicproblem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the smallhoursthat the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the palepityingmoon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridgesand old steeplescrumbling against a sickly sky.
I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city—the greatthe oldtheterrible city of unnumbered crimes. My friend had told me of himand of theimpelling fascination and allurement of his revelationsand I burned witheagerness to explore his uttermost mysteries. My friend said they were horribleand impressive beyond my most fevered imaginings; and what was thrown on ascreen in the darkened room prophesied things none but Nyarlathotep daredprophesyand in the sputter of his sparks there was taken from men that whichhad never been taken before yet which shewed only in the eyes. And I heard ithinted abroad that those who knew Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others sawnot.
It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the restlesscrowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up the endless stairsinto the choking room. And shadowed on a screenI saw hooded forms amidstruinsand yellow evil faces peering from behind fallen monuments. And I saw theworld battling against blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimatespace; whirlingchurningstruggling around the dimmingcooling sun. Then thesparks played amazingly around the heads of the spectatorsand hair stood up onend whilst shadows more grotesque than I can tell came out and squatted on theheads. And when Iwho was colder and more scientific than the restmumbled atrembling protest about “imposture” and “static electricity”Nyarlathotep drove us all outdown the dizzy stairs into the damphotdeserted midnight streets. I screamed aloud that I was not afraid; that I nevercould be afraid; and others screamed with me for solace. We swore to one anotherthat the city was exactly the sameand still alive; and when the electriclights began to fade we cursed the company over and over againand laughed atthe queer faces we made.
I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish moonfor when webegan to depend on its light we drifted into curious involuntary marchingformations and seemed to know our destinations though we dared not think ofthem. Once we looked at the pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced bygrasswith scarce a line of rusted metal to shew where the tramways had run.And again we saw a tram-carlonewindowlessdilapidatedand almost on itsside. When we gazed around the horizonwe could not find the third tower by theriverand noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged at thetop. Then we split up into narrow columnseach of which seemed drawn in adifferent direction. One disappeared in a narrow alley to the leftleaving onlythe echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrancehowling with a laughter that was mad. My own column was sucked toward the opencountryand presently I felt a chill which was not of the hot autumn; for as westalked out on the dark moorwe beheld around us the hellish moon-glitter ofevil snows. Tracklessinexplicable snowsswept asunder in one direction onlywhere lay a gulf all the blacker for its glittering walls. The column seemedvery thin indeed as it plodded dreamily into the gulf. I lingered behindforthe black rift in the green-litten snow was frightfuland I thought I had heardthe reverberations of a disquieting wail as my companions vanished; but my powerto linger was slight. As if beckoned by those who had gone beforeIhalf-floated between the titanic snowdriftsquivering and afraidinto thesightless vortex of the unimaginable.
Screamingly sentientdumbly deliriousonly the gods that were can tell. Asickenedsensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not handsand whirledblindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creationcorpses of dead worlds withsores that were citiescharnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make themflicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seencolumns of unsanctifled temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space andreach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness. And throughthis revolting graveyard of the universe the muffledmaddening beating ofdrumsand thinmonotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivableunlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereuntodance slowlyawkwardlyand absurdly the gigantictenebrous ultimate gods—theblindvoicelessmindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.
The Cats of Ulthar
It is said that in Ultharwhich lies beyond the river Skaino man may killa cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purringbefore the fire. For the cat is crypticand close to strange things which mencannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptusand bearer of tales fromforgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lordsandheir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousinandhe speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinxand remembersthat which she hath forgotten.
In Ultharbefore ever the burgesses forbade the killing of catsthere dweltan old cotter and his wife who delighted to trap and slay the cats of theirneighbors. Why they did this I know not; save that many hate the voice of thecat in the nightand take it ill that cats should run stealthily about yardsand gardens at twilight. But whatever the reasonthis old man and woman tookpleasure in trapping and slaying every cat which came near to their hovel; andfrom some of the sounds heard after darkmany villagers fancied that the mannerof slaying was exceedingly peculiar. But the villagers did not discuss suchthings with the old man and his wife; because of the habitual expression on thewithered faces of the twoand because their cottage was so small and so darklyhidden under spreading oaks at the back of a neglected yard. In truthmuch asthe owners of cats hated these odd folkthey feared them more; and instead ofberating them as brutal assassinsmerely took care that no cherished pet ormouser should stray toward the remote hovel under the dark trees. When throughsome unavoidable oversight a cat was missedand sounds heard after darktheloser would lament impotently; or console himself by thanking Fate that it wasnot one of his children who had thus vanished. For the people of Ulthar weresimpleand knew not whence it is all cats first came.
One day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrowcobbled streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they wereand unlike the other rovingfolk who passed through the village twice every year. In the market-place theytold fortunes for silverand bought gay beads from the merchants. What was theland of these wanderers none could tell; but it was seen that they were given tostrange prayersand that they had painted on the sides of their wagons strangefigures with human bodies and the heads of catshawksrams and lions. And theleader of the caravan wore a headdress with two horns and a curious disk betwixtthe horns.
There was in this singular caravan a little boy with no father or motherbutonly a tiny black kitten to cherish. The plague had not been kind to himyethad left him this small furry thing to mitigate his sorrow; and when one is veryyoungone can find great relief in the lively antics of a black kitten. So theboy whom the dark people called Menes smiled more often than he wept as he satplaying with his graceful kitten on the steps of an oddly painted wagon.
On the third morning of the wanderers’ stay in UltharMenes could not findhis kitten; and as he sobbed aloud in the market-place certain villagers toldhim of the old man and his wifeand of sounds heard in the night. And when heheard these things his sobbing gave place to meditationand finally to prayer.He stretched out his arms toward the sun and prayed in a tongue no villagercould understand; though indeed the villagers did not try very hard tounderstandsince their attention was mostly taken up by the sky and the oddshapes the clouds were assuming. It was very peculiarbut as the little boyuttered his petition there seemed to form overhead the shadowynebulous figuresof exotic things; of hybrid creatures crowned with horn-flanked disks. Nature isfull of such illusions to impress the imaginative.
That night the wanderers left Ultharand were never seen again. And thehouseholders were troubled when they noticed that in all the village there wasnot a cat to be found. From each hearth the familiar cat had vanished; catslarge and smallblackgreystripedyellow and white. Old Kranontheburgomasterswore that the dark folk had taken the cats away in revenge for thekilling of Menes’ kitten; and cursed the caravan and the little boy. But Niththe lean notarydeclared that the old cotter and his wife were more likelypersons to suspect; for their hatred of cats was notorious and increasinglybold. Stillno one durst complain to the sinister couple; even when littleAtalthe innkeeper’s sonvowed that he had at twilight seen all the cats ofUlthar in that accursed yard under the treespacing very slowly and solemnly ina circle around the cottagetwo abreastas if in performance of someunheard-of rite of beasts. The villagers did not know how much to believe fromso small a boy; and though they feared that the evil pair had charmed the catsto their deaththey preferred not to chide the old cotter till they met himoutside his dark and repellent yard.
So Ulthar went to sleep in vain anger; and when the people awakened at dawn—behold!every cat was back at his accustomed hearth! Large and smallblackgreystripedyellow and whitenone was missing. Very sleek and fat did the catsappearand sonorous with purring content. The citizens talked with one anotherof the affairand marveled not a little. Old Kranon again insisted that it wasthe dark folk who had taken themsince cats did not return alive from thecottage of the ancient man .and his wife. But all agreed on one thing: that therefusal of all the cats to eat their portions of meat or drink their saucers ofmilk was exceedingly curious. And for two whole days the sleeklazy cats ofUlthar would touch no foodbut only doze by the fire or in the sun.
It was fully a week before the villagers noticed that no lights wereappearing at dusk in the windows of the cottage under the trees. Then the leanNith remarked that no one had seen the old man or his wife since the night thecats were away. In another week the burgomaster decided to overcome his fearsand call at the strangely silent dwelling as a matter of dutythough in sodoing he was careful to take with him Shang the blacksmith and Thul the cutterof stone as witnesses. And when they had broken down the frail door they foundonly this: two cleanly picked human skeletons on the earthen floorand a numberof singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners.
There was subsequently much talk among the burgesses of Ulthar. Zaththecoronerdisputed at length with Niththe lean notary; and Kranon and Shang andThul were overwhelmed with questions. Even little Atalthe innkeeper’s sonwas closely questioned and given a sweetmeat as reward. They talked of the oldcotter and his wifeof the caravan of dark wanderersof small Menes and hisblack kittenof the prayer of Menes and of the sky during that prayerof thedoings of the cats on the night the caravan leftand of what was later found inthe cottage under the dark trees in the repellent yard.
And in the end the burgesses passed that remarkable law which is told of bytraders in Hatheg and discussed by travelers in Nir; namelythat in Ulthar noman may kill a cat.
Into the North Window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light.All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there. And in theautumn of the yearwhen the winds from the north curse and whineand thered-leaved trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours ofthe morning under the horned waning moonI sit by the casement and watch thatstar. Down from the heights reels the glittering Cassiopeia as the hours wearonwhile Charles' Wain lumbers up from behind the vapour-soaked swamp treesthat sway in the night wind. Just before dawn Arcturus winks ruddily from abovethe cemetary on the low hillockand Coma Berenices shimmers weirdly afar off inthe mysterious east; but still the Pole Star leers down from the same place inthe black vaultwinking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives toconvey some strange messageyet recalls nothing save that it once had a messageto convey. Sometimeswhen it is cloudyI can sleep.
Well do I remember the night of the great Aurorawhen over the swamp playedthe shocking corruscations of the daemon light. After the beam came cloudsandthen I slept.
And it was under a horned waning moon that I saw the city for the first time.Still and somnolent did it lieon a strange plateau in a hollow between strangepeaks. Of ghastly marble were its walls and its towersits columnsdomesandpavements. In the marble streets were marble pillarsthe upper parts of whichwere carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirrednot. And overheadscarce ten degrees from the zenithglowed that watching PoleStar. Long did I gaze on the citybut the day came not. When the red Aldebaranwhich blinked low in the sky but never sethad crawled a quarter of the wayaround the horizonI saw light and motion in the houses and the streets. Formsstrangely robedbut at once noble and familiarwalked abroad and under thehorned waning moon men talked wisdom in a tongue which I understoodthough itwas unlike any language which I had ever known. And when the red Aldebaran hadcrawled more than half-way around the horizonthere were again darkness andsilence.
When I awakedI was not as I had been. Upon my memory was graven the visionof the cityand within my soul had arisen another and vaguer recollectionofwhose nature I was not then certain. Thereafteron the cloudy nights when Icould not sleepI saw the city often; sometimes under the hotyellow rays of asun which did not setbut which wheeled low in the horizon. And on the clearnights the Pole Star leered as never before.
Gradually I came to wonder what might be my place in that city on the strangeplateau betwixt strange peaks. At first content to view the scene as anall-observant uncorporeal presenceI now desired to define my relation to itand to speak my mind amongst the grave men who conversed each day in the publicsquares. I said to myself"This is no dreamfor by what means can I provethe greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick south ofthe sinister swamp and the cemetery on the low hillockwhere the Pole Starpeeps into my north window each night?"
One night as I listened to the discourses in the large square containing manystatuesI felt a change; and perceived that I had at last a bodily form. Norwas I a stranger in the streets of Olathoewhich lies on the plateau of Sarkiabetwixt the peaks of Noton and Kadiphonek. It was my friend Alos who spokeandhis speech was one that pleased my soulfor it was the speech of a true man andpatriot. That night had the news come of Daikos' falland of the advance of theInutos; squathellish yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of theunknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdomand to besiege many of ourtowns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountainstheir waynow lay open to the plateauunless every citizen could resist with the strengthof ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of warand knew notthe scruples of honour which held back our tallgrey-eyed men of Lomar fromruthless conquest.
Alosmy friendwas commander of all the forces on the plateauand in himlay the last hope of our country. On this occasion he spoke of the perils to befaced and exhorted the men of Olathoebravest of the Lomariansto sustain thetraditions of their ancestorswho when forced to move southward from Zobnabefore the advance of the great ice sheet (even as our descendents must some dayflee from the land of Lomar) valiently and victoriously swept aside the hairlylong-armedcannibal Gnophkehs that stood in their way. To me Alos denied thewarriors partfor I was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected tostress and hardships. But my eyes were the keenest in the citydespite the longhours I gave each day to the study of the Pnakotic manuscripts and the wisdom ofthe Zobnarian Fathers; so my frienddesiring not to doom me to inactionrewarded me with that duty which was second to nothing in importance. To thewatchtower of Thapnen he sent methere to serve as the eyes of our army. Shouldthe Inutos attempt to gain the citadel by the narrow pass behind the peak Notonand thereby surprise the garrisonI was to give the signal of fire which wouldwarn the waiting soldiers and save the town from immediate disaster.
Alone I mounted the towerfor every man of stout body was needed in thepasses below. My brain was sore dazed with excitement and fatiguefor I had notslept in many days; yet was my purpose firmfor I loved my native land ofLomarand the marble city Olathoe that lies betwixt the peaks Noton andKadiphonek.
But as I stood in the tower's topmost chamberI beheld the horned waningmoonred and sinisterquivering through the vapours that hovered over thedistant valley of Banof. And through an opening in the roof glittered the palePole Starfluttering as if aliveand leering like a fiend and tempter.Methought its spirit whispered evil counselsoothing me to traitoroussomnolence with a damnable rhythmical promise which it repeated over and over:
Slumberwatchertill the spheres
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv'dand I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o'er
Shall the past disturb thy door.
Vainly did I struggle with my drowsinessseeking to connect these strangewords with some lore of the skies which I had learnt from the Pnakoticmanuscripts. My headheavy and reelingdrooped to my breastand when next Ilooked up it was in a dreamwith the Pole Star grinning at me through a windowfrom over the horrible and swaying trees of a dream swamp. And I am stilldreaming.
In my shame and despair I sometimes scream franticallybegging thedream-creatures around me to waken me ere the Inutos steal up the pass behindthe peak Noton and take the citadel by surprise; but these creatures aredaemonsfor they laugh at me and tell me I am not dreaming. They mock me whilstI sleepand whilst the squat yellow foe may be creeping silently upon us. Ihave failed in my duties and betrayed the marble city of Olathoe; I have provenfalse to Alosmy friend and commander. But still these shadows of my dreamsderide me. They say there is no land of Lomarsave in my nocturnal imaginings;that in these realms where the Pole Star shines highand red Aldebaran crawlslow around the horizonthere has been naught save ice and snow for thousands ofyears of yearsand never a man save squatyellow creaturesblighted by thecoldcalled "Esquimaux."
And as I writhe in my guilty agonyfrantic to save the city whose perilevery moment growsand vainly striving to shake off this unnatural dream of ahouse of stone and brick south of a sinister swamp and a cemetery on a lowhillockthe Pole Starevil and monstrousleers down from the black vaultwinking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey somemessageyet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey.
There be those who say that things and places have soulsand there be thosewho say they have not; I dare not saymyselfbut I will tell of the Street.
Men of strength and honour fashioned that Street: good valiant men of ourblood who had come from the Blessed Isles across the sea. At first it was but apath trodden by bearers of water from the woodland spring to the cluster ofhouses by the beach. Thenas more men came to the growing cluster of houses andlooked about for places to dwellthey built cabins along the north sidecabinsof stout oaken logs with masonry on the side toward the forestfor many Indianslurked there with fire-arrows. And in a few years moremen built cabins on thesouth side of the Street.
Up and down the Street walked grave men in conical hatswho most of the timecarried muskets or fowling pieces. And there were also their bonneted wives andsober children. In the evening these men with their wives and children would sitabout gigantic hearths and read and speak. Very simple were the things of whichthey read and spokeyet things which gave them courage and goodness and helpedthem by day to subdue the forest and till the fields. And the children wouldlisten and learn of the laws and deeds of oldand of that dear England whichthey had never seen or could not remember.
There was warand thereafter no more Indians troubled the Street. The menbusy with labourwaxed prosperous and as happy as they knew how to be. And thechildren grew up comfortableand more families came from the Mother Land todwell on the Street. And the children’s childrenand the newcomers’childrengrew up. The town was now a cityand one by one the cabins gave placeto houses—simplebeautiful houses of brick and woodwith stone steps andiron railings and fanlights over the doors. No flimsy creations were thesehousesfor they were made to serve many a generation. Within there were carvenmantels and graceful stairsand sensiblepleasing furniturechinaandsilverbrought from the Mother Land.
So the Street drank in the dreams of a young people and rejoiced as itsdwellers became more graceful and happy. Where once had been only strength andhonourtaste and learning now abode as well. Books and paintings and music cameto the housesand the young men went to the university which rose above theplain to the north. In the place of conical hats and small-swordsof lace andsnowy periwigsthere were cobblestones over which clattered many a bloodedhorse and rumbled many a gilded coach; and brick sidewalks with horse blocks andhitching-posts.
There were in that Street many trees: elms and oaks and maples of dignity; sothat in the summerthe scene was all soft verdure and twittering bird-song. Andbehind the houses were walled rose-gardens with hedged paths and sundialswhereat evening the moon and stars would shine bewitchingly while fragrant blossomsglistened with dew.
So the Street dreamed onpast warscalamitiesand change. Oncemost ofthe young men went awayand some never came back. That was when they furled theold flag and put up a new banner of stripes and stars. But though men talked ofgreat changesthe Street felt them notfor its folk were still the samespeaking of the old familiar things in the old familiar accounts. And the treesstill sheltered singing birdsand at evening the moon and stars looked downupon dewy blossoms in the walled rose-gardens.
In time there were no more swordsthree-cornered hatsor periwigs in theStreet. How strange seemed the inhabitants with their walking-stickstallbeaversand cropped heads! New sounds came from the distance—first strangepuffings and shrieks from the river a mile awayand thenmany years laterstrange puffings and shrieks and rumblings from other directions. The air wasnot quite so pure as beforebut the spirit of the place had not changed. Theblood and soul of their ancestors had fashioned the Street. Nor did the spiritchange when they tore open the earth to lay down strange pipesor when they setup tall posts bearing weird wires. There was so much ancient lore in thatStreetthat the past could not easily be forgotten.
Then came days of evilwhen many who had known the Street of old knew it nomoreand many knew it who had not known it beforeand went awayfor theiraccents were coarse and stridentand their mien and faces unpleasing. Theirthoughtstoofought with the wisejust spirit of the Streetso that theStreet pined silently as its houses fell into decayand its trees died one byoneand its rose-gardens grew rank with weeds and waste. But it felt a stir ofpride one day when again marched forth young mensome of whom never came back.These young men were clad in blue.
With the yearsworse fortune came to the Street. Its trees were all gonenowand its rose-gardens were displaced by the backs of cheapugly newbuildings on parallel streets. Yet the houses remaineddespite the ravages ofthe years and the storms and wormsfor they had been made to serve many ageneration. New kinds of faces appeared in the Streetswarthysinister faceswith furtive eyes and odd featureswhose owners .spoke unfamiliar words andplaced signs in known and unknown characters upon most of the musty houses.Push-carts crowded the gutters. A sordidundefinable stench settled over theplaceand the ancient spirit slept.
Great excitement once came to the Street. War and revolution were ragingacross the seas; a dynasty had collapsedand its degenerate subjects wereflocking with dubious intent to the Western Land. Many of these took lodgings inthe battered houses that had once known the songs of birds and the scent ofroses. Then the Western Land itself awoke and joined the Mother Land in hertitanic struggle for civilization. Over the cities once more floated the oldflagcompanioned by the new flagand by a plaineryet glorious tricolour. Butnot many flags floated over the Streetfor therein brooded only fear and hatredand ignorance. Again young men went forthbut not quite as did the young men ofthose other days. Something was lacking. And the sons of those young men ofother dayswho did indeed go forth in olive-drab with the true spirit of theirancestorswent from distant places and knew not the Street and its ancientspirit.
Over the seas there was a great victoryand in triumph most of the young menreturned. Those who had lacked something lacked it no longeryet did fear andhatred and ignorance still brood over the Street; for many had stayed behindand many strangers had come from distance places to the ancient houses. And theyoung men who had returned dwelt there no longer. Swarthy and sinister were mostof the strangersyet among them one might find a few faces like those whofashioned the Street and moulded its spirit. Like and yet unlikefor there wasin the eyes of all a weirdunhealthy glitter as of greedambitionvindictivenessor misguided zeal. Unrest and treason were abroad amongst anevil few who plotted to strike the Western Land its death blowthat they mightmount to power over its ruinseven as assassins had mounted in that unhappyfrozen land from whence most of them had come. And the heart of that plottingwas in the Streetwhose crumbling houses teemed with alien makers of discordand echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned for the appointedday of bloodflame and crime.
Of the various odd assemblages in the Streetthe Law said much but couldprove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger and listenabout such places as Petrovitch’s Bakerythe squalid Rifkin School of ModernEconomicsthe Circle Social Cluband the Liberty Cafe. There congregatedsinister men in great numbersyet always was their speech guarded or in aforeign tongue. And still the old houses stoodwith their forgotten lore ofnoblerdeparted centuries; of sturdy Colonial tenants and dewy rose-gardens inthe moonlight. Sometimes a lone poet or traveler would come to view themandwould try to picture them in their vanished glory; yet of such travelers andpoets there were not many.
The rumour now spread widely that these houses contained the leaders of avast band of terroristswho on a designated day were to launch an orgy ofslaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine old traditionswhich the Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered about filthy gutters;handbills and papers printed in many tongues and in many charactersyet allbearing messages of crime and rebellion. In these writings the people were urgedto tear down the laws and virtues that our fathers had exaltedto stamp out thesoul of the old America—the soul that was bequeathed through a thousand and ahalf years of Anglo-Saxon freedomjusticeand moderation. It was said that theswart men who dwelt in the Street and congregated in its rotting edifices werethe brains of a hideous revolutionthat at their word of command many millionsof brainlessbesotted beasts would stretch forth their noisome talons from theslums of a thousand citiesburningslayingand destroying till the land ofour fathers should be no more. All this was said and repeatedand many lookedforward in dread to the fourth day of Julyabout which the strange writingshinted much; yet could nothing be found to place the guilt. None could tell justwhose arrest might cut off the damnable plotting at its source. Many times camebands of blue-coated police to search the shaky housesthough at last theyceased to come; for they too had grown tired of law and orderand had abandonedall the city to its fate. Then men in olive-drab camebearing musketstill itseemed as if in its sad sleep the Street must have some haunting dreams of thoseother dayswhen musketbearing men in conical hats walked along it from thewoodland spring to the cluster of houses by the beach. Yet could no act beperformed to check the impending cataclysmfor the swartsinister men were oldin cunning.
So the Street slept uneasily ontill one night there gathered in Petrovitch’sBakeryand the Rifkin School of Modern Economicsand the Circle Social Cluband Liberty Cafeand in other places as wellvast hordes of men whose eyeswere big with horrible triumph and expectation. Over hidden wires strangemessages traveledand much was said of still stranger messages yet to travel;but most of this was not guessed till afterwardwhen the Western Land was safefrom the peril. The men in olive-drab could not tell what was happeningor whatthey ought to do; for the swartsinister men were skilled in subtlety andconcealment.
And yet the men in olive-drab will always remember that nightand will speakof the Street as they tell of it to their grandchildren; for many of them weresent there toward morning on a mission unlike that which they had expected. Itwas known that this nest of anarchy was oldand that the houses were totteringfrom the ravages of the years and the storms and worms; yet was the happening ofthat summer night a surprise because of its very queer uniformity. It wasindeedan exceedingly singular happeningthough after alla simple one. Forwithout warningin one of the small hours beyond midnightall the ravages ofthe years and the storms and the worms came to a tremendous climax; and afterthe crash there was nothing left standing in the Street save two ancientchimneys and part of a stout brick wall. Nor did anything that had been alivecome alive from the ruins. A poet and a travelerwho came with the mighty crowdthat sought the scenetell odd stories. The poet says that all through thehours before dawn he beheld sordid ruins indistinctly in the glare of thearc-lights; that there loomed above the wreckage another picture wherein hecould describe moonlight and fair houses and elms and oaks and maples ofdignity. And the traveler declares that instead of the place’s wonted stenchthere lingered a delicate fragrance as of roses in full bloom. But are not thedreams of poets and the tales of travelers notoriously false?
There be those who say that things and places have soulsand there be thosewho say they have not; I dare not saymyselfbut I have told you of theStreet.
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
Life is a hideous thingand from the background behind what we know of itpeer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold morehideous. Sciencealready oppressive with its shocking revelationswill perhapsbe the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—forits reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosedupon the world. If we knew what we arewe should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did;and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night.No one placed the charred fragments in an urn or set a memorial to him who hadbeen; for certain papers and a certain boxed object were found which made menwish to forget. Some who knew him do not admit that he ever existed.
Arthur Jermyn went out on the moor and burned himself after seeing the boxedobject which had come from Africa. It was this objectand not his peculiarpersonal appearancewhich made him end his life. Many would have disliked tolive if possessed of the peculiar features of Arthur Jermynbut he had been apoet and scholar and had not minded. Learning was in his bloodfor hisgreat-grandfatherSir Robert JermynBt.had been an anthropologist of notewhilst his great-great-great-grandfatherSir Wade Jermynwas one of theearliest explorers of the Congo regionand had written eruditely of its tribesanimalsand supposed antiquities. Indeedold Sir Wade had possessed anintellectual zeal amounting almost to a mania; his bizarre conjectures on aprehistoric white Congolese civilisation earning him much ridicule when hisbookObservation on the Several Parts of Africawas published. In 1765 thisfearless explorer had been placed in a madhouse at Huntingdon.
Madness was in all the Jermynsand people were glad there were not many ofthem. The line put forth no branchesand Arthur was the last of it. If he hadnot beenone can not say what he would have done when the object came. TheJermyns never seemed to look quite right—something was amissthough Arthurwas the worstand the old family portraits in Jermyn House showed fine facesenough before Sir Wade’s time. Certainlythe madness began with Sir Wadewhose wild stories of Africa were at once the delight and terror of his fewfriends. It showed in his collection of trophies and specimenswhich were notsuch as a normal man would accumulate and preserveand appeared strikingly inthe Oriental seclusion in which he kept his wife. The latterhe had saidwasthe daughter of a Portuguese trader whom he had met in Africa; and did not likeEnglish ways. Shewith an infant son born in Africahad accompanied him backfrom the second and longest of his tripsand had gone with him on the third andlastnever returning. No one had ever seen her closelynot even the servants;for her disposition had been violent and singular. During her brief stay atJermyn House she occupied a remote wingand was waited on by her husband alone.Sir Wade wasindeedmost peculiar in his solicitude for his family; for whenhe returned to Africa he would permit no one to care for his young son save aloathsome black woman from Guinea. Upon coming backafter the death of LadyJermynhe himself assumed complete care of the boy.
But it was the talk of Sir Wadeespecially when in his cupswhich chieflyled his friends to deem him mad. In a rational age like the eighteenth centuryit was unwise for a man of learning to talk about wild sights and strange scenesunder a Congo moon; of the gigantic walls and pillars of a forgotten citycrumbling and vine-grownand of dampsilentstone steps leading interminablydown into the darkness of abysmal treasure-vaults and inconceivable catacombs.Especially was it unwise to rave of the living things that might haunt such aplace; of creatures half of the jungle and half of the impiously aged city—fabulouscreatures which even a Pliny might describe with scepticism; things that mighthave sprung up after the great apes had overrun the dying city with the wallsand the pillarsthe vaults and the weird carvings. Yet after he came home forthe last time Sir Wade would speak of such matters with a shudderingly uncannyzestmostly after his third glass at the Knight’s Head; boasting of what hehad found in the jungle and of how he had dwelt among terrible ruins known onlyto him. And finally he had spoken of the living things in such a manner that hewas taken to the madhouse. He had shown little regret when shut into the barredroom at Huntingdonfor his mind moved curiously. Ever since his son hadcommenced to grow out of infancyhe had liked his home less and lesstill atlast he had seemed to dread it. The Knight’s Head had been his headquartersand when he was confined he expressed some vague gratitude as if for protection.Three years later he died.
Wade Jermyn’s son Philip was a highly peculiar person. Despite a strongphysical resemblance to his fatherhis appearance and conduct were in manyparticulars so coarse that he was universally shunned. Though he did not inheritthe madness which was feared by somehe was densely stupid and given to briefperiods of uncontrollable violence. In frame he was smallbut intenselypowerfuland was of incredible agility. Twelve years after succeeding to histitle he married the daughter of his gamekeepera person said to be of gypsyextractionbut before his son was born joined the navy as a common sailorcompleting the general disgust which his habits and misalliance had begun. Afterthe close of the American war he was heard of as sailor on a merchantman in theAfrican tradehaving a kind of reputation for feats of strength and climbingbut finally disappearing one night as his ship lay off the Congo coast.
In the son of Sir Philip Jermyn the now accepted family peculiarity took astrange and fatal turn. Tall and fairly handsomewith a sort of weird Easterngrace despite certain slight oddities of proportionRobert Jermyn began life asa scholar and investigator. It was he who first studied scientifically the vastcollection of relics which his mad grandfather had brought from Africaand whomade the family name as celebrated in ethnology as in exploration. In 1815 SirRobert married a daughter of the seventh Viscount Brightholme and wassubsequently blessed with three childrenthe eldest and youngest of whom werenever publicly seen on account of deformities in mind and body. Saddened bythese family misfortunesthe scientist sought relief in workand made two longexpeditions in the interior of Africa. In 1849 his second sonNevilasingularly repellent person who seemed to combine the surliness of Philip Jermynwith the hauteur of the Brightholmesran away with a vulgar dancerbut waspardoned upon his return in the following year. He came back to Jermyn House awidower with an infant sonAlfredwho was one day to be the father of ArthurJermyn.
Friends said that it was this series of griefs which unhinged the mind of SirRobert Jermynyet it was probably merely a bit of African folklore which causedthe disaster. The elderly scholar had been collecting legends of the Onga tribesnear the field of his grandfather’s and his own explorationshoping in someway to account for Sir Wade’s wild tales of a lost city peopled by strangehybrid creatures. A certain consistency in the strange papers of his ancestorsuggested that the madman’s imagination might have been stimulated by nativemyths. On October 191852the explorer Samuel Seaton called at Jermyn Housewith a manuscript of notes collected among the Ongasbelieving that certainlegends of a gray city of white apes ruled by a white god might prove valuableto the ethnologist. In his conversation he probably supplied many additionaldetails; the nature of which will never be knownsince a hideous series oftragedies suddenly burst into being. When Sir Robert Jermyn emerged from hislibrary he left behind the strangled corpse of the explorerand before he couldbe restrainedhad put an end to all three of his children; the two who werenever seenand the son who had run away. Nevil Jermyn died in the successfuldefence of his own two-year-old sonwho had apparently been included in the oldman’s madly murderous scheme. Sir Robert himselfafter repeated attempts atsuicide and a stubborn refusal to utter an articulate sounddied of apoplexy inthe second year of his confinement.
Sir Alfred Jermyn was a baronet before his fourth birthdaybut his tastesnever matched his title. At twenty he had joined a band of music-hallperformersand at thirty-six had deserted his wife and child to travel with anitinerant American circus. His end was very revolting. Among the animals in theexhibition with which he travelled was a huge bull gorilla of lighter colourthan the average; a surprisingly tractable beast of much popularity with theperformers. With this gorilla Alfred Jermyn was singularly fascinatedand onmany occasions the two would eye each other for long periods through theintervening bars. Eventually Jermyn asked and obtained permission to train theanimalastonishing audiences and fellow performers alike with his success. Onemorning in Chicagoas the gorilla and Alfred Jermyn were rehearsing anexceedingly clever boxing matchthe former delivered a blow of more than theusual forcehurting both the body and the dignity of the amateur trainer. Ofwhat followedmembers of “The Greatest Show On Earth” do not like to speak.They did not expect to hear Sir Alfred Jermyn emit a shrillinhuman screamorto see him seize his clumsy antagonist with both handsdash it to the floor ofthe cageand bite fiendishly at its hairy throat. The gorilla was off itsguardbut not for longand before anything could be done by the regulartrainerthe body which had belonged to a baronet was past recognition.
Arthur Jermyn was the son of Sir Alfred Jermyn and a music-hall singer ofunknown origin. When the husband and father deserted his familythe mother tookthe child to Jermyn House; where there was none left to object to her presence.She was not without notions of what a nobleman’s dignity should beand saw toit that her son received the best education which limited money could provide.The family resources were now sadly slenderand Jermyn House had fallen intowoeful disrepairbut young Arthur loved the old edifice and all its contents.He was not like any other Jermyn who had ever livedfor he was a poet and’ adreamer. Some of the neighbouring families who had heard tales of old Sir WadeJermyn’s unseen Portuguese wife declared that her Latin blood must be showingitself; but most persons merely sneered at his sensitiveness to beautyattributing it to his music-hall motherwho was socially unrecognised. Thepoetic delicacy of Arthur Jermyn was the more remarkable because of his uncouthpersonal appearance. Most of the Jermyns had possessed a subtly odd andrepellent castbut Arthur’s case was very striking. It is hard to say justwhat he resembledbut his expressionhis facial angleand the length of hisarms gave a thrill of repulsion to those who met him for the first time.
It was the mind and character of Arthur Jermyn which atoned for his aspect.Gifted and learnedhe took highest honours at Oxford and seemed likely toredeem the intellectual fame of his family. Though of poetic rather thanscientific temperamenthe planned to continue the work of his forefathers inAfrican ethnology and antiquitiesutilising the truly wonderful though strangecollection of Sir Wade. With his fanciful mind he thought often of theprehistoric civilisation in which the mad explorer had so implicitly believedand would weave tale after tale about the silent jungle city mentioned in thelatter’s wilder notes and paragraphs. For the nebulous utterances concerning anamelessunsuspected race of jungle hybrids he had a peculiar feeling ofmingled terror and attractionspeculating on the possible basis of such afancyand seeking to obtain light among the more recent data gleaned by hisgreat-grandfather and Samuel Seaton amongst the Ongas.
In 1911after the death of his motherSir Arthur Jermyn determined topursue his investigations to the utmost extent. Selling a portion of his estateto obtain the requisite moneyhe outfitted an expedition and sailed for theCongo. Arranging with the Belgian authorities for a party of guideshe spent ayear in the Onga and Kahn countryfinding data beyond the highest of hisexpectations. Among the Kaliris was an aged chief called Mwanuwho possessednot only a highly retentive memorybut a singular degree of intelligence andinterest in old legends. This ancient confirmed every tale which Jermyn hadheardadding his own account of the stone city and the white apes as it hadbeen told to him.
According to Mwanuthe gray city and the hybrid creatures were no morehaving been annihilated by the warlike N’bangus many years ago. This tribeafter destroying most of the edifices and killing the live beingshad carriedoff the stuffed goddess which had been the object of their quest; the whiteape-goddess which the strange beings worshippedand which was held by Congotradition to be the form of one who had reigned as a princess among thesebeings. Just what the white apelike creatures could have beenMwanu had noideabut he thought they were the builders of the ruined city. Jermyn couldform no conjecturebut by close questioning obtained a very picturesque legendof the s.tuffed goddess.
The ape-princessit was saidbecame the consort of a great white god whohad come out of the West. For a long time they had reigned over the citytogetherbut when they had a sonall three went away. Later the god andprincess had returnedand upon the death of the princess her divine husband hadmummified the body and enshrined it in a vast house of stonewhere it wasworshipped. Then he departed alone. The legend here seemed to present threevariants. According to one storynothing further happened save that the stuffedgoddess became a symbol of supremacy for whatever tribe might possess it. It wasfor this reason that the N’bangus carried it off. A second story told of a god’sreturn and death at the feet of his enshrined wife. A third told of the returnof the songrown to manhood—or apehood or godhoodas the case might be—yetunconscious of his identity. Surely the imaginative blacks had made the most ofwhatever events might lie behind the extravagant legendry.
Of the reality of the jungle city described by old Sir WadeArthur Jermynhad no further doubt; and was hardly astonished when early in 1912 he came uponwhat was left of it. Its size must have been exaggeratedyet the stones lyingabout proved that it was no mere Negro village. Unfortunately no carvings couldbe foundand the small size of the expedition prevented operations towardclearing the one visible passageway that seemed to lead down into the system ofvaults which Sir Wade had mentioned. The white apes and the stuffed goddess werediscussed with all the native chiefs of the regionbut it remained for aEuropean to improve on the data offered by old Mwanu. M. VerhaerenBelgianagent at a trading-post on the
Congobelieved that he could not only locate but obtain the stuffed goddessof which he had vaguely heard; since the once mighty N’bangus were now thesubmissive servants of King Albert’s governmentand with but littlepersuasion could be induced to part with the gruesome deity they had carriedoff. When Jermyn sailed for Englandthereforeit was with the exultantprobability that he would within a few months receive a priceless ethnologicalrelic confirming the wildest of his great-great-great-grandfather’s narratives—thatisthe wildest which he had ever heard. Countrymen near Jermyn House hadperhaps heard wilder tales handed down from ancestors who had listened to SirWade around the tables of the Knight’s Head.
Arthur Jermyn waited very patiently for the expected box from M. Verhaerenmeanwhile studying with increased diligence the manuscripts left by his madancestor. He began to feel closely akin to Sir Wadeand to seek relics of thelatter’s personal life in England as well as of his African exploits. Oralaccounts of the mysterious and secluded wife had been numerousbut no tangiblerelic of her stay at Jermyn House remained. Jermyn wondered what circumstancehad prompted or permitted such an effacementand decided that the husband’sinsanity was the prime cause. His great-great-great-grandmotherhe recalledwas said to have been the daughter of a Portuguese trader in Africa. No doubther practical heritage and superficial knowledge of the Dark Continent hadcaused her to flout Sir Wade’s tales of the interiora thing which such a manwould not be likely to forgive. She had died in Africaperhaps dragged thitherby a husband determined to prove what he had told. But as Jermyn indulged inthese reflections he could not but smile at their futilitya century and a halfafter the death of both his strange progenitors.
In June1913a letter arrived from M. Verhaerentelling of the finding ofthe stuffed goddess. It wasthe Belgian averreda most extraordinary object;an object quite beyond the power of a layman to classify. Whether it was humanor simian only a scientist could determineand the process of determinationwould be greatly hampered by its imperfect condition. Time and the Congo climateare not kind to mummies; especially when their preparation is as amateurish asseemed to be the case here. Around the creature’s neck ‘had been found agolden chain bearing an empty locket on which were armorial designs; no doubtsome hapless traveller’s keepsaketaken by the N’bangus and hung upon thegoddess as a charm. In commenting on the contour of the mummy’s faceM.Verhaeren suggested a whimsical comparison; or ratherexpressed a humorouswonder just how it would strike his corespondentbut was too much interestedscientifically to waste many words in levity. The stuffed. goddesshe wrotewould arrive duly packed about a month after receipt of the letter.
The boxed object was delivered at Jermyn House on the afternoon of August 31913being conveyed immediately to the large chamber which housed thecollection of African specimens as arranged by Sir Robert and Arthur. Whatensued can best be gathered from the tales of servants and from things andpapers later examined. Of the various talesthat of aged Soamesthe familybutleris most ample and coherent. According to this trustworthy manSirArthur Jermyn dismissed everyone from the room before opening the boxthoughthe instant sound of hammer and chisel showed that he did not delay theoperation. Nothing was heard for some time; just how long Soames cannot exactlyestimatebut it was certainly less than a quarter of an hour later that thehorrible screamundoubtedly in Jermyn’s voicewas heard. Immediatelyafterward Jermyn emerged from the roomrushing frantically toward the front ofthe house as if pursued by some hideous enemy. The expression on his faceaface ghastly enough in reposewas beyond description. When near the front doorhe seemed to think of somethingand turned back in his flightfinallydisappearing down the stairs to the cellar. The servants were utterlydumbfoundedand watched at the head of the stairsbut their master did notreturn. A smell of oil was all that came up from the regions below. After dark arattling was heard at the door leading from the cellar into the courtyard; and astable-boy saw Arthur Jermynglistening from head to foot with oil and redolentof that fluidsteal furtively out and vanish on the black moor surrounding thehouse. Thenin an exaltation of supreme horroreveryone saw the end. A sparkappeared on the moora flame aroseand a pillar of human fire reached to theheavens. The house of Jermyn no longer existed.
The reason why Arthur Jermyn’s charred fragments were not collected andburied lies in what was found afterwardprincipally the thing in the box. Thestuffed goddess was a nauseous sightwithered and eaten awaybut it wasclearly a mummified white ape of some unknown speciesless hairy than anyrecorded varietyand infinitely nearer mankind—quite shockingly so. Detaileddescription would be rather unpleasantbut two salient particulars must betoldfor they fit in revoltingly with certain notes of Sir Wade Jermyn’sAfrican expeditions and with the Congolese legends of the white god and theape-princess. The two particulars in question are these: the arms on the goldenlocket about the creature’s neck were the Jermyn armsand the jocosesuggestion of M. Verhaeren about certain resemblance as connected with theshrivelled face applied with vividghastlyand unnatural horror to none otherthan the sensitive Arthur Jermyngreat-great-great-grandson of Sir Wade Jermynand an unknown wife. Members of the Royal Anthropological Institute burned thething and threw the locket into a welland some of them do not admit thatArthur Jermyn ever existed.
When the last days were upon meand the ugly trifles of existence began todrive me to madness like the small drops of water that torturers let fallceaselessly upon one spot of their victims bodyI loved the irradiate refuge ofsleep. In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in lifeand wandered through old gardens and enchanted woods.
Once when the wind was soft and scented I heard the south callingand sailedendlessly and languorously under strange stars.
Once when the gentle rain fell I glided in a barge down a sunless streamunder the earth till I reached another world of purple twilightiridescentarboursand undying roses.
And once I walked through a golden valley that led to shadowy groves andruinsand ended in a mighty wall green with antique vinesand pierced by alittle gate of bronze.
Many times I walked through that valleyand longer and longer would I pausein the spectral half-light where the giant trees squirmed and twistedgrotesquelyand the grey ground stretched damply from trunk to trunksometimes disclosing the mould-stained stones of buried temples. And alway the goalof my fancies was the mighty vine-grown wall with the little gate of bronzetherein.
After a whileas the days of waking became less and less bearable from theirgreyness and samenessI would often drift in opiate peace through the valleyand the shadowy grovesand wonder how I might seize them for my eternaldwelling-placeso that I need no more crawl back to a dull world stript ofinterest and new colours. And as I looked upon the little gate in the mightywallI felt that beyond it lay a dream-country from whichonce it was enteredthere would be no return.
So each night in sleep I strove to find the hidden latch of the gate in theivied antique wallthough it was exceedingly well hidden. And I would tellmyself that the realm beyond the wall was not more lasting merelybut morelovely and radiant as well.
Then one night in the dream-city of Zakarion I found a yellowed papyrusfilled with the thoughts of dream-sages who dwelt of old in that cityand whowere too wise ever to be born in the waking world. Therein were written manythings concerning the world of dreamand among them was lore of a golden valleyand a sacred grove with templesand a high wall pierced by a little bronzegate. When I saw this loreI knew that it touched on the scenes I had hauntedand I therefore read long in the yellowed papyrus.
Some of the dream-sages wrote gorgeously of the wonders beyond theirrepassable gatebut others told of horror and disappointment. I knew notwhich to believeyet longed more and more to cross for ever into the unknownland; for doubt and secrecy are the lure of luresand no new horror can be moreterrible than the daily torture of the commonplace. So when I learned of thedrug which would unlock the gate and drive me throughI resolved to take itwhen next I awaked.
Last night I swallowed the drug and floated dreamily into the golden valleyand the shadowy groves; and when I came this time to the antique wallI sawthat the small gate of bronze was ajar. From beyond came a glow that weirdly litthe giant twisted trees and the tops of the buried templesand I drifted onsongfullyexpectant of the glories of the land from whence I should neverreturn.
But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of the drug and the dream pushedme throughI knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that newrealm was neither land nor seabut only the white void of unpeopled andillimitable space. Sohappier than I had ever dared hope to beI dissolvedagain into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Lifehad called me for one brief and desolate hour.
The Crawling Chaos
Of the pleasures and pains of opium much has been written. The ecstasies andhorrors of De Quincey and the paradis artificiels of Baudelaire are preservedand interpreted with an art which makes them immortaland the world knows wellthe beautythe terror and the mystery of those obscure realms into which theinspired dreamer is transported. But much as has been toldno man has yet daredintimate the nature of the phantasms thus unfolded to the mindor hint at thedirection of the unheard-of roads along whose ornate and exotic course thepartaker of the drug is so irresistibly borne. De Quincey was drawn back intoAsiathat teeming land of nebulous shadows whose hideous antiquity is soimpressive that "the vast age of the race and name overpowers the sense ofyouth in the individual" but farther than that he dared not go. Those whohave gone farther seldom returnedand even when they havethey have beeneither silent or quite mad. I took opium but once -- in the year of the plaguewhen doctors sought to deaden the agonies they could not cure. There was anoverdose -- my physician was worn out with horror and exertion -- and Itravelled very far indeed. In the end I returned and livedbut my nights arefilled with strange memoriesnor have I ever permitted a doctor to give meopium again.
The pain and pounding in my head had been quite unendurable when the drug wasadministeredOf the future I had no heed; to escapewhether by cureunconsciousnessor deathwas all that concerned me. I was partly delirioussothat it is hard to place the exact moment of transitionbut I think the effectmust have begun shortly before the pounding ceased to be painful. As I havesaidthere was an overdose; so my reactions were probably far from normal. Thesensation of fallingcuriously dissociated from the idea of gravity ordirectionwas paramount; though there was subsidiary impression of unseenthrongs in incalculable profusionthrongs of infinitely di-verse naturebutall more or less related to me. Sometimes it seemed less as though I werefallingthan as though the universe or the ages were falling past me. Suddenlymy pain ceasedand I began to associate the pounding with an external ratherthan internal force. The falling had ceased alsogiving place to a sensation ofuneasytemporary rest; and when I listened closelyI fancied the pounding wasthat of the vastinscrutable sea as its sinistercolossal breakers laceratedsome desolate shore after a storm of titanic magnitude. Then I opened my eyes.
For a moment my surroundings seemed confusedlike a projected imagehopelessly out of focusbut gradually I realised my solitary presence in astrange and beautiful room lighted by many windows. Of the exact nature of theapartment I could form no ideafor my thoughts were still far from settledbutI noticed van-coloured rugs and draperieselaborately fashioned tableschairsottomansand divansand delicate vases and ornaments which conveyed asuggestion of the exotic without being actually alien. These things I noticedyet they were not long uppermost in my mind. Slowly but inexorably crawling uponmy consciousness and rising above every other impressioncame a dizzying fearof the unknown; a fear all the greater because I could not analyse itandseeming to concern a stealthily approaching menace; not deathbut somenamelessunheard-of thing inexpressibly more ghastly and abhorrent.
Presently I realised that the direct symbol and excitant of my fear was thehideous pounding whose incessant reverberations throbbed maddeningly against myexhausted brain. It seemed to come from a point outside and below the edifice inwhich I stoodand to associate itself with the most terrifying mental images. Ifelt that some horrible scene or object lurked beyond the silk-hung wallsandshrank from glancing through the archedlatticed windows that opened sobewilderingly on every hand. Perceiving shutters attached to these windowsIclosed them allaverting my eyes from the exterior as I did so. Thenemployinga flint and steel which I found on one of the small tablesI lit the manycandles reposing about the walls in arabesque sconces. The added sense ofsecurity brought by closed shutters and artificial light calmed my nerves tosome degreebut I could not shut out the monotonous pounding. Now that I wascalmerthe sound became as fascinating as it was fearfuland I felt acontradictory desire to seek out its source despite my still powerful shrinking.Opening a portiere at the side of the room nearest the poundingI beheld asmall and richly draped corridor ending in a cavern door and large oriel window.To this window I was irresistibly drawnthough my ill-defined apprehensionsseemed almost equally bent on holding me back. As I approached it I could see achaotic whirl of waters in the distance. Thenas I attained it and glanced outon all sidesthe stupendous picture of my surroundings burst upon me with fulland devastating force.
I beheld such a sight as I had never beheld beforeand which no livingperson can have seen save in the delirium of fever or the inferno of opium. Thebuilding stood on a narrow point of land -- or what was now a narrow point ofland -- fully three hundred feet above what must lately have been a seethingvortex of mad waters. On either side of the house there fell a newly washed-outprecipice of red earthwhilst ahead of me the hideous waves were still rollingin frightfullyeating away the land with ghastly monotony and deliberation. Outa mile or more there rose and fell menacing breakers at least fifty feet inheightand on the far horizon ghoulish black clouds of grotesque contour wereresting and brooding like unwholesome vultures. The waves were dark andpurplishalmost blackand clutched at the yielding red mud of the bank as ifwith uncouthgreedy hands. I could not but feel that some noxious marine mindhad declared a war of extermination upon all the solid groundperhaps abettedby the angry sky.
Recovering at length from the stupor into which this unnatural spectacle hadthrown meI realized that my actual physical danger was acute. Even whilst Igazedthe bank had lost many feetand it could not be long before the housewould fall undermined into the awful pit of lashing waves. Accordingly Ihastened to the opposite side of the edificeand finding a dooremerged atoncelocking it after me with a curious key which had hung inside. I now beheldmore of the strange region about meand marked a singular division which seemedto exist in the hostile ocean and firmament. On each side of the juttingpromontory different conditions held sway. At my left as I faced inland was agently heaving sea with great green waves rolling peacefully in under a brightlyshining sun. Something about that sun’s nature and position made me shudderbut I could not then telland cannot tell nowwhat it was. At my right alsowas the seabut it was bluecalmand only gently undulatingwhile the skyabove it was darker and the washed-out bank more nearly white than reddish.
I now turned my attention to the landand found occasion for fresh surprise;for the vegetation resembled nothing I had ever seen or read about. It wasapparently tropical or at least sub-tropical -- a conclusion borne out by theintense heat of the air. Sometimes I thought I could trace strange analogieswith the flora of my native landfancying that the well-known plants and shrubsmight assume such forms under a radical change of climate; but the gigantic andomnipresent palm trees were plainly foreign. The house I had just left was verysmall -- hardly more than a cottage -- but its material was evidently marbleand its architecture was weird and compositeinvolving a quaint fusion ofWestern and Eastern forms. At the corners were Corinthian columnsbut the redtile roof was like that of a Chinese pagoda. From the door inland therestretched a path of singularly white sandabout four feet wideand lined oneither side with stately palms and unidentifiable flowering shrubs and plants.It lay toward the side of the promontory where the sea was blue and the bankrather whitish. Down this path I felt impelled to fleeas if pursued by somemalignant spirit from the pounding ocean. At first it was slightly uphillthenI reached a gentle crest. Behind me I saw the scene I had left; the entire pointwith the cottage and the black waterwith the green sea on one side and theblue sea on the otherand a curse unnamed and unnamable lowering over all. Inever saw it againand often wonder.... After this last look I strode ahead andsurveyed the inland panorama before me.
The pathas I have intimatedran along the right-hand shore as one wentinland. Ahead and to the left I now viewed a magnificent valley comprisingthousands of acresand covered with a swaying growth of tropical grass higherthan my head. Almost at the limit of vision was a colossal palm tree whichseemed to fascinate and beckon me. By this time wonder and’ escape from theimperilled peninsula had largely dissipated my fearbut as I paused and sankfatigued to the pathidiy digging with my hands into the warmwhitish-goldensanda new and acute sense of danger seized me. Some terror in the swishingtall grass seemed added to that of the diabolically pounding seaand I startedup crying aloud and disjointedly"Tiger? Tiger? Is it Tiger? Beast? Beast?Is it a Beast that I am afraid of?" My mind wandered back to an ancient andclassical story of tigers which I had read; I strove to recall the authorbuthad difficulty. Then in the midst of my fear I remembered that the tale was byRudyard Kipling; nor did the grotesqueness of deeming him an ancient authoroccur to me; I wished for the volume containing this storyand had almoststarted back toward the doomed cottage to procure it when my better sense andthe lure of the palm prevented me.
Whether or not I could have resisted the backward beckoning without thecounter-fascination of the vast palm treeI do not know. This attraction wasnow dominantand I left the path and crawled on hands and knees down the valley’sslope despite my fear of the grass and of the serpents it might contain. Iresolved to fight for life and reason as long as possible against all menaces ofsea or landthough I sometimes feared defeat as the maddening swish of theuncanny grasses joined the still audible and irritating pounding of the distantbreakers. I would frequently pause and put my hands to my ears for reliefbutcould never quite shut out the detestable sound. It wasas it seemed to meonly after ages that I finally dragged myself to the beckoning palm tree and layquiet beneath its protecting shade.
There now ensued a series of incidents which transported me to the oppositeextremes of ecstasy and horror; incidents which I tremble to recall and dare notseek to interpret. No sooner had I crawled beneath the overhanging foliage ofthe palmthan there dropped from its branches a young child of such beauty as Inever beheld before. Though ragged and dustythis being bore the features of afaun or demigodand seemed almost to diffuse a radiance in the dense shadow ofthe tree. It smiled and extended its handbut before I could arise and speak Iheard in the upper air the exquisite melody of singing; notes high and low blentwith a sublime and ethereal harmoniousness. The sun had by this time sunk belowthe horizonand in the twilight I saw an aureole of lambent light encircled thechild’s head. Then in a tone of silver it addressed me: “It is the end. Theyhave come down through the gloaming from the stars. Now all is overand beyondthe Arinurian streams we shall dwell blissfully in Teloe.” As the child spokeI beheld a soft radiance through the leaves of the palm treeand risinggreeted a pair whom I knew to be the chief singers among those I had heard. Agod and goddess they must have beenfor such beauty is not mortal; and theytook my handssaying“Comechildyou have heard the voicesand all iswell. In Teloe beyond the Milky Way and the Arinurian streams are cities all ofamber and chalcedony. And upon their domes of many facets glisten the images ofstrange and beautiful stars. Under the ivory bridges of Teloe flow rivers ofliquid gold bearing pleasure-barges bound for blossomy Cytharion of the SevenSuns. And in Teloe and Cytharion abide only youthbeautyand pleasurenor areany sounds heardsave of laughtersongand the lute. Only the gods dwell inTeloe of the golden riversbut among them shalt thou dwell.”
As I listenedenchantedI suddenly became aware of a change in mysurroundings. The palm treeso lately overshadowing my exhausted formwas nowsome distance to my left and considerably below me. I was obviously floating inthe atmosphere; companioned not only by the strange child and the radiant pairbut by a constantly increasing throng of half-luminousvine-crowned youths andmaidens with wind-blown hair and joyful countenance. We slowly ascendedtogetheras if borne on a fragrant breeze which blew not from the earth butfrom the golden nebulaeand the child whispered in my ear that I must lookalways upward to the pathways of lightand never backward to the sphere I hadjust left. The youths and maidens now chanted mellifluous choriambics to theaccompaniment of lutesand I felt enveloped in a peace and happiness moreprofound than any I had in life imaginedwhen the intrusion of a single soundaltered my destiny and shattered my soul. Through the ravishing strains of thesingers and the lutanistsas if in mockingdaemoniac concordthrobbed fromgulfs below the damnablethe detestable pounding of that hideous ocean. Asthose black breakers beat their message into my ears I forgot the words of thechild and looked backdown upon the doomed scene from which I thought I hadescaped.
Down through the aether I saw the accursed earth slowly turningeverturningwith angry and tempestuous seas gnawing at wild desolate shores anddashing foam against the tottering towers of deserted cities. And under aghastly moon there gleamed sights I can never describesights I can neverforget; deserts of corpselike clay and jungles of ruin and decadence where oncestretched the populous plains and villages of my native landand maelstroms offrothing ocean where once rose the mighty temples of my forefathers. Mound thenorthern pole steamed a morass of noisome growths and miasmal vapourshissingbefore the onslaught of the ever-mounting waves that curled and fretted from theshuddering deep. Then a rending report dave the nightand athwart the desert ofdeserts appeared a smoking rift. Still the black ocean foamed and gnawedeatingaway the desert on either side as the rift in the center widened and widened.
There was now no land left but the desertand still the fuming ocean ate andate. All at once I thought even the pounding sea seemed afraid of somethingafraid of dark gods of the inner earth that are greater than the evil god ofwatersbut even if it was it could not turn back; and the desert had sufferedtoo much from those nightmare waves to help them now. So the ocean ate the lastof the land and poured into the smoking gulfthereby giving up all it had everconquered. From the new-flooded lands it flowed againuncovering death anddecay; and from its ancient and immemorial bed it trickled loathsomelyuncovering nighted secrets of the years when Time was young and the gods unborn.Above the waves rose weedy remembered spires. The moon laid pale lilies of lighton dead Londonand Paris stood up from its damp grave to be sanctified withstar-dust. Then rose spires and monoliths that were weedy but not remembered;terrible spires and monoliths of lands that men never knew were lands.
There was not any pounding nowbut only the unearthly roaring and hissing ofwaters tumbling into the rift. The smoke of that rift had changed to steamandalmost hid the world as it grew denser and denser. It seared my face and handsand when I looked to see how it affected my companions I found they had alldisappeared. Then very suddenly it endedand I knew no more till I awaked upona bed of convalescence. As the cloud of steam from the Plutonic gulf finallyconcealed the entire surface from my sightall the firmament shrieked at asudden agony of mad reverberations which shook the trembling aether. In onedelirious flash and burst it happened; one blindingdeafening holocaust offiresmokeand thunder that dissolved the wan moon as it sped outward to thevoid.
And when the smoke cleared awayand I sought to look upon the earthIbeheld against the background of coldhumorous stars only the dying sun and thepale mournful planets searching for their sister.
The Terrible Old Man
It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call onthe Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house onWater Street near the seaand is reputed to be both exceedingly rich andexceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of theprofession of Messrs. RicciCzanekand Silvafor that profession was nothingless dignified than robbery.
The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible OldMan which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricciand his colleaguesdespite the almost certain fact that he hides a fortune ofindefinite magnitude somewhere about his musty and venerable abode. He isintrutha very strange personbelieved to have been a captain of East Indiaclipper ships in his day; so old that no one can remember when he was youngandso taciturn that few know his real name. Among the gnarled trees in the frontyard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of largestonesoddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in someobscure Eastern temple. This collection frightens away most of the small boyswho love to taunt the Terrible Old Man about his long white hair and beardorto break the small-paned windows of his dwelling with wicked missiles; but thereare other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimessteal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes. These folk say that ona table in a bare room on the ground floor are many peculiar bottlesin each asmall piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. And they say that theTerrible Old Man talks to these bottlesaddressing them by such names as JackScar-FaceLong TomSpanish JoePetersand Mate Ellisand that whenever hespeaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes certain definitevibrations as if in answer.
Those who have watched the tallleanTerrible Old Man in these peculiarconversationsdo not watch him again. But Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek andManuel Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new andheterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New Englandlife and traditionsand they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a totteringalmost helpless grey-beardwho could not walk without the aid of his knottedcaneand whose thinweak hands shook pitifully. They were really quite sorryin their way for the lonelyunpopular old fellowwhom everybody shunnedandat whom all the dogs barked singularly. But business is businessand to arobber whose soul is in his professionthere is a lure and a challenge about avery old and very feeble man who has no account at the bankand who pays forhis few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted twocenturies ago.
Messrs. RicciCzanekand Silva selected the night of April 11th for theircall. Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentlemanwhilstMr. Czanek waited for them and their presumable metallic burden with a coveredmotor-car in Ship Streetby the gate in the tall rear wall of their host’sgrounds. Desire to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected policeintrusions prompted these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.
As prearrangedthe three adventurers started out separately in order toprevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward. Messrs. Ricci and Silva met inWater Street by the old man’s front gateand although they did not like theway the moon shone down upon the painted stones through the budding branches ofthe gnarled treesthey had more important things to think about than mere idlesuperstition. They feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible OldMan loquacious concerning his hoarded gold and silverfor aged sea-captains arenotably stubborn and perverse. Stillhe was very old and very feebleand therewere two visitors. Messrs. Ricci and Silva were experienced in the art of makingunwilling persons volubleand the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerableman can be easily muffled. So they moved up to the one lighted window and heardthe Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then theydonned masks and knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.
Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in thecovered motor-car by the Terrible Old Man’s back gate in Ship Street. He wasmore than ordinarily tender-heartedand he did not like the hideous screams hehad heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed. Hadhe not told his colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic oldsea-captain? Very nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high andivy-clad stone wall. Frequently he consulted his watchand wondered at thedelay. Had the old man died before revealing where his treasure was hiddenandhad a thorough search become necessary? Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so longin the dark in such a place. Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walkinside the gateheard a gentle fumbling at the rusty latchand saw the narrowheavy door swing inward. And in the pallid glow of the single dim street-lamp hestrained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinisterhouse which loomed so close behind. But when he lookedhe did not see what hehad expected; for his colleagues were not there at allbut only the TerribleOld Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously. Mr. Czanekhad never before noticed the colour of that man’s eyes; now he saw that theywere yellow.
Little things make considerable excitement in little townswhich is thereason that Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about the threeunidentifiable bodieshorribly slashed as with many cutlassesand horriblymangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heelswhich the tide washed in. Andsome people even spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found inShip Streetor certain especially inhuman criesprobably of a stray animal ormigratory birdheard in the night by wakeful citizens. But in this idle villagegossip the Terrible Old Man took no interest at all. He was by nature reservedand when one is aged and feebleone’s reserve is doubly strong. Besidessoancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring inthe far-off days of his unremembered youth.
On a verdant slope of Mount Maenalusin Arcadiathere stands an olive groveabout the ruins of a villa. Close by is a tombonce beautiful with thesublimest sculpturesbut now fallen into as great decay as the house. At oneend of that tombits curious roots displacing the time-stained blocks ofPanhellic marblegrows an unnaturally large olive tree of oddly repellentshape; so like to some grotesque manor death-distorted body of a manthat thecountry folk fear to pass it at night when the moon shines faintly through thecrooked boughs. Mount Maenalus is a chosen haunt of dreaded Panwhose queercompanions are manyand simple swains believe that the tree must have somehideous kinship to these weird Panisci; but an old bee-keeper who lives in theneighboring cottage told me a different story.
Many years agowhen the hillside villa was new and resplendentthere dweltwithin it the two sculptors Kalos and Musides. From Lydia to Neapolis the beautyof their work was praisedand none dared say that the one excelled the other inskill. The Hermes of Kalos stood in a marble shrine in Corinthand the Pallasof Musides surmounted a pillar in Athens near the Parthenon. All men paid homageto Kalos and Musidesand marvelled that no shadow of artistic jealousy cooledthe warmth of their brotherly friendship.
But though Kalos and Musides dwelt in unbroken harmonytheir natures werenot alike. Whilst Musides revelled by night amidst the urban gaieties of TegeaSaios would remain at home; stealing away from the sight of his slaves into thecool recesses of the olive grove. There he would meditate upon the visions thatfilled his mindand there devise the forms of beauty which later becameimmortal in breathing marble. Idle folkindeedsaid that Kalos conversed withthe spirits of the groveand that his statues were but images of the fauns anddryads he met there for he patterned his work after no living model.
So famous were Kalos and Musidesthat none wondered when the Tyrant ofSyracuse sent to them deputies to speak of the costly statue of Tyche which hehad planned for his city. Of great size and cunning workmanship must the statuebefor it was to form a wonder of nations and a goal of travellers. Exaltedbeyond thought would be he whose work should gain acceptanceand for this honorKalos and Musides were invited to compete. Their brotherly love was well knownand the crafty Tyrant surmised that eachinstead of concealing his work fromthe otherwould offer aid and advice; this charity producing two images ofunheard of beautythe lovelier of which would eclipse even the dreams of poets.
With joy the sculptors hailed the Tyrant's offerso that in the days thatfollowed their slaves heard the ceaseless blows of chisels. Not from each otherdid Kalos and Musides conceal their workbut the sight was for them alone.Saving theirsno eyes beheld the two divine figures released by skillful blowsfrom the rough blocks that had imprisoned them since the world began.
At nightas of yoreMusides sought the banquet halls of Tegea whilst Kaloswandered alone in the olive Grove. But as time passedmen observed a want ofgaiety in the once sparkling Musides. It was strangethey said amongstthemselves that depression should thus seize one with so great a chance to winart's loftiest reward. Many months passed yet in the sour face of Musides camenothing of the sharp expectancy which the situation should arouse.
Then one day Musides spoke of the illness of Kalosafter which nonemarvelled again at his sadnesssince the sculptors' attachment was known to bedeep and sacred. Subsequently many went to visit Kalosand indeed noticed thepallor of his face; but there was about him a happy serenity which made hisglance more magical than the glance of Musides who was clearly distracted withanxiety and who pushed aside all the slaves in his eagerness to feed and waitupon his friend with his own hands. Hidden behind heavy curtains stood the twounfinished figures of Tychelittle touched of late by the sick man and hisfaithful attendant.
As Kalos grew inexplicably weaker and weaker despite the ministrations ofpuzzled physicians and of his assiduous friendhe desired to be carried oftento the grove which he so loved. There he would ask to be left aloneas ifwishing to speak with unseen things. Musides ever granted his requeststhoughhis eyes filled with visible tears at the thought that Kalos should care morefor the fauns and the dryads than for him. At last the end drew nearand Kalosdiscoursed of things beyond this life. Musidesweepingpromised him asepulchre more lovely than the tomb of Mausolus; but Kalos bade him speak nomore of marble glories. Only one wish now haunted the mind of the dying man;that twigs from certain olive trees in the grove be buried by his restingplace-close to his head. And one nightsitting alone in the darkness of theolive groveKalos died. Beautiful beyond words was the marble sepulchre whichstricken Musides carved for his beloved friend. None but Kalos himself couldhave fashioned such basreliefswherein were displayed all the splendours ofElysium. Nor did Musides fail to bury close to Kalos' head the olive twigs fromthe grove.
As the first violence of Musides' grief gave place to resignationhe laboredwith diligence upon his figure of Tyche. All honour was now hissince theTyrant of Syracuse would have the work of none save him or Kalos. His taskproved a vent for his emotion and he toiled more steadily each dayshunning thegaieties he once had relished. Meanwhile his evenings were spent beside the tombof his friendwhere a young olive tree had sprung up near the sleeper's head.So swift was the growth of this treeand so strange was its formthat all whobeheld it exclaimed in surprise; and Musides seemed at once fascinated andrepelled.
Three years after the death of KalosMusides despatched a messenger to theTyrantand it was whispered in the agora at Tegea that the mighty statue wasfinished. By this time the tree by the tomb had attained amazing proportionsexceeding all other trees of its kindand sending out a singularly heavy branchabove the apartment in which Musides labored. As many visitors came to view theprodigious treeas to admire the art of the sculptorso that Musides wasseldom alone. But he did not mind his multitude of guests; indeedhe seemed todread being alone now that his absorbing work was done. The bleak mountain windsighing through the olive grove and the tomb-treehad an uncanny way of formingvaguely articulate sounds.
The sky was dark on the evening that the Tyrant's emissaries came to Tegea.It was definitely known that they had come to bear away the great image of Tycheand bring eternal honour to Musidesso their reception by the proxenoi was ofgreat warmth. As the night wore on a violent storm of wind broke over the crestof Maenalusand the men from far Syracuse were glad that they rested snugly inthe town. They talked of their illustrious Tyrantand of the splendour of hiscapital and exulted in the glory of the statue which Musides had wrought forhim. And then the men of Tegea spoke of the goodness of Musidesand of hisheavy grief for his friend and how not even the coming laurels of art couldconsole him in the absence of Kaloswho might have worn those laurels instead.Of the tree which grew by the tombnear the head of Kalosthey also spoke. Thewind shrieked more horriblyand both the Syracusans and the Arcadians prayed toAiolos.
In the sunshine of the morning the proxenoi led the Tyrant's messengers upthe slope to the abode of the sculptorbut the night wind had done strangethings. Slaves' cries ascended from a scene of desolationand no more amidstthe olive grove rose the gleaming colonnades of that vast hall wherein Musideshad dreamed and toiled. Lone and shaken mourned the humble courts and the lowerwallsfor upon the sumptuous greater peri-style had fallen squarely the heavyoverhanging bough of the strange new treereducing the stately poem in marblewith odd completeness to a mound of unsightly ruins. Strangers and Tegeans stoodaghastlooking from the wreckage to the greatsinister tree whose aspect wasso weirdly human and whose roots reached so queerly into the sculpturedsepulchre of Kalos. And their fear and dismay increased when they searched thefallen apartmentfor of the gentle Musidesand of the marvellously fashionedimage of Tycheno trace could be discovered. Amidst such stupendous ruin onlychaos dweltand the representatives of two cities left disappointed; Syracusansthat they had no statue to bear homeTegeans that they had no artist to crown.Howeverthe Syracusans obtained after a while a very splendid statue in Athensand the Tegeans consoled themselves by erecting in the agora a marble templecommemorating the giftsvirtuesand brotherly piety of Musides.
But the olive grove still standsas does the tree growing out of the tomb ofKalosand the old bee-keeper told me that sometimes the boughs whisper to oneanother in the night windsaying over and over again. "Oida! Oida! -Iknow! I know!"
The Nameless City
When I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed. I was traveling ina parched and terrible valley under the moonand afar I saw it protrudinguncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-madegrave. Fear spoke from the age-worn stones of this hoary survivor of the delugethis great-grandfather of the eldest pyramid; and a viewless aura repelled meand bade me retreat from antique and sinister secrets that no man should seeand no man else had dared to see.
Remote in the desert of Araby lies the nameless citycrumbling andinarticulateits low walls nearly hidden by the sands of uncounted ages. Itmust have been thus before the first stones of Memphis were laidand while thebricks of Babylon were yet unbaked. There is no legend so old as to give it anameor to recall that it was ever alive; but it is told of in whispers aroundcampfires and muttered about by grandams in the tents of sheiks so that all thetribes shun it without wholly knowing why. It was of this place that AbdulAlhazred the mad poet dreamed of the night before he sang his unexplainedcouplet:
That is not dead which can eternal lieAnd with strange aeons death may die.
I should have known that the Arabs had good reason for shunning the namelesscitythe city told of in strange tales but seen by no living manyet I defiedthem and went into the untrodden waste with my camel. I alone have seen itandthat is why no other face bears such hideous lines of fear as mine; why no otherman shivers so horribly when the night wind rattles the windows. When I cameupon it in the ghastly stillness of unending sleep it looked at mechilly fromthe rays of a cold moon amidst the desert's heat. And as I returned its look Iforgot my triumph at finding itand stopped still with my camel to wait for thedawn.
For hours I waitedtill the east grew grey and the stars fadedand the greyturned to roseate light edged with gold. I heard a moaning and saw a storm ofsand stirring among the antique stones though the sky was clear and the vastreaches of desert still. Then suddenly above the desert's far rim came theblazing edge of the sunseen through the tiny sandstorm which was passing awayand in my fevered state I fancied that from some remote depth there came a crashof musical metal to hail the fiery disc as Memnon hails it from the banks of theNile. My ears rang and my imagination seethed as I led my camel slowly acrossthe sand to that unvocal place; that place which I alone of living men had seen.
In and out amongst the shapeless foundations of houses and places I wanderedfinding never a carving or inscription to tell of these menif men they werewho built this city and dwelt therein so long ago. The antiquity of the spot wasunwholesomeand I longed to encounter some sign or device to prove that thecity was indeed fashioned by mankind. There were certain proportions anddimensions in the ruins which I did not like. I had with me many toolsand dugmuch within the walls of the obliterated edifices; but progress was slowandnothing significant was revealed. When night and the moon returned I felt achill wind which brought new fearso that I did not dare to remain in the city.And as I went outside the antique walls to sleepa small sighing sandstormgathered behind meblowing over the grey stones though the moon was bright andmost of the desert still.
I awakened just at dawn from a pageant of horrible dreamsmy ears ringing asfrom some metallic peal. I saw the sun peering redly through the last gusts of alittle sandstorm that hovered over the nameless cityand marked the quietnessof the rest of the landscape. Once more I ventured within those brooding ruinsthat swelled beneath the sand like an ogre under a coverletand again dugvainly for relics of the forgotten race. At noon I restedand in the afternoonI spent much time tracing the walls and bygone streetsand the outlines of thenearly vanished buildings. I saw that the city had been mighty indeedandwondered at the sources of its greatness. To myself I pictured all the spendoursof an age so distant that Chaldaea could not recall itand thought of Sarnaththe Doomedthat stood in the land of Mnar when mankind was youngand of Ibthat was carven of grey stone before mankind existed.
All at once I came upon a place where the bedrock rose stark through the sandand formed a low cliff; and here I saw with joy what seemed to promise furthertraces of the antediluvian people. Hewn rudely on the face of the cliff were theunmistakable facades of several smallsquat rock houses or temples; whoseinteriors might preserve many secrets of ages too remote for calculationthoughsandstorms had long effaced any carvings which may have been outside.
Very low and sand-choked were all the dark apertures near mebut I clearedone with my spade and crawled through itcarrying a torch to reveal whatevermysteries it might hold. When I was inside I saw that the cavern was indeed atempleand beheld plain signs of the race that had lived and worshipped beforethe desert was a desert. Primitive altarspillarsand nichesall curiouslylowwere not absent; and though I saw no sculptures or frescoesthere weremany singular stones clearly shaped into symbols by artificial means. Thelowness of the chiselled chamber was very strangefor I could hardly kneelupright; but the area was so great that my torch showed only part of it at atime. I shuddered oddly in some of the far corners; for certain altars andstones suggested forgotten rites of terriblerevolting and inexplicable natureand made me wonder what manner of men could have made and frequented such atemple. When I had seen all that the place containedI crawled out againavidto find what the temples might yield.
Night had now approachedyet the tangible things I had seen made curiositystronger than fearso that I did not flee from the long mooncast shadows thathad daunted me when first I saw the nameless city. In the twilight I clearedanother aperture and with a new torch crawled into itfinding more vague stonesand symbolsthough nothing more definite than the other temple had contained.The room was just as lowbut much less broadending in a very narrow passagecrowded with obscure and cryptical shrines. About these shrines I was pryingwhen the noise of a wind and my camel outside broke through the stillness anddrew me forth to see what could have frightened the beast.
The moon was gleaming vividly over the primitive ruinslighting a densecloud of sand that seemed blown by a strong but decreasing wind from some pointalong the cliff ahead of me. I knew it was this chillysandy wind which haddisturbed the camel and was about to lead him to a place of better shelter whenI chanced to glance up and saw that there was no wind atop the cliff. Thisastonished me and made me fearful againbut I immediately recalled the suddenlocal winds that I had seen and heard before at sunrise and sunsetand judgedit was a normal thing. I decided it came from some rock fissure leading to acaveand watched the troubled sand to trace it to its source; soon perceivingthat it came from the black orifice of a temple a long distance south of mealmost out of sight. Against the choking sand-cloud I plodded toward thistemplewhich as I neared it loomed larger than the restand shewed a doorwayfar less clogged with caked sand. I would have entered had not the terrificforce of the icy wind almost quenched my torch. It poured madly out of the darkdoorsighing uncannily as it ruffled the sand and spread among the weird ruins.Soon it grew fainter and the sand grew more and more stilltill finally all wasat rest again; but a presence seemed stalking among the spectral stones of thecityand when I glanced at the moon it seemed to quiver as though mirrored inunquiet waters. I was more afraid than I could explainbut not enough to dullmy thirst for wonder; so as soon as the wind was quite gone I crossed into thedark chamber from which it had come.
This templeas I had fancied from the outsidewas larger than either ofthose I had visited before; and was presumably a natural cavern since it borewinds from some region beyond. Here I could stand quite uprightbut saw thatthe stones and altars were as low as those in the other temples. On the wallsand roof I beheld for the first time some traces of the pictorial art of theancient racecurious curling streaks of paint that had almost faded or crumbledaway; and on two of the altars I saw with rising excitement a maze ofwell-fashioned curvilinear carvings. As I held my torch aloft it seemed to methat the shape of the roof was too regular to be naturaland I wondered whatthe prehistoric cutters of stone had first worked upon. Their engineering skillmust have been vast.
Then a brighter flare of the fantastic flame showed that form which I hadbeen seekingthe opening to those remoter abysses whence the sudden wind hadblown; and I grew faint when I saw that it was a small and plainly artificialdoor chiselled in the solid rock. I thrust my torch withinbeholding a blacktunnel with the roof arching low over a rough flight of very smallnumerous andsteeply descending steps. I shall always see those steps in my dreamsfor Icame to learn what they meant. At the time I hardly knew whether to call themsteps or mere footholds in a precipitous descent. My mind was whirling with madthoughtsand the words and warning of Arab prophets seemed to float across thedesert from the land that men know to the nameless city that men dare not know.Yet I hesitated only for a moment before advancing through the portal andcommencing to climb cautiously down the steep passagefeet firstas though ona ladder.
It is only in the terrible phantasms of drugs or delirium that any other mancan have such a descent as mine. The narrow passage led infinitely down likesome hideous haunted welland the torch I held above my head could not lightthe unknown depths toward which I was crawling. I lost track of the hours andforgot to consult my watchthough I was frightened when I thought of thedistance I must have be traversing. There were changes of direction and ofsteepness; and once I came to a longlowlevel passage where I had to wrigglemy feet first along the rocky floorholding torch at arm's length beyond myhead. The place was not high enough for kneeling. After that were more of thesteep stepsand I was still scrambling down interminably when my failing torchdied out. I do not think I noticed it at the timefor when I did notice it Iwas still holding it above me as if it were ablaze. I was quite unbalanced withthat instinct for the strange and the unknown which had made me a wanderer uponearth and a haunter of farancientand forbidden places.
In the darkness there flashed before my mind fragments of my cherishedtreasury of daemonic lore; sentences from Alhazred the mad Arabparagraphs fromthe apocryphal nightmares of Damasciusand infamous lines from the deliriousImage du Monde of Gauthier de Metz. I repeated queer extractsand muttered ofAfrasiab and the daemons that floated with him down the Oxus; later chantingover and over again a phrase from one of Lord Dunsany's tales--"Theunreveberate blackness of the abyss." Once when the descent grew amazinglysteep I recited something in sing-song from Thomas Moore until I feared torecite more:
A reservoir of darknessblack
As witches' cauldrons arewhen fill'd With moon-drugs in th' eclipse distill'dLeaning to look if foot might pass
Down thro' that chasmI sawbeneathAs far as vision could explore
The jetty sides as smooth as glass
Looking as if just varnish'd o'er
With that dark pitch the Seat of Death Throws out upon its slimy shore.
Time had quite ceased to exist when my feet again felt a level floorand Ifound myself in a place slightly higher than the rooms in the two smallertemples now so incalculably far above my head. I could not quite standbutcould kneel uprightand in the dark I shuffled and crept hither and thither atrandom. I soon knew that I was in a narrow passage whose walls were lined withcases of wood having glass fronts. As in that Palaeozoic and abysmal place Ifelt of such things as polished wood and glass I shuddered at the possibleimplications. The cases were apparently ranged along each side of the passage atregular intervalsand were oblong and horizontalhideously like coffins inshape and size. When I tried to move two or three for further examinationIfound that they were firmly fastened.
I saw that the passage was a long oneso floundered ahead rapidly in acreeping run that would have seemed horrible had any eye watched me in theblackness; crossing from side to side occasionally to feel of my surroundingsand be sure the walls and rows of cases still stretched on. Man is so used tothinking visually that I almost forgot the darkness and pictured the endlesscorridor of wood and glass in its low-studded monotony as though I saw it. Andthen in a moment of indescribable emotion I did see it.
Just when my fancy merged into real sight I cannot tell; but there came agradual glow aheadand all at once I knew that I saw the dim outlines of acorridor and the casesrevealed by some unknown subterranean phosphorescence.For a little while all was exactly as I had imagined itsince the glow was veryfaint; but as I mechanically kept stumbling ahead into the stronger light Irealised that my fancy had been but feeble. This hall was no relic of cruditylike the temples in the city abovebut a monument of the most magnificent andexotic art. Richvividand daringly fantastic designs and pictures formed acontinuous scheme of mural paintings whose lines and colours were beyonddescription. The cases were of a strange golden woodwith fronts of exquisiteglassand containing the mummified forms of creatures outreaching ingrotesqueness the most chaotic dreams of man.
To convey any idea of these monstrosities is impossible. They were of thereptile kindwith body lines suggesting sometimes the crocodilesometimes thesealbut more often nothing of which either the naturalist or thepalaeontologist ever heard. In size they approximated a small manand theirfore-legs bore delicate and evident feet curiously like human hands and fingers.But strangest of all were their headswhich presented a contour violating allknow biological principles. To nothing can such things be well compared - in oneflash I thought of comparisons as varied as the catthe bullfrogthe mythicSatyrand the human being. Not Jove himself had had so colossal and protuberanta foreheadyet the horns and the noselessness and the alligator-like jaw placedthings outside all established categories. I debated for a time on the realityof the mummieshalf suspecting they were artificial idols; but soon decidedthey were indeed some palaeogean species which had lived when the nameless citywas alive. To crown their grotesquenessmost of them were gorgeously enrobed inthe costliest of fabricsand lavishly laden with ornaments of goldjewelsandunknown shining metals.
The importance of these crawling creatures must have been vastfor they heldfirst place among the wild designs on the frescoed walls and ceiling. Withmatchless skill had the artist drawn them in a world of their ownwherein theyhad cities and gardens fashioned to suit their dimensions; and I could not helpbut think that their pictured history was allegoricalperhaps shewing theprogress of the race that worshipped them. These creaturesI said to myselfwere to men of the nameless city what the she-wolf was to Romeor sometotem-beast is to a tribe of Indians.
Holding this viewI could trace roughly a wonderful epic of the namelesscity; the tale of a mighty seacoast metropolis that ruled the world beforeAfrica rose out of the wavesand of its struggles as the sea shrank awayandthe desert crept into the fertile valley that held it. I saw its wars andtriumphsits troubles and defeatsand afterwards its terrible fight againstthe desert when thousands of its people - here represented in allegory by thegrotesque reptiles - were driven to chisel their way down though the rocks insome marvellous manner to another world whereof their prophets had told them. Itwas all vividly weird and realisticand its connection with the awesome descentI had made was unmistakable. I even recognized the passages.
As I crept along the corridor toward the brighter light I saw later stages ofthe painted epic - the leave-taking of the race that had dwelt in the namelesscity and the valley around for ten million years; the race whose souls shrankfrom quitting scenes their bodies had known so long where they had settled asnomads in the earth's youthhewing in the virgin rock those primal shrines atwhich they had never ceased to worship. Now that the light was better I studiedthe pictures more closely andremembering that the strange reptiles mustrepresent the unknown menpondered upon the customs of the nameless city. Manythings were peculiar and inexplicable. The civilizationwhich included awritten alphabethad seemingly risen to a higher order than those immeasurablylater civilizations of Egypt and Chaldaeayet there were curious omissions. Icouldfor examplefind no pictures to represent deaths or funeral customssave such as were related to warsviolenceand plagues; and I wondered at thereticence shown concerning natural death. It was as though an ideal ofimmortality had been fostered as a cheering illusion.
Still nearer the end of the passage was painted scenes of the utmostpicturesqueness and extravagance: contrasted views of the nameless city in itsdesertion and growing ruinand of the strange new realm of paradise to whichthe race had hewed its way through the stone. In these views the city and thedesert valley were shewn always by moonlightgolden nimbus hovering over thefallen wallsand half-revealing the splendid perfection of former timesshownspectrally and elusively by the artist. The paradisal scenes were almost tooextravagant to be believedportraying a hidden world of eternal day filled withglorious cities and ethereal hills and valleys. At the very last I thought I sawsigns of an artistic anticlimax. The paintings were less skillfuland much morebizarre than even the wildest of the earlier scenes. They seemed to record aslow decadence of the ancient stockcoupled with a growing ferocity toward theoutside world from which it was driven by the desert. The forms of the people -always represented by the sacred reptiles - appeared to be gradually wastingawaythrough their spirit as shewn hovering above the ruins by moonlight gainedin proportion. Emaciated priestsdisplayed as reptiles in ornate robescursedthe upper air and all who breathed it; and one terrible final scene shewed aprimitive-looking manperhaps a pioneer of ancient Iremthe City of Pillarstorn to pieces by members of the elder race. I remember how the Arabs fear thenameless cityand was glad that beyond this place the grey walls and ceilingwere bare.
As I viewed the pageant of mural history I had approached very closely to theend of the low-ceiled halland was aware of a gate through which came all ofthe illuminating phosphorescence. Creeping up to itI cried aloud intranscendent amazement at what lay beyond; for instead of other and brighterchambers there was only an illimitable void of uniform radiancesuch one mightfancy when gazing down from the peak of Mount Everest upon a sea of sunlit mist.Behind me was a passage so cramped that I could not stand upright in it; beforeme was an infinity of subterranean effulgence.
Reaching down from the passage into the abyss was the head of a steep flightof steps - small numerous steps like those of black passages I had traversed -but after a few feet the glowing vapours concealed everything. Swung back openagainst the left-hand wall of the passage was a massive door of brassincredibly thick and decorated with fantastic bas-reliefswhich could if closedshut the whole inner world of light away from the vaults and passages of rock. Ilooked at the stepand for the nonce dared not try them. I touched the openbrass doorand could not move it. Then I sank prone to the stone floormy mindaflame with prodigious reflections which not even a death-like exhaustion couldbanish.
As I lay still with closed eyesfree to pondermany things I had lightlynoted in the frescoes came back to me with new and terrible significance -scenes representing the nameless city in its heyday - the vegetations of thevalley around itand the distant lands with which its merchants traded. Theallegory of the crawling creatures puzzled me by its universal prominenceand Iwondered that it would be so closely followed in a pictured history of suchimportance. In the frescoes the nameless city had been shewn in proportionsfitted to the reptiles. I wondered what its real proportions and magnificencehad beenand reflected a moment on certain oddities I had noticed in the ruins.I thought curiously of the lowness of the primal temples and of the undergroundcorridorwhich were doubtless hewn thus out of deference to the reptile deitiesthere honoured; though it perforce reduced the worshippers to crawling. Perhapsthe very rites here involved crawling in imitation of the creatures. Noreligious theoryhowevercould easily explain why the level passages in thatawesome descent should be as low as the temples - or lowersince one cold noteven kneel in it. As I thought of the crawling creatureswhose hideousmummified forms were so close to meI felt a new throb of fear. Mentalassociations are curiousand I shrank from the idea that except for the poorprimitive man torn to pieces in the last paintingmine was the only human formamidst the many relics and symbols of the primordial life.
But as always in my strange and roving existencewonder soon drove out fear;for the luminous abyss and what it might contain presented a problem worthy ofthe greatest explorer. That a weird world of mystery lay far down that flight ofpeculiarly small steps I could not doubtand I hoped to find there those humanmemorials which the painted corridor had failed to give. The frescoes hadpictured unbelievable citiesand valleys in this lower realmand my fancydwelt on the rich and colossal ruins that awaited me.
My fearsindeedconcerned the past rather than the future. Not even thephysical horror of my position in that cramped corridor of dead reptiles andantediluvian frescoesmiles below the world I knew and faced by another worldof eery light and mistcould match the lethal dread I felt at the abysmalantiquity of the scene and its soul. An ancientness so vast that measurement isfeeble seemed to leer down from the primal stones and rock-hewn temples of thenameless citywhile the very latest of the astounding maps in the frescoesshewed oceans and continents that man has forgottenwith only here and theresome vaguely familiar outlines. Of what could have happened in the geologicalages since the paintings ceased and the death-hating race resentfully succumbedto decayno man might say. Life had once teemed in these caverns and in theluminous realm beyond; now I was alone with vivid relicsand I trembled tothink of the countless ages through which these relics had kept a silentdeserted vigil.
Suddenly there came another burst of that acute fear which had intermittentlyseized me ever since I first saw the terrible valley and the nameless city undera cold moonand despite my exhaustion I found myself starting frantically to asitting posture and gazing back along the black corridor toward the tunnels thatrose to the outer world. My sensations were like those which had made me shunthe nameless city at nightand were as inexplicable as they were poignant. Inanother momenthoweverI received a still greater shock in the form of adefinite sound - the first which had broken the utter silence of these tomb-likedepths. It was a deeplow moaningas of a distant throng of condemned spiritsand came from the direction in which I was staring. Its volume rapidly grewtill it soon reverberated frightfully through the low passageand at the sametime I became conscious of an increasing draught of old airlikewise flowingfrom the tunnels and the city above. The touch of this air seemed to restore mybalancefor I instantly recalled the sudden gusts which had risen around themouth of the abyss each sunset and sunriseone of which had indeed revealed thehidden tunnels to me. I looked at my watch and saw that sunrise was nearsobracing myself to resist the gale that was sweeping down to its cavern home asit had swept forth at evening. My fear again waned lowsince a naturalphenomenon tends to dispel broodings over the unknown.
More and more madly poured the shriekingmoaning night wind into the gulf ofthe inner earth. I dropped prone again and clutched vainly at the floor for fearof being swept bodily through the open gate into the phosphorescent abyss. Suchfury I had not expectedand as I grew aware of an actual slipping of my formtoward the abyss I was beset by a thousand new terrors of apprehension andimagination. The malignancy of the blast awakened incredible fancies; once moreI compared myself shudderingly to the only human image in that frightfulcorridorthe man who was torn to pieces by the nameless racefor in thefiendish clawing of the swirling currents there seemed to abide a vindictiverage all the stronger because it was largely impotent. I think I screamedfrantically near the last - I was almost mad - of the howling wind-wraiths. Itried to crawl against the murderous invisible torrentbut I could not evenhold my own as I was pushed slowly and inexorably toward the unknown world.Finally reason must have wholly snapped; for I fell babbling over and over thatunexplainable couplet of the mad Arab Alhazredwho dreamed of the namelesscity:
That is not dead which can eternal lieAnd with strange aeons even death maydie.
Only the grim brooding desert gods know what really took place--whatindescribable struggles and scrambles in the dark I endured or what Abaddonguided me back to lifewhere I must always remember and shiver in the nightwind till oblivion - or worse - claims me. Monstrousunnaturalcolossalwasthe thing - too far beyond all the ideas of man to be believed except in thesilent damnable small hours of the morning when one cannot sleep.
I have said that the fury of the rushing blast was infernal - cacodaemoniacal- and that its voices were hideous with the pent-up viciousness of desolateeternities. Presently these voiceswhile still chaotic before meseemed to mybeating brain to take articulate form behind me; and down there in the grave ofunnumbered aeon-dead antiquitiesleagues below the dawn-lit world of menIheard the ghastly cursing and snarling of strange-tongued fiends. TurningI sawoutlined against the luminous aether of the abyss what could not be seen againstthe dusk of the corridor - a nightmare horde of rushing devils; hate distortedgrotesquely panopliedhalf transparent devils of a race no man might mistake -the crawling reptiles of the nameless city.
And as the wind died away I was plunged into the ghoul-pooled darkness ofearth's bowels; for behind the last of the creatures the great brazen doorclanged shut with a deafening peal of metallic music whose reverberationsswelled out to the distant world to hail the rising sun as Memnon hails it fromthe banks of the Nile.
Herbert West: Reanimator
I. From The Dark
Of Herbert Westwho was my friend in college and in after lifeI can speakonly with extreme terror. This terror is not due altogether to the sinistermanner of his recent disappearancebut was engendered by the whole nature ofhis life-workand first gained its acute form more than seventeen years agowhen we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic UniversityMedical School in Arkham. While he was with methe wonder and diabolism of hisexperiments fascinated me utterlyand I was his closest companion. Now that heis gone and the spell is brokenthe actual fear is greater. Memories andpossibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I everexperiencedand it is only with reluctance that I repeat it. As I have saidithappened when we were in the medical school1 where West had already made himselfnotorious through his wild theories on the nature of death and the possibilityof overcoming it artificially. His viewswhich were widely ridiculed by thefaculty and by his fellow-studentshinged on the essentially mechanistic natureof life; and concerned means for operating the organic machinery of mankind bycalculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes. In hisexperiments with various animating solutionshe had killed and treated immensenumbers of rabbitsguinea-pigscatsdogsand monkeystill he had become theprime nuisance of the college. Several times he had actually obtained signs oflife in. animals supposedly dead; in many cases violent sign5; but he soon sawthat the perfection of his processif indeed possiblewould necessarilyinvolve a lifetime of research. It likewise became clear thatsince the samesolution never worked alike on different organic specieshe would require humansubjects for further and more specialised progress. It was here that he firstcame into conflict with the college authoritiesand was debarred from futureexperiments by no less a dignitary than the dean of the medical school himself-- the learned and benevolent Dr. Allan Halseywhose work in behalf of thestricken is recalled by every old resident of Arkham.
I had always been exceptionally tolerant of West’s pursuitsand wefrequently discussed his theorieswhose ramifications and corollaries werealmost infinite. Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physicalprocessand that the so-called "soul" is a mythmy friend believedthat artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of thetissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set ina corpse fullyequipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in thepeculiar fashion known as life. That the psychic or intellectual life might beimpaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a shortperiod of death would be apt to causeWest fully realised. It had at first beenhis hope to find a reagent which would restore vitality before the actual adventof deathand only repeated failures on animals had shewn him that the naturaland artificial life-motions were incompatible. He then sought extreme freshnessin his specimensinjecting his solutions into the blood immediately after theextinction of life. It was this circumstance which made the professors socarelessly scepticalfor they felt that true death had not occurred in anycase. They did not stop to view the matter closely and reasoningly.
It was not long after the faculty had interdicted his work that West confidedto me his resolution to get fresh human bodies in some mannerand continue insecret the experiments he could no longer perform openly. To hear him discussingways and means was rather ghastlyfor at the college we had never procuredanatomical specimens ourselves. Whenever the morgue proved inadequatetwo localnegroes attended to this matterand they were seldom questioned. West was thena smallslenderspectacled youth with delicate featuresyellow hairpaleblue eyesand a soft voiceand it was uncanny to hear him dwelling on therelative merits of Christchurch Cemetery and the potter’s field. We finallydecided on the potter’s fieldbecause practically every body in Christchurchwas embalmed; a thing of course ruinous to West’s researches.
I was by this time his active and enthralled assistantand helped him makeall his decisionsnot only concerning the source of bodies but concerning asuitable place for our loathsome work. It was I who thought of the desertedChapman farmhouse beyond Meadow Hillwhere we fitted up on the ground floor anoperating room and a laboratoryeach with dark curtains to conceal our midnightdoings. The place was far from any roadand in sight of no other houseyetprecautions were none the less necessary; since rumours of strange lightsstarted by chance nocturnal roamerswould soon bring disaster on ourenterprise. It was agreed to call the whole thing a chemical laboratory ifdiscovery should occur. Gradually we equipped our sinister haunt of science withmaterials either purchased in Boston or quietly borrowed from the college --materials carefully made unrecognisable save to expert eyes -- and providedspades and picks for the many burials we should have to make in the cellar. Atthe college we used an incineratorbut the apparatus was too costly for ourunauthorised laboratory. Bodies were always a nuisance -- even the smallguinea-pig bodies from the slight clandestine experiments in West’s room atthe boarding-house.
We followed the local death-notices like ghoulsfor our specimens demandedparticular qualities. What we wanted were corpses interred soon after death andwithout artificial preservation; preferably free from malforming diseaseandcertainly with all organs present. Accident victims were our best hope. Not formany weeks did we hear of anything suitable; though we talked with morgue andhospital authoritiesostensibly in the college’s interestas often as wecould without exciting suspicion. We found that the college had first choice inevery caseso that it might be necessary to remain in Arkham during the summerwhen only the limited summer-school classes were held. In the endthoughluckfavoured us; for one day we heard of an almost ideal case in the potter’sfield; a brawny young workman drowned only the morning before in Summer’sPondand buried at the town’s expense without delay or embalming. Thatafternoon we found the new graveand determined to begin work soon aftermidnight.
It was a repulsive task that we undertook in the black small hourseventhough we lacked at that time the special horror of graveyards which laterexperiences brought to us. We carried spades and oil dark lanternsfor althoughelectric torches were then manufacturedthey were not as satisfactory as thetungsten contrivances of today. The process of unearthing was slow and sordid --it might have been gruesomely poetical if we had been artists instead ofscientists -- and we were glad when our spades struck wood. When the pine boxwas fully uncoveredWest scrambled down and removed the liddragging out andpropping up the contents. I reached down and hauled the contents out of thegraveand then both toiled hard to restore the spot to its former appearance.The affair made us rather nervousespecially the stiff form and vacant face ofour first trophybut we managed to remove all traces of our visit. When we hadpatted down the last shovelful of earthwe- put the specimen in a canvas sackand set out for the old Chapman place beyoiid Meadow Hill.
On an improvised dissecting-table in the old farmhouseby the light of apowerful acetylene lampthe specimen was not very spectral looking. It had beena sturdy and apparently unimaginative youth of wholesome plebeian type --large-framedgrey-eyedand brown-haired -- a sound animal withoutpsychological subtletiesand probably having vital processes of the simplestand healthiest sort. Nowwith the eyes closedit looked more asleep than dead;though the expert test of my friend soon left no doubt on that score. We had atlast what West had always longed for -- a real dead man of the ideal kindreadyfor the solution as prepared according to the most careful calculations andtheories for human use. The tension on our part became very great. We knew thatthere was scarcely a chance for anything like complete successand could notavoid hideous fears at possible grotesque results of partial animation.Especially were we apprehensive concerning the mind and impulses of thecreaturesince in the space following death some of the more delicate cerebralcells might well have suffered deterioration. Imyselfstill held some curiousnotions about the traditional "soul" of manand felt an awe at thesecrets that might be told by one returning from the dead. I wondered whatsights this placid youth might have seen in inaccessible spheresand what hecould relate if fully restored to life. But my wonder was not overwhelmingsince for the most part I shared the materialism of my friend. He was calmerthan I as he forced a large quantity of his fluid into a vein of the body’sarmimmediately binding the incision securely.
The waiting was gruesomebut West never faltered. Every now and then heapplied his stethoscope to the specimenand bore the negative resultsphilosophically. After about three-quarters of an hour without the least sign oflife he disappointedly pronounced the solution inadequatebut determined tomake the most of his opportunity and try one change in the formula beforedisposing of his ghastly prize. We had that afternoon dug a grave in the cellarand would have to fill it by dawn -- for although we had fixed a lock on thehousewe wished to shun even the remotest risk of a ghoulish discovery.Besidesthe body would not be even approximately fresh the next night. Sotaking the solitary acetylene lamp into the adjacent laboratorywe left oursilent guest on the slab in the darkand bent every energy to the mixing of anew solution; the weighing and measuring supervised by West with an almostfanatical care.
The awful event was very suddenand wholly unexpected. I was pouringsomething from one test-tube to anotherand West was busy over the alcoholblast-lamp which had to answer for a Bunsen burner in this gasless edificewhenfrom the pitch-black room we had left there burst the most appalling anddaemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard. Not moreunutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself hadopened to release the agony of the damnedfor in one inconceivable cacophonywas centered all the supernal terror and unnatural despair of animate nature.Human it could not have been -- it is not in man to make such sounds -- andwithout a thought of our late employment or its possible discoveryboth Westand I leaped to the nearest window like stricken animals; overturning tubeslampand retortsand vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.I think we screamed ourselves as we stumbled frantically toward the townthoughas we reached the outskirts we put on a semblance of restraint -- just enough toseem like belated revellers staggering home from a debauch.
We did not separatebut managed to get to West’s roomwhere we whisperedwith the gas up until dawn. By then we had calmed ourselves a little withrational theories and plans for investigationso that we could sleep throughthe day -- classes being disregarded. But that evening two items in the paperwholly unrelatedmade it again impossible for us to sleep. The old desertedChapman house had inexplicably burned to an amorphous heap of ashes; that wecould understand because of the upset lamp. Alsoan attempt had been made todisturb a new grave in the potter’s fieldas if by futile and spadelessclawing at the earth. That we could not understandfor we had patted down themould very carefully.
And for seventeen years after that West would look frequently over hisshoulderand complain of fancied footsteps behind him. Now he has disappeared.
II. The Plague-Daemon
I shall never forget that hideous summer sixteen years agowhen like anoxious afrite from the halls of Eblis typhoid stalked leeringly through Arkham.It is by that satanic scourge that most recall the yearfor truly terrorbrooded with bat-wings over the piles of coffins in the tombs of ChristchurchCemetery; yet for me there is a greater horror in that time -- a horror known tome alone now that Herbert West has disappeared.
West and I were doing post-graduate work in summer classes at the medicalschool of Miskatonic Universityand my friend had attained a wide notorietybecause of his experiments leading toward the revivification of the dead. Afterthe scientific slaughter of uncounted small animals the freakish work hadostensibly stopped by order of our sceptical deanDr. Allan Halsey; though Westhad continued to perform certain secret tests in his dingy boarding-house roomand had on one terrible and unforgettable occasion taken a human body from itsgrave in the potter’s field to a deserted farmhouse beyond Meadow Hill.
I was with him on that odious occasionand saw him inject into the stillveins the elixir which he thought would to some extent restore life’s chemicaland physical processes. It had ended horribly -- in a delirium of fear which wegradually came to attribute to our own overwrought nerves -- and West had neverafterward been able to shake off a maddening sensation of being haunted andhunted. The body had not been quite fresh enough; it is obvious that to restorenormal mental attributes a body must be very fresh indeed; and the burning ofthe old house had prevented us from burying the thing. It would have been betterif we could have known it was underground.
After that experience West had dropped his researches for some time; but asthe zeal of the born scientist slowly returnedhe again became importunate withthe college facultypleading for the use of the dissecting-room and of freshhuman specimens for the work he regarded as so overwhelmingly important. Hispleashoweverwere wholly in vain; for the decision of Dr. Halsey wasinflexibleand the other professors all endorsed the verdict of their leader.In the radical theory of reanimation they saw nothing but the immature vagariesof a youthful enthusiast whose slight formyellow hairspectacled blue eyesand soft voice gave no hint of the supernormal -- almost diabolical -- power ofthe cold brain within. I can see him now as he was then -- and I shiver. He grewsterner of facebut never elderly. And now Sefton Asylum has had the mishap andWest has vanished.
West clashed disagreeably with Dr. Halsey near the end of our lastundergraduate term in a wordy dispute that did less credit to him than to thekindiy dean in point of courtesy. He felt that he was needlessly andirrationally retarded in a supremely great work; a work which he could of courseconduct to suit himself in later yearsbut which he wished to begin while stillpossessed of the exceptional facilities of the university. That thetradition-bound elders should ignore his singular results on animalsandpersist in their denial of the possibility of reanimationwas inexpressiblydisgusting and almost incomprehensible to a youth of West’s logicaltemperament. Only greater maturity could help him understand the chronic mentallimitations of the "professor-doctor" type -- the product ofgenerations of pathetic Puritanism; kindlyconscientiousand sometimes gentleand amiableyet always narrowintolerantcustom-riddenand lacking inperspective. Age has more charity for these incomplete yet high-souledcharacterswhose worst real vice is timidityand who are ultimately punishedby general ridicule for their intellectual sins -- sins like PtolemaismCalvinismanti-Darwinismanti-Nietzscheismand every sort of Sabbatarianismand sumptuary legislation. Westyoung despite his marvellous scientificacquirementshad scant patience with good Dr. Halsey and his eruditecolleagues; and nursed an increasing resentmentcoupled with a desire to provehis theories to these obtuse worthies in some striking and dramatic fashion.Like most youthshe indulged in elaborate daydreams of revengetriumphandfinal magnanimous forgiveness.
And then had come the scourgegrinning and lethalfrom the nightmarecaverns of Tartarus. West and I had graduated about the time of its beginningbut had remained for additional work at the summer schoolso that we were inArkham when it broke with full daemoniac fury upon the town. Though not as yetlicenced physicianswe now had our degreesand were pressed frantically intopublic service as the numbers of the stricken grew. The situation was almostpast managementand deaths ensued too frequently for the local undertakersfully to handle. Burials without embalming were made in rapid successionandeven the Christchurch Cemetery receiving tomb was crammed with coffins of theunembalmed dead. This circumstance was not without effect on Westwho thoughtoften of the irony of the situation -- so many fresh specimensyet none for hispersecuted researches! We were frightfully overworkedand the terrific mentaland nervous strain made my friend brood morbidly.
But West’s gentle enemies were no less harassed with prostrating duties.College had all but closedand every doctor of the medical faculty was helpingto fight the typhoid plague. Dr. Halsey in particular had distinguished himselfin sacrificing serviceapplying his extreme skill with whole-hearted energy tocases which many others shunned because of danger or apparent hopelessness.Before a month was over the fearless dean had become a popular herothough heseemed unconscious of his fame as he struggled to keep from collapsing withphysical fatigue and nervous exhaustion. West could not withhold admiration forthe fortitude of his foebut because of this was even more determined to proveto him the truth of his amazing doctrines. Taking advantage of thedisorganisation of both college work and municipal health regulationshemanaged to get a recently deceased body smuggled into the universitydissecting-room one nightand in my presence injected a new modification of hissolution. The thing actually opened its eyesbut only stared at the ceilingwith a look of soul-petrifying horror before collapsing into an inertness fromwhich nothing could rouse it. West said it was not fresh enough -- the hotsummer air does not favour corpses. That time we were almost caught before weincinerated the thingand West doubted the advisability of repeating his daringmisuse of the college laboratory.
The peak of the epidemic was reached in August. West and I were almost deadand Dr. Halsey did die on the 14th. The students all attended the hasty funeralon the 15thand bought an impressive wreaththough the latter was quiteovershadowed by the tributes sent by wealthy Arkham citizens and by themunicipality itself. It was almost a public affairfor the dean had surely beena public benefactor. After the entombment we were all somewhat depressedandspent the afternoon at the bar of the Commercial House; where Westthoughshaken by the death of his chief opponentchilled the rest of us withreferences to his notorious theories. Most of the students went homeor tovarious dutiesas the evening advanced; but West persuaded me to aid him in"making a night of it" West’s landlady saw us arrive at his roomabout two in the morningwith a third man between us; and told her husband thatwe had all evidently dined and wined rather well.
Apparently this acidulous matron was right; for about 3 a.m. the whole housewas aroused by cries coming from West’s roomwhere when they broke down thedoorthey found the two of us unconscious on the blood-stained carpetbeatenscratchedand mauledand with the broken remnants of West’s bottles andinstruments around us. Only an open window told what had become of ourassailantand many wondered how he himself had fared after the terrific leapfrom the second story to the lawn which he must have made. There were somestrange garments in the roombut West upon regaining consciousness said theydid not belong to the strangerbut were specimens collected for bacteriologicalanalysis in the course of investigations on the transmission of germ diseases.He ordered them burnt as soon as possible in the capacious fireplace. To thepolice we both declared ignorance of our late companion’s identity. He wasWest nervously saida congenial stranger whom we had met at some downtown barof uncertain location. We had all been rather jovialand West and I did notwish to have our pugnacious companion hunted down.
That same night saw the beginning of the second Arkham horror -- the horrorthat to me eclipsed the plague itself. Christ-church Cemetery was the scene of aterrible killing; a watchman having been clawed to death in a manner not onlytoo hideous for descriptionbut raising a doubt as to the human agency of thedeed. The victim had been seen alive considerably after midnight -- the dawnrevealed the unutterable thing. The manager of a circus at the neighbouring townof Bolton was questionedbut he swore that no beast had at any time escapedfrom its cage. Those who found the body noted a trail of blood leading to thereceiving tombwhere a small pool of red lay on the concrete just outside thegate. A fainter trail led away toward the woodsbut it soon gave out.
The next night devils danced on the roofs of Arkhamand unnatural madnesshowled in the wind. Through the fevered town had crept a curse which some saidwas greater than the plagueand which some whispered was the embodieddaemon-soul of the plague itself. Eight houses were entered by a nameless thingwhich strewed red death in its wake -- in allseventeen maimed and shapelessremnants of bodies were left behind by the voicelesssadistic monster thatcrept abroad. A few persons had half seen it in the darkand said it was whiteand like a malformed ape or anthropomorphic fiend. It had not left behind quiteall that it had attackedfor sometimes it had been hungry. The number it hadkilled was fourteen; three of the bodies had been in stricken homes and had notbeen alive.
On the third night frantic bands of searchersled by the policecaptured itin a house on Crane Street near the Miskatonic campus. They had organised thequest with carekeeping in touch by means of volunteer telephone stationsandwhen someone in the college district had reported hearing a scratching at ashuttered windowthe net was quickly spread. On account of the general alarmand precautionsthere were only two more victimsand the capture was effectedwithout major casualties. The thing was finally stopped by a bulletthough nota fatal oneand was rushed to the local hospital amidst universal excitementand loathing.
For it had been a man. This much was clear despite the nauseous eyesthevoiceless simianismand the daemoniac savagery. They dressed its wound andcarted it to the asylum at Seftonwhere it beat its head against the walls of apadded cell for sixteen years -- until the recent mishapwhen it escaped undercircumstances that few like to mention. What had most disgusted the searchers of
Arkham was the thing they noticed when the monster’s face was cleaned --the mockingunbelievable resemblance to a learned and self-sacrificing martyrwho had been entombed but three days before -- the late Dr. Allan Halseypublicbenefactor and dean of the medical school of Miskatonic University.
To the vanished Herbert West and to me the disgust and horror were supreme. Ishudder tonight as I think of it; shudder even more than I did that morning whenWest muttered through his bandages"Damn itit wasn’t quite freshenough!"
III. Six Shots by Moonlight
It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness whenone would probably be sufficientbut many things in the life of Herbert Westwere uncommon. It isfor instancenot often that a young physician leavingcollege is obliged to conceal the principles which guide his selection of a homeand officeyet that was the case with Herbert West. When he and I obtained ourdegrees at the medical school of Miskatonic Universityand sought to relieveour poverty by setting up as general practitionerswe took great care not tosay that we chose our house because it was fairly well isolatedand as near aspossible to the potter’s field.
Reticence such as this is seldom without a causenor indeed was ours; forour requirements were those resulting from a life-work distinctly unpopular.Outwardly we were doctors onlybut beneath the surface were aims of far greaterand more terrible moment -- for the essence of Herbert West’s existence was aquest amid black and forbidden realms of the unknownin which he hoped touncover the secret of life and restore to perpetual animation the graveyard’scold clay. Such a quest demands strange materialsamong them fresh humanbodies; and in order to keep supplied with these indispensable things one mustlive quietly and not far from a place of informal interment.
West and I had met in collegeand I had been the only one to sympathise withhis hideous experiments. Gradually I had come to be his inseparable assistantand now that we were out of college we had to keep together. It was not easy tofind a good opening for two doctors in companybut finally the influence of theuniversity secured us a practice in Bolton -- a factory town near Arkhamtheseat of the college. The Bolton Worsted Mills are the largest in the MiskatonicValleyand their polyglot employees are never popular as patients with thelocal physicians. We chose our house with the greatest careseizing at last ona rather run-down cottage near the end of Pond Street; five numbers from theclosest neighbourand separated from the local potter’s field by only astretch of meadow landbisected by a narrow neck of the rather dense forestwhich lies to the north. The distance was greater than we wishedbut we couldget no nearer house without going on the other side of the fieldwholly out ofthe factory district. We were not much displeasedhoweversince there were nopeople between us and our sinister source of supplies. The walk was a triflelongbut we could haul our silent specimens undisturbed.
Our practice was surprisingly large from the very first -- large enough toplease most young doctorsand large enough to prove a bore and a burden tostudents whose real interest lay elsewhere. The mill-hands were of somewhatturbulent inclinations; and besides their many natural needstheir frequentclashes and stabbing affrays gave us plenty to do. But what actually absorbedour minds was the secret laboratory we had fitted up in the cellar -- thelaboratory with the long table under the electric lightswhere in the smallhours of the morning we often injected West’s various solutions into the veinsof the things we dragged from the potter’s field. West was experimenting madlyto find something which would start man’s vital motions anew after they hadbeen stopped by the thing we call deathbut had encountered the most ghastlyobstacles. The solution had to be differently compounded for different types --what would serve for guinea-pigs would not serve for human beingsand differenthuman specimens required large modifications.
The bodies had to be exceedingly freshor the slight decomposition of braintissue would render perfect reanimation impossible. Indeedthe greatest problemwas to get them fresh enough -- West had had horrible experiences during hissecret college researches with corpses of doubtful vintage. The results ofpartial or imperfect animation were much more hideous than were the totalfailuresand we both held fearsome recollections of such things. Ever since ourfirst daemoniac session in the deserted farmhouse on Meadow Hill in Arkhamwehad felt a brooding menace; and Westthough a calmblondblue-eyed scientificautomaton in most respectsoften confessed to a shuddering sensation ofstealthy pursuit. He half felt that he was followed -- a psychological delusionof shaken nervesenhanced by the undeniably disturbing fact that at least oneof our reanimated specimens was still alive -- a frightful carnivorous thing ina padded cell at Sefton. Then there was another -- our first -- whose exact fatewe had never learned.
We had fair luck with specimens in Bolton -- much better than in Arkham. Wehad not been settled a week before we got an accident victim on the very nightof burialand made it open its eyes with an amazingly rational expressionbefore the solution failed. It had lost an arm -- if it had been a perfect bodywe might have succeeded better. Between then and the next January we securedthree more; one total failureone case of marked muscular motionand onerather shivery thing -- it rose of itself and uttered a sound. Then came aperiod when luck was poor; interments fell offand those that did occur were ofspecimens either too diseased or too maimed for use. We kept track of all thedeaths and their circumstances with systematic care.
One March nighthoweverwe unexpectedly obtained a specimen which did notcome from the potter’s field. In Bolton the prevailing spirit of Puritanismhad outlawed the sport of boxing -- with the usual result. Surreptitious andill-conducted bouts among the mill-workers were commonand occasionallyprofessional talent of low grade was imported. This late winter night there hadbeen such a match; evidently with disastrous resultssince two timorous Poleshad come to us with incoherently whispered entreaties to attend to a very secretand desperate case. We followed them to an abandoned barnwhere the remnants ofa crowd of frightened foreigners were watching a silent black form on the floor.
The match had been between Kid O’Brien -- a lubberly and now quaking youthwith a most un-Hibernian hooked nose -- and Buck Robinson"The HarlemSmoke." The negro had been knocked outand a moment’s examination shewedus that he would permanently remain so. He was a loathsomegorilla-like thingwith abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legsand a facethat conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundingsunder an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life -- but theworld holds many ugly things. Fear was upon the whole pitiful crowdfor theydid not know what the law would exact of them if the affair were not hushed up;and they were grateful when Westin spite of my involuntary shuddersofferedto get rid of the thing quietly -- for a purpose I knew too well.
There was bright moonlight over the snowless landscapebut we dressed thething and carried it home between us through the deserted streets and meadowsas we had carried a similar thing one horrible night in Arkham. We approachedthe house from the field in the reartook the specimen in the back door anddown the cellar stairsand prepared it for the usual experiment. Our fear ofthe police was absurdly greatthough we had timed our trip to avoid thesolitary patrolman of that section.
The result was wearily anticlimactic. Ghastly as our prize appearedit waswholly unresponsive to every solution we injected in its black arm; solutionsprepared from experience with white specimens only. So as the hour grewdangerously near to dawnwe did as we had done with the others -- dragged thething across the meadows to the neck of the woods near the potter’s fieldandburied it there in the best sort of grave the frozen ground would furnish. Thegrave was not very deepbut fully as good as that of the previous specimen --the thing which had risen of itself and uttered a sound. In the light of ourdark lanterns we carefully covered it with leaves and dead vinesfairly certainthat the police would never find it in a forest so dim and dense.
The next day I was increasingly apprehensive about the policefor a patientbrought rumours of a suspected fight and death. West had still another source ofworryfor he had been called in the afternoon to a case which ended verythreateningly. An Italian woman had become hysterical over her missing child --a lad of five who had strayed off early in the morning and failed to appear fordinner -- and had developed symptoms highly alarming in view of an always weakheart. It was a very foolish hysteriafor the boy had often run away before;but Italian peasants are exceedingly superstitiousand this woman seemed asmuch harassed by omens as by facts. About seven o’clock in the evening she haddiedand her frantic husband had made a frightful scene in his efforts to killWestwhom he wildly blamed for not saving her life. Friends had held him whenhe drew a stilettobut West departed amidst his inhuman shriekscurses andoaths of vengeance. In his latest affliction the fellow seemed to have forgottenhis childwho was still missing as the night advanced. There was some talk ofsearching the woodsbut most of the family’s friends were busy with the deadwoman and the screaming man. Altogetherthe nervous strain upon West must havebeen tremendous. Thoughts of the police and of the mad Italian both weighedheavily.
We retired about elevenbut I did not sleep well. Bolton had a surprisinglygood police force for so small a townand I could not help fearing the messwhich would ensue if the affair of the night before were ever tracked down. Itmight mean the end of all our local work -- and perhaps prison for both West andme. I did not like those rumours of a fight which were floating about. After theclock had struck three the moon shone in my eyesbut I turned over withoutrising to pull down the shade. Then came the steady rattling at the back door.
I lay still and somewhat dazedbut before long heard West’s rap on mydoor. He was clad in dressing-gown and slippersand had in his hands a revolverand an electric flashlight. From the revolver I knew that he was thinking moreof the crazed Italian than of the police.
"We’d better both go" he whispered. "It wouldn’t do notto answer it anywayand it may be a patient -- it would be like one of thosefools to try the back door."
So we both went down the stairs on tiptoewith a fear partly justified andpartly that which comes only from the soul of the weird small hours. Therattling continuedgrowing somewhat louder. When we reached the door Icautiously unbolted it and threw it openand as the moon streamed revealinglydown on the form silhouetted thereWest did a peculiar thing. Despite theobvious danger of attracting notice and bringing down on our heads the dreadedpolice investigation -- a thing which after all was mercifully averted by therelative isolation of our cottage -- my friend suddenlyexcitedlyandunnecessarily emptied all six chambers of his revolver into the nocturnalvisitor.
For that visitor was neither Italian nor policeman. Looming hideously againstthe spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save innightmares -- a glassy-eyedink-black apparition nearly on all fourscoveredwith bits of mouldleavesand vinesfoul with caked bloodand having betweenits glistening teeth a snow-whiteterriblecylindrical object terminating in atiny hand.
IV. The Scream of the Dead
The scream of a dead man gave to me that acute and added horror of Dr.Herbert West which harassed the latter years of our companionship. It is naturalthat such a thing as a dead man’s scream should give horrorfor it isobviouslynot a pleasing or ordinary occurrence; but I was used to similarexperienceshence suffered on this occasion only because of a particularcircumstance. Andas I have impliedit was not of the dead man himself that Ibecame afraid.
Herbert Westwhose associate and assistant I waspossessed scientificinterests far beyond the usual routine of a village physician. That was whywhen establishing his practice in Boltonhe had chosen an isolated house nearthe potter’s field. Briefly and brutally statedWest’s sole absorbinginterest was a secret study of the phenomena of life and its cessationleadingtoward the reanimation of the dead through injections of an excitant solution.For this ghastly experimenting it was necessary to have a constant supply ofvery fresh human bodies; very fresh because even the least decay hopelesslydamaged the brain structureand human because we found that the solution had tobe compounded differently for different types of organisms. Scores of rabbitsand guinea-pigs had been killed and treatedbut their trail was a blind one.West had never fully succeeded because he had never been able to secure a corpsesufficiently fresh. What he wanted were bodies from which vitality had only justdeparted; bodies with every cell intact and capable of receiving again theimpulse toward that mode of motion called life. There was hope that this secondand artificial life might be made perpetual by repetitions of the injectionbutwe had learned that an ordinary natural life would not respond to the action. Toestablish the artificial motionnatural life must be extinct -- the specimensmust be very freshbut genuinely dead.
The awesome quest had begun when West and I were students at the MiskatonicUniversity Medical School in Arkhamvividly conscious for the first time of thethoroughly mechanical nature of life. That was seven years beforebut Westlooked scarcely a day older now -- he was smallblondclean-shavensoft-voicedand spectacledwith only an occasional flash of a cold blue eye totell of the hardening and growing fanaticism of his character under the pressureof his terrible investigations. Our experiences had often been hideous in theextreme; the results of defective reanimationwhen lumps of graveyard clay hadbeen galvanised into morbidunnaturaland brainless motion by variousmodifications of the vital solution.
One thing had uttered a nerve-shattering scream; another had risen violentlybeaten us both to unconsciousnessand run amuck in a shocking way before itcould be placed behind asylum bars; still anothera loathsome Africanmonstrosityhad clawed out of its shallow grave and done a deed -- West had hadto shoot that object. We could not get bodies fresh enough to shew any trace ofreason when reanimatedso had perforce created nameless horrors. It wasdisturbing to think that oneperhaps twoof our monsters still lived -- thatthought haunted us shadowinglytill finally West disappeared under frightfulcircumstances. But at the time of the scream in the cellar laboratory of theisolated Bolton cottageour fears were subordinate to our anxiety for extremelyfresh specimens. West was more avid than Iso that it almost seemed to me thathe looked half-covetously at any very healthy living physique.
It was in July1910that the bad luck regarding specimens began to turn. Ihad been on a long visit to my parents in Illinoisand upon my return foundWest in a state of singular elation. He hadhe told me excitedlyin alllikelihood solved the problem of freshness through an approach from an entirelynew angle -- that of artificial preservation. I had known that he was working ona new and highly unusual embalming compoundand was not surprised that it hadturned Out well; but until he explained the details I was rather puzzled as tohow such a compound could help in our worksince the objectionable staleness ofthe specimens was largely due to delay occurring before we secured them. ThisInow sawWest had clearly recognised; creatuig his embalming compound for futurerather than immediate useand trusting to fate to supply again some very recentand unburied corpseas it had years before when we obtained the negro killed inthe Bolton prize-fight. At last fate had been kindso that on this occasionthere lay in the secret cellar laboratory a corpse whose decay could not by anypossibility have begun. What would happen on reanimationand whether we couldhope for a revival of mind and reasonWest did not venture to predict. Theexperiment would be a landmark in our studiesand he had saved the new body formy returnso that both might share the spectacle in accustomed fashion.
West told me how he had obtained the specimen. It had been a vigorous man; awell-dressed stranger just off the train on his way to transact some businesswith the Bolton Worsted Mills. The walk through the town had been longand bythe time the traveller paused at our cottage to ask the way to the factorieshis heart had become greatly overtaxed. He had refused a stimulantand hadsuddenly dropped dead only a moment later. The bodyas might be expectedseemed to West a heaven-sent gift. In his brief conversation the stranger hadmade it clear that he was unknown in Boltonand a search of his pocketssubsequently revealed him to be one Robert Leavitt of St. Louisapparentlywithout a family to make instant inquiries about his disappearance. If this mancould not be restored to lifeno one would know of our experiment. We buriedour materials in a dense strip of woods between the house and the potter’sfield. Ifon the other handhe could be restoredour fame would bebrilliantly and perpetually established. So without delay West had injected intothe body’s wrist the compound which would hold it fresh for use after myarrival. The matter of the presumably weak heartwhich to my mind imperilledthe success of our experimentdid not appear to trouble West extensively. Hehoped at last to obtain what he had never obtained before -- a rekindled sparkof reason and perhaps a normalliving creature.
So on the night of July 181910Herbert West and I stood in the cellarlaboratory and gazed at a whitesilent figure beneath the dazzling arc-light.The embalming compound had worked uncannily wellfor as I stared fascinatedlyat the sturdy frame which had lain two weeks without stiffeningI was moved toseek West’s assurance that the thing was really dead. This assurance he gavereadily enough; reminding me that the reanimating solution was never usedwithout careful tests as to lifesince it could haveno effect if any of theoriginal vitality were present. As West proceeded to take preliminary stepsIwas impressed by the vast intricacy of the new experiment; an intricacy so vastthat he could trust no hand less delicate than his own. Forbidding me to touchthe bodyhe first injected a drug in the wrist just beside the place his needlehad punctured when injecting the embalming compound. Thishe saidwas toneutralise the compound and release the system to a normal relaxation so thatthe reanimating solution might freely work when injected. Slightly laterwhen achange and a gentle tremor seemed to affect the dead limbs; West stuffed apillow-like object violently over the twitching facenot withdrawing it untilthe corpse appeared quiet and ready for our attempt at reanimation. The paleenthusiast now applied some last perfunctory tests for absolute lifelessnesswithdrew satisfiedand finally injected into the left arm an accuratelymeasured amount of the vital elixirprepared during the afternoon with agreater care than we had used since college dayswhen our feats were new andgroping. I cannot express the wildbreathless suspense with which we waited forresults on this first really fresh specimen -- the first we could reasonablyexpect to open its lips in rational speechperhaps to tell of what it had seenbeyond the unfathomable abyss.
West was a materialistbelieving in no soul and attributing all the workingof consciousness to bodily phenomena; consequently he looked for no revelationof hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier. I did notwholly disagree with him theoreticallyyet held vague instinctive remnants ofthe primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing thecorpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation. Besides -- I couldnot extract from my memory that hideousinhuman shriek we heard on the night wetried our first experiment in the deserted farmhouse at Arkham.
Very little time had elapsed before I saw the attempt was not to be a totalfailure. A touch of colour came to cheeks hitherto chalk-whiteand spread outunder the curiously ample stubble of sandy beard. Westwho had his hand on thepulse of the left wristsuddenly nodded significantly; and almostsimultaneously a mist appeared on the mirror inclined above the body’s mouth.There followed a few spasmodic muscular motionsand then an audible breathingand visible motion of the chest. I looked at the closed eyelidsand thought Idetected a quivering. Then the lids openedshewing eyes which were greycalmand alivebut still unintelligent and not even curious.
In a moment of fantastic whim I whispered questions to the reddening ears;questions of other worlds of which the memory might still be present. Subsequentterror drove them from my mindbut I think the last onewhich I repeatedwas:"Where have you been?" I do not yet know whether I was answered ornotfor no sound came from the well-shaped mouth; but I do know that at thatmoment I firmly thought the thin lips moved silentlyforming syllables which Iwould have vocalised as "only now" if that phrase had possessed anysense or relevancy. At that momentas I sayI was elated with the convictionthat the one great goal had been attained; and that for the first time areanimated corpse had uttered distinct words impelled by actual reason. In thenext moment there was no doubt about the triumph; no doubt that the solution hadtruly accomplishedat least temporarilyits full mission of restoring rationaland articulate life to the dead. But in that triumph there came to me thegreatest of all horrors -- not horror of the thing that spokebut of the deedthat I had witnessed and of the man with whom my professional fortunes werejoined.
For that very fresh bodyat last writhing into full and terrifyingconsciousness with eyes dilated at the memory of its last scene on earththrewout its frantic hands in a life and death struggle with the airand suddenlycollapsing into a second and final dissolution from which there could be noreturnscreamed out the cry that will ring eternally in my aching brain:
"Help! Keep offyou cursed little tow-head fiend -- keep that damnedneedle away from me!"
V. The Horror From the Shadows
Many men have related hideous thingsnot mentioned in printwhich happenedon the battlefields of the Great War. Some of these things have made me faintothers have convulsed me with devastating nauseawhile still others have mademe tremble and look behind me in the dark; yet despite the worst of them Ibelieve I can myself relate the most hideous thing of all -- the shockingtheunnaturalthe unbelievable horror from the shadows.
In 1915 I was a physician with the rank of First Lieutenant in a Canadianregiment in Flandersone of many Americans to precede the government itselfinto the gigantic struggle. I had not entered the army on my own initiativebutrather as a natural result of the enlistment of the man whose indispensableassistant I was -- the celebrated Boston surgical specialistDr. Herbert West.Dr. West had been avid for a chance to serve as surgeon in a great warand whenthe chance had comehe carried me with him almost against my will. There werereasons why I could have been glad to let the war separate us; reasons why Ifound the practice of medicine and the companionship of West more and moreirritating; but when he had gone to Ottawa and through a colleague’s influencesecured a medical commission as MajorI could not resist the imperiouspersuasion of one determined that I should accompany him in my usual capacity.
When I say that Dr. West was avid to serve in battleI do not mean to implythat he was either naturally warlike or anxious for the safety of civilisation.Always an ice-cold intellectual machine; slightblondblue-eyedandspectacled; I think he secretly sneered at my occasional martial enthusiasms andcensures of supine neutrality. There washoweversomething he wanted inembattled Flanders; and in order to secure it had had to assume a militaryexterior. What he wanted was not a thing which many persons wantbut somethingconnected with the peculiar branch of medical science which he had chosen quiteclandestinely to followand in which he had achieved amazing and occasionallyhideous results. It wasin factnothing more or less than an abundant supplyof freshly killed men in every stage of dismemberment.
Herbert West needed fresh bodies because his life-work was the reanimation ofthe dead. This work was not known to the fashionable clientele who had soswiftly built up his fame after his arrival in Boston; but was only too wellknown to mewho had been his closest friend and sole assistant since the olddays in Miskatonic University Medical School at Arkham. It was in those collegedays that he had begun his terrible experimentsfirst on small animals and thenon human bodies shockingly obtained. There was a solution which he injected intothe veins of dead thingsand if they were fresh enough they responded instrange ways. He had had much trouble in discovering the proper formulaforeach type of organism was found to need a stimulus especially adapted to it.Terror stalked him when he reflected on his partial failures; nameless thingsresulting from imperfect solutions or from bodies insufficiently fresh. Acertain number of these failures had remained alive -- one was in an asylumwhile others had vanished -- and as he thought of conceivable yet virtuallyimpossible eventualities he often shivered beneath his usual stolidity.
West had soon learned that absolute freshness was the prime requisite foruseful specimensand had accordingly resorted to frightful and unnaturalexpedients in body-snatching. In collegeand during our early practice togetherin the factory town of Boltonmy attitude toward him had been largely one offascinated admiration; but as his boldness in methods grewI began to develop agnawing fear. I did not like the way he looked at healthy living bodies; andthen there came a nightmarish session in the cellar laboratory when I learnedthat a certain specimen had been a living body when he secured it. That was thefirst time he had ever been able to revive the quality of rational thought in acorpse; and his successobtained at such a loathsome costhad completelyhardened him.
Of his methods in the intervening five years I dare not speak. I was held tohim by sheer force of fearand witnessed sights that no human tongue couldrepeat. Gradually I came to find Herbert West himself more horrible thananything he did -- that was when it dawned on me that his once normal scientificzeal for prolonging life had subtly degenerated into a mere morbid and ghoulishcuriosity and secret sense of charnel picturesqueness. His interest became ahellish and perverse addiction to the repellently and fiendishly abnormal; hegloated calmly over artificial monstrosities which would make most healthy mendrop dead from fright and disgust; he becamebehind his pallid intellectualitya fastidious Baudelaire of physical experiment -- a languid Elagabalus of thetombs.
Dangers he met unflinchingly; crimes he committed unmoved. I think the climaxcame when he had proved his point that rational life can be restoredand hadsought new worlds to conquer by experimenting on the reanimation of detachedparts of bodies. He had wild and original ideas on the independent vitalproperties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from naturalphysiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the formof neverdyingartificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatchedeggs of an indescribably tropical reptile. Two biological points he wasexceedingly anxious to settle -- firstwhether any amount of consciousness andrational action be possible without the brainproceeding from the spinal cordand various nerve-centres; and secondwhether any kind of etherealintangiblerelation distinct from the material cells may exist to link the surgicallyseparated parts of what has previously been a single living organism. All thisresearch work required a prodigious supply of freshly slaughtered human flesh --and that was why Herbert West had entered the Great War.
The phantasmalunmentionable thing occurred one midnight late in March1915in a field hospital behind the lines of St. Eloi. I wonder even now if itcould have been other than a daemoniac dream of delirium. West had a privatelaboratory in an east room of the barn-like temporary edificeassigned him onhis plea that he was devising new and radical methods for the treatment ofhitherto hopeless cases of maiming. There he worked like a butcher in the midstof his gory wares -- I could never get used to the levity with which he handledand classified certain things. At times he actually did perform marvels ofsurgery for the soldiers; but his chief delights were of a less public andphilanthropic kindrequiring many explanations of sounds which seemed peculiareven amidst that babel of the damned. Among these sounds were frequentrevolver-shots -- surely not uncommon on a battlefieldbut distinctly uncommonin an hospital. Dr. West’s reanimated specimens were not meant for longexistence or a large audience. Besides human tissueWest employed much of thereptile embryo tissue which he had cultivated with such singular results. It wasbetter than human material for maintaining life in organless fragmentsand thatwas now my friend’s chief activity. In a dark corner of the laboratoryover aqueer incubating burnerhe kept a large covered vat full of this reptiliancell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously.
On the night of which I speak we had a splendid new specimen -- a man at oncephysically powerful and of such high mentality that a sensitive nervous systemwas assured. It was rather ironicfor he was the officer who had helped West tohis commissionand who was now to have been our associate. Moreoverhe had inthe past secretly studied the theory of reanimation to some extent under West.Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-LeeD.S.O.was the greatest surgeon in ourdivisionand had been hastily assigned to the St. Eloi sector when news of theheavy fighting reached headquarters. He had come in an aeroplane piloted by theintrepid Lieut. Ronald Hillonly to be shot down when directly over hisdestination. The fall had been spectacular and awful; Hill was unrecognisableafterwardbut the wreck yielded up the great surgeon in a nearly decapitatedbut otherwise intact condition. West had greedily seized the lifeless thingwhich had once been his friend and fellow-scholar; and I shuddered when hefinished severing the headplaced it in his hellish vat of pulpy reptile-tissueto preserve it for future experimentsand proceeded to treat the decapitatedbody .on the operating table. He injected new bloodjoined certain veinsarteriesand nerves at the headless neckand closed the ghastly aperture withengrafted skin from an unidentified specimen which had borne an officer’suniform. I knew what he wanted -- to see if this highly organised body couldexhibitwithout its headany of the signs of mental life which haddistinguished Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee. Once a student of reanimationthissilent trunk was now gruesomely called upon to exemplify it.
I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injectedhis reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body. The scene I cannotdescribe -- I should faint if I tried itfor there is madness in a room full ofclassified charnel thingswith blood and lesser human debris almost ankle-deepon the slimy floorand with hideous reptilian abnormalities sproutingbubblingand baking over a winking bluish-green spectre of dim flame in a farcorner of black shadows.
The specimenas West repeatedly observedhad a splendid nervous system.Much was expected of it; and as a few twitching motions began to appearI couldsee the feverish interest on West’s face. He was readyI thinkto see proofof his increasingly strong opinion that consciousnessreasonand personalitycan exist independently of the brain -- that man has no central connectivespiritbut is merely a machine of nervous mattereach section more or lesscomplete in itself. In one triumphant demonstration West was about to relegatethe mystery of life to the category of myth. The body now twitched morevigorouslyand beneath our avid eyes commenced to heave in a frightful way. Thearms stirred disquietinglythe legs drew upand various muscles contracted ina repulsive kind of writhing. Then the headless thing threw out its arms in agesture which was unmistakably one of desperation -- an intelligent desperationapparently sufficient to prove every theory of Herbert West. Certainlythenerves were recalling the man’s last act in life; the struggle to get free ofthe falling aeroplane.
What followedI shall never positively know. It may have been wholly anhallucination from the shock caused at that instant by the sudden and completedestruction of the building in a cataclysm of German shell-fire -- who cangainsay itsince West and I were the only proved survivors? West liked to thinkthat before his recent disappearancebut there were times when he could not;for it was queer that we both had the same hallucination. The hideous occurrenceitself was very simplenotable only for what it implied.
The body on the table had risen with a blind and terrible gropingand we hadheard a sound. I should not call that sound a voicefor it was too awful. Andyet its timbre was not the most awful thing about it. Neither was its message --it had merely screamed"JumpRonaldfor God’s sakejump!" Theawful thing was its source.
For it had come from the large covered vat in that ghoulish corner ofcrawling black shadows.
VI. The Tomb-Legions
When Dr. Herbert West disappeared a year agothe Boston police questioned meclosely. They suspected that I was holding something backand perhaps suspectedgraver things; but I could not tell them the truth because they would not havebelieved it. They knewindeedthat West had been connected with activitiesbeyond the credence of ordinary men; for his hideous experiments in thereanimation of dead bodies had long been too extensive to admit of perfectsecrecy; but the final soul-shattering catastrophe held elements of daemoniacphantasy which make even me doubt the reality of what I saw.
I was West’s closest friend and only confidential assistant. We had metyears beforein medical schooland from the first I had shared his terribleresearches. He had slowly tried to perfect a solution whichinjected into theveins of the newly deceasedwould restore life; a labour demanding an abundanceof fresh corpses and therefore involving the most unnatural actions. Still moreshocking were the products of some of the experiments -- grisly masses of fleshthat had been deadbut that West waked to a blindbrainlessnauseousammation. These were the usual resultsfor in order to reawaken the mind it wasnecessary to have specimens so absolutely fresh that no decay could possiblyaffect the delicate brain-cells.
This need for very fresh corpses had been West’s moral undoing. They werehard to getand one awful day he had secured his specimen while it was stillalive and vigorous. A strugglea needleand a powerful alkaloid hadtransformed it to a very fresh corpseand the experiment had succeeded for abrief and memorable moment; but West had emerged with a soul calloused andsearedand a hardened eye which sometimes glanced with a kind of hideous andcalculating appraisal at men of especially sensitive brain and especiallyvigorous physique. Toward the last I became acutely afraid of Westfor he beganto look at me that way. People did not seem to notice his glancesbut theynoticed my fear; and after his disappearance used that as a basis for someabsurd suspicions.
Westin realitywas more afraid than I; for his abominable pursuitsentailed a life of furtiveness and dread of every shadow. Partly it was thepolice he feared; but sometimes his nervousness was deeper and more nebuloustouching on certain indescribable things into which he had injected a morbidlifeand from which he had not seen that life depart. He usually finished hisexperiments with a revolverbut a few times he had not been quick enough. Therewas that first specimen on whose rifled grave marks of clawing were later seen.There was also that Arkham professor’s body which had done cannibal thingsbefore it had been captured and thrust unidentified into a madhouse cell atSeftonwhere it beat the walls for sixteen years. Most of the other possiblysurviving results were things less easy to speak of -- for in later years West’sscientific zeal had degenerated to an unhealthy and fantastic maniaand he hadspent his chief skill in vitalising not entire human bodies but isolated partsof bodiesor parts joined to organic matter other -than human. It had becomefiendishly disgusting by the time he disappeared; many of the experiments couldnot even be hinted at in print. The Great Warthrough which both of us servedas surgeonshad intensified this side of West.
In saying that West’s fear of his specimens was nebulousI have in mindparticularly its complex nature. Part of it came merely from knowing of theexistence of such nameless monsterswhile another part arose from apprehensionof the bodily harm they might under certain circumstances do him. Theirdisappearance added horror to the situation -- of them allWest knew thewhereabouts of only onethe pitiful asylum thing. Then there was a- more subtlefear -- a very fantastic sensation resulting from a curious experiment in theCanadian army in 1915. Westin the midst of a severe battlehad reanimatedMajor Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-LeeD.S.O.a fellow-physician who knew abouthis experiments and could have duplicated them. The head had been removedsothat the possibilities of quasi-intelligent life in the trunk might beinvestigated. Just as the building was wiped out by a German shellthere hadbeen a success. The trunk had moved intelligently; andunbelievable to relatewe were both sickeningly sure that articulate sounds had come from the detachedhead as it lay in a shadowy corner of the laboratory. The shell had beenmercifulin a way -- but West could never feel as certain as he wishedthat wetwo were the only survivors. He used to make shuddering conjectures about thepossible actions of a headless physician with the power of reanimating the dead.
West’s last quarters were in a venerable house of much eleganceoverlooking one of the oldest burying-grounds in Boston. He had chosen the placefor purely symbolic and fantastically aesthetic reasonssince most of theinterments were of the colonial period and therefore of little use to ascientist seeking very fresh bodies. The laboratory was in a sub-cellar secretlyconstructed by imported workmenand contained a huge incinerator for the quietand complete disposal of such bodiesor fragments and synthetic mockeries ofbodiesas might remain from the morbid experiments and unhallowed amusements ofthe owner. During the excavation of this cellar the workmen had struck someexceedingly ancient masonry; undoubtedly connected with the old burying-groundyet far too deep to correspond with any known sepulchre therein. After a numberof calculations West decided that it represented some secret chamber beneath thetomb of the Averillswhere the last interment had been made in 1768. I was withhim when he studied the nitrousdripping walls laid bare by the spades andmattocks of the menand was prepared for the gruesome thrill which would attendthe uncovering of centuried grave-secrets; but for the first time West’s newtimidity conquered his natural curiosityand he betrayed his degenerating fibreby ordering the masonry left intact and plastered over. Thus it remained tillthat final hellish night; part of the walls of the secret laboratory. I speak ofWest’s decadencebut must add that it was a purely mental and intangiblething. Outwardly he was the same to the last -- calmcoldslightandyellow-hairedwith spectacled blue eyes and a general aspect of youth whichyears and fears seemed never to change. He seemed calm even when he thought ofthat clawed grave and looked over his shoulder; even when he thought of thecarnivorous thing that gnawed and pawed at Sefton bars.
The end of Herbert West began one evening in our joint study when he wasdividing his curious glance between the newspaper and me. A strange headlineitem had struck at him from the crumpled pagesand a nameless titan claw hadseemed to reach down through sixteen years. Something fearsome and incrediblehad happened at Sefton Asylum fifty miles awaystunning the neighbourhood andbaffling the police. In the small hours of the morning a body of silent men hadentered the groundsand their leader had aroused the attendants. He was amenacing military figure who talked without moving his lips and whose voiceseemed almost ventriloquially connected with an immense black case he carried.His expressionless face was handsome to the point of radiant beautybut hadshocked the superintendent when the hall light fell on it -- for it was a waxface with eyes of painted glass. Some nameless accident had befallen this man. Alarger man guided his steps; a repellent hulk whose bluish face seemed halfeaten away by some unknown malady. The speaker had asked for the custody of thecannibal monster committed from Arkham sixteen years before; and upon beingrefusedgave a signal which precipitated a shocking riot. The fiends hadbeatentrampledand bitten every attendant who did not flee; killing four andfinally succeeding in the liberation of the monster. Those victims who couldrecall the event without hysteria swore that the creatures had acted less likemen than like unthinkable automata guided by the wax-faced leader. By the timehelp could be summonedevery trace of the men and of their mad charge hadvanished.
From the hour of reading this item until midmghtWest sat almost paralysed.At midnight the doorbell rangstartling him fearfully. All the servants wereasleep in the atticso I answered the bell. As I have told the policetherewas no wagon in the streetbut only a group of strange-looking figures bearinga large square box which they deposited in the hallway after one of them hadgrunted in a highly unnatural voice"Express -- prepaid." They filedout of the house with a jerky treadand as I watched them go I had an odd ideathat they were turning toward the ancient cemetery on which the back of thehouse abutted. When I slammed the door after them West came downstairs andlooked at the box. It was about two feet squareand bore West’s correct nameand present address. It also bore the inscription"From Eric MorelandClapham-LeeSt. EloiFlanders." Six years beforein Flandersa shelledhospital had fallen upon the headless reanimated trunk of Dr. Clapham-Leeandupon the detached head which -- perhaps -- had uttered articulate sounds.
West was not even excited now. His condition was more ghastly. Quickly hesaid"It’s the finish -- but let’s incinerate -- this." Wecarried the thing down to the laboratory -- listening. I do not remember manyparticulars -- you can imagine my state of mind -- but it is a vicious lie tosay it was Herbert West’s body which I put into the incinerator. We bothinserted the whole unopened wooden boxclosed the doorand started theelectricity. Nor did any sound come from the boxafter all.
It was West who first noticed the falling plaster on that part of the wallwhere the ancient tomb masonry had been covered up. I was going to runbut hestopped me. Then I saw a small black aperturefelt a ghoulish wind of iceandsmelled the charnel bowels of a putrescent earth. There was no soundbut justthen the electric lights went out and I saw outlined against somephosphorescence of the nether world a horde of silent toiling things which onlyinsanity -- or worse -- could create. Their outlines were humansemi-humanfractionally humanand not human at all -- the horde was grotesquelyheterogeneous. They were removing the stones quietlyone by onefrom thecenturied wall. And thenas the breach became large enoughthey came out intothe laboratory in single file; led by a talking thing with a beautiful head madeof wax. A sort of mad-eyed monstrosity behind the leader seized on Herbert West.West did not resist or utter a sound. Then they all sprang at him and tore himto pieces before my eyesbearing the fragments away into that subterraneanvault of fabulous abominations. West’s head was carried off by the wax-headedleaderwho wore a Canadian officer’s uniform. As it disappeared I saw thatthe blue eyes behind the spectacles were hideously blazing with their firsttouch of franticvisible emotion.
Servants found me unconscious in the morning. West was gone. The incineratorcontained only unidentifiable ashes. Detectives have questioned mebut what canI say? The Sef ton tragedy they will not connect with West; not thatnor themen with the boxwhose existence they deny. I told them of the vaultand theypointed to the unbroken plaster wall and laughed. So I told them no more. Theyimply that I am either a madman or a murderer -- probably I am mad. But I mightnot be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.
In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within thisrefuge for the dementedI am aware that my present position will create anatural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate factthat the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh withpatience and intelligence those isolated phenomenaseen and felt only by apsychologically sensitive fewwhich lie outside its common experience. Men ofbroader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real andthe unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicateindividual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious ofthem; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness theflashes of supersight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empricism.
My name is Jervas Dudleyand from earliest childhood I have been a dreamerand a visionary. Wealthy beyond the necessity of a commercial lifeandtemperamentally unfitted for the formal studies and social recreation of myacquaintancesI have dwelt ever in realms apart from the visible world;spending my youth and adolescence in ancient and little known booksand inroaming the fields and groves of the region near my ancestral home. I do notthink that what I read in these books or saw in these fields and groves wasexactly what other boys read and saw there; but of this I must say littlesincedetailed speech would but confirm those cruel slanders upon my intellect which Isometimes overhear from the whispers of the stealthy attendants around me. It issufficient for me to relate events without analyzing causes.
I have said that I dwelt apart from the visible worldbut I have not saidthat I dwelt alone. This no human creature may do; for lacking the fellowship ofthe livinghe inevitably draws upon the companionship of things that are notor are no longerliving. Close by my home there lies a singular wooded hollowin whose twilight deeps I spent most of my time; readingthinkinganddreaming. Down its moss-covered slopes my first steps of infancy were takenandaround its grotesquely gnarled oak trees my first fancies of boyhood were woven.Well did I come to know the presiding dryads of those treesand often have Iwatched their wild dances in the struggling beams of a waning moon but of thesethings I must not now speak. I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest ofthe hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydesan old and exalted familywhose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses manydecades before my birth.
The vault to which I refer is of ancient graniteweathered and discolored bythe mists and dampness of generations. Excavated back into the hillsidethestructure is visible only at the entrance. The doora ponderous and forbiddingslab of stonehangs upon rusted iron hingesand is fastened ajar in a queerlysinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocksaccording to a gruesomefashion of half a century ago. The abode of the race whose scions are hereinurned had once crowned the declivity which holds the tombbut had long sincefallen victim to the flames which sprang up from a stroke of lightning. Of themidnight storm which destroyed this gloomy mansionthe older inhabitants of theregion sometimes speak in hushed and uneasy voices; alluding to what they call`divine wrath' in a manner that in later years vaguely increased the alwaysstrong fascination which I had felt for the forest-darkened sepulcher. One manonly had perished in the fire. When the last of the Hydes was buried in thisplace of shade and stillnessthe sad urnful of ashes had come from a distantlandto which the family had repaired when the mansion burned down. No oneremains to lay flowers before the granite portaland few care to brave thedepressing shadows which seem to linger strangely about the water-worn stones.
I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the half-hiddenhouse of death. It was in midsummerwhen the alchemy of nature transmutes thesylvan landscape to one vivid and almost homogeneous mass of green; when thesenses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist verdure and thesubtly indefinable odors of the soil and the vegetation. In such surroundingsthe mind loses its perspective; time and space become trivial and unrealandechoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the enthralledconsciousness.
All day I had been wandering through the mystic groves of the hollow;thinking thoughts I need not discussand conversing with things I need notname. In years a child of tenI had seen and heard many wonders unknown to thethrong; and was oddly aged in certain respects. Whenupon forcing my waybetween two savage clumps of briarsI suddenly encountered the entrance of thevaultI had no knowledge of what I had discovered. The dark blocks of granitethe door so curiously ajarand the funeral carvings above the archaroused inme no associations of mournful or terrible character. Of graves and tombs I knewand imagined muchbut had on account of my peculiar temperament been kept fromall personal contact with churchyards and cemeteries. The strange stone house onthe woodland slope was to me only a source of interest and speculation; and itscolddamp interiorinto which I vainly peered through the aperture sotantalizingly leftcontained for me no hint of death or decay. But in thatinstant of curiosity was born the madly unreasoning desire which has brought meto this hell of confinement. Spurred on by a voice which must have come from thehideous soul of the forestI resolved to enter the beckoning gloom in spite ofthe ponderous chains which barred my passage. In the waning light of day Ialternately rattled the rusty impediments with a view to throwing wide the stonedoorand essayed to squeeze my slight form through the space already provided;but neither plan met with success. At first curiousI was now frantic; and whenin the thickening twilight I returned to my homeI had sworn to the hundredgods of the grove that at any cost I would some day force an entrance to theblackchilly depths that seemed calling out to me. The physician with theiron-grey beard who comes each day to my roomonce told a visitor that thisdecision marked the beginning of a pitiful monomania; but I will leave finaljudgment to my readers when they shall have learnt all.
The months following my discovery were spent in futile attempts to force thecomplicated padlock of the slightly open vaultand in carefully guardedinquiries regarding the nature and history of the structure. With thetraditionally receptive ears of the small boyI learned much; though anhabitual secretiveness caused me to tell no one of my information or my resolve.It is perhaps worth mentioning that I was not at all surprised or terrified onlearning of the nature of the vault. My rather original ideas regarding life anddeath had caused me to associate the cold clay with the breathing body in avague fashion; and I felt that the great and sinister family of the burned-downmansion was in some way represented within the stone space I sought to explore.Mumbled tales of the weird rites and godless revels of bygone years in theancient hall gave to me a new and potent interest in the tombbefore whose doorI would sit for hours at a time each day. Once I thrust a candie within thenearly closed entrancebut could see nothing save a flight of damp stone stepsleading downward. The odor of the place repelled yet bewitched me. I felt I hadknown it beforein a past remote beyond all recollection; beyond even mytenancy of the body I now possess.
The year after I first beheld the tombI stumbled upon a worm-eatentranslation of Plutarch's Lives in the book-filled attic of my home. Reading thelife of TheseusI was much impressed by that passage telling of the great stonebeneath which the boyish hero was to find his tokens of destiny whenever heshould become old enough to lift its enormous weight. The legend had the effectof dispelling my keenest impatience to enter the vaultfor it made me feel thatthe time was not yet ripe. LaterI told myselfI should grow to a strength andingenuity which might enable me to unfasten the heavily chained door with ease;but until then I would do better by conforming to what seemed the will of Fate.
Accordingly my watches by the dank portal became less persistentand much ofmy time was spent in other though equally strange pursuits. I would sometimesrise very quietly in the nightstealing out to walk in those church-yards andplaces of burial from which I had been kept by my parents. What I did there Imay not sayfor I am not now sure of the reality of certain things; but I knowthat on the day after such a nocturnal ramble I would often astonish those aboutme with my knowledge of topics almost forgotten for many generations. It wasafter a night like this that I shocked the community with a queer conceit aboutthe burial of the rich and celebrated Squire Brewstera maker of local historywho was interred in 1711and whose slate headstonebearing a graven skull andcrossboneswas slowly crumbling to powder. In a moment of childish imaginationI vowed not only that the undertakerGoodman Simpsonhad stolen thesilver-buckled shoessilken hoseand satin small-clothes of the deceasedbefore burial; but that the Squire himselfnot fully inanimatehad turnedtwice in his mound-covered coffin on the day after interment.
But the idea of entering the tomb never left my thoughts; being indeedstimulated by the unexpected genealogical discovery that my own maternalancestry possessed at least a slight link with the supposediy extinct family ofthe Hydes. Last of my paternal raceI was likewise the last of this older andmore mysterious line. I began to feel that the tomb was mineand to lookforward with hot eagerness to the time when I might pass within that stone doorand down those slimy stone steps in the dark. I now formed the habit oflistening very intently at the slightly open portalchoosing my favorite hoursof midnight stillness for the odd vigil. By the time I came of ageI had made asmall clearing in the thicket before the mold-stained facade of the hillsideallowing the surrounding vegetation to encircle and overhang the space like thewalls and roof of a sylvan bower. This bower was my templethe fastened door myshrineand here I would lie outstretched on the mossy groundthinking strangethoughts and dreaming strange dreams.
The night of the first revelation was a sultry one. I must have fallen asleepfrom fatiguefor it was with a distinct sense of awakening that I heard thevoices. Of these tones and accents I hesitate to speak; of their quality I willnot speak; but I may say that they presented certain uncanny differences invocabularypronunciationand mode of utterance. Every shade of New Englanddialectfrom the uncouth syllables of the Puritan colonists to the preciserhetoric of fifty years agoseemed represented in that shadowy colloquythoughit was only later that I noticed the fact. At the timeindeedmy attention wasdistracted from this matter by another phenomenon; a phenomenon so fleeting thatI could not take oath upon its reality. I barely fancied that as I awokealight had been hurriedly extinguished within the sunken sepulcher. I do notthink I was either astounded or panic-strickenbut I know that I was greatlyand permanently changed that night. Upon returning home I went with muchdirectness to a rotting chest in the atticwherein I found the key which nextday unlocked with ease the barrier I had so long stormed in vain.
It was in the soft glow of late afternoon that I first entered the vault onthe abandoned slope. A spell was upon meand my heart leaped with an exultationI can but ill describe. As I closed the door behind me and descended thedripping steps by the light of my lone candleI seemed to know the way; andthough the candle sputtered with the stifling reek of the placeI feltsingularly at home in the mustycharnel-house air. Looking about meI beheldmany marble slabs bearing coffinsor the remains of coffins. Some of these weresealed and intactbut others had nearly vanishedleaving the silver handlesand plates isolated amidst certain curious heaps of whitish dust. Upon one plateI read the name of Sir Geoffrey Hydewho had come from Sussex in 1640 and diedhere a few years later. In a conspicuous alcove was one fairly well preservedand untenanted casketadorned with a single name which brought me both a smileand a shudder. An odd impulse caused me to climb upon the broad slabextinguishmy candleand lie down within the vacant box.
In the gray light of dawn I staggered from the vault and locked the chain ofthe door behind me. I was no longer a young manthough but twenty-one wintershad chilled my bodily frame. Early-rising villagers who observed my homewardprogress looked at me strangelyand marveled at the signs of ribald revelrywhich they saw in one whose life was known to be sober and solitary. I did notappear before my parents till after a long and refreshing sleep.
Henceforward I haunted the tomb each night; seeinghearingand doing thingsI must never recall. My speechalways susceptible to environmental influenceswas the first thing to succumb to the change; and my suddenly acquired archaismof diction was soon remarked upon. Later a queer boldness and recklessness cameinto my demeanortill I unconsciously grew to possess the bearing of a man ofthe world despite my lifelong seclusion. My formerly silent tongue waxed volublewith the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless cynicism of a Rochester. Idisplayed a peculiar erudition utterly unlike the fantasticmonkish lore overwhich I had pored in youth; and covered the fly-leaves of my books with facileimpromptu epigrams which brought up suggestions of GayPriorand thesprightliest of the Augustan wits and rimesters. One morning at breakfast I cameclose to disaster by declaiming in palpably liquorish accents an effusion ofEighteenth Century bacchanalian mirtha bit of Georgian playfulness neverrecorded in a bookwhich ran something like this:
Come hithermy ladswith your tankards of aleAnd drink to the presentbefore it shall fail; Pile each on your platter a mountain of beefFor `tiseating and drinking that bring us relief: So fill up your glass
For life will soon pass;
When you're dead ye'll ne'er drink to your king or your lass!
Anacreon had a red noseso they say;
But what's a red nose if ye're happy and gay? Gad split me! I'd rather be redwhilst I'm hereThan white as a lily and dead half a year! So Bettymy miss
Come give me kiss;
In hell there's no innkeeper's daughter like this!
Young Harrypropp'd up just as straight as he's ableWill soon lose his wigand slip under the tableBut fill up your goblets and pass `em around Betterunder the table than under the ground! So revel and chaff
As ye thirstily quaff:
Under six feet of dirt `tis less easy to laugh!
The fiend strike me blue! l'm scarce able to walkAnd damn me if I can standupright or talk! Herelandlordbid Betty to summon a chair; l'll try home fora whilefor my wife is not there! So lend me a hand;
I'm not able to stand
But I'm gay whilst I linger on top of the land!
About this time I conceived my present fear of fire and thunderstorms.Previously indifferent to such thingsI had now an unspeakable horror of them;and would retire to the innermost recesses of the house whenever the heavensthreatened an electrical display. A favorite haunt of mine during the day wasthe ruined cellar of the mansion that had burned downand in fancy I wouldpicture the structure as it had been in its prime. On one occasion I startled avillager by leading him confidently to a shallow subcellarof whose existence Iseemed to know in spite of the fact that it had been unseen and forgotten formany generations.
At last came that which I had long feared. My parentsalarmed at the alteredmanner and appearance of their only soncommenced to exert over my movements akindly espionage which threatened to result in disaster. I had told no one of myvisits to the tombhaving guarded my secret purpose with religious zeal sincechildhood; but now I was forced to exercise care in threading the mazes of thewooded hollowthat I might throw off a possible pursuer. My key to the vault Ikept suspended from a cord about my neckits presence known only to me. I nevercarried out of the sepulcher any of the things I came upon whilst within itswalls.
One morning as I emerged from the damp tomb and fastened the chain of theportal with none too steady handI beheld in an adjacent thicket the dreadedface of a watcher. Surely the end was near; for my bower was discoveredand theobjective of my nocturnal journeys revealed. The man did not accost meso Ihastened home in an effort to overhear what he might report to my carewornfather. Were my sojourns beyond the chained door about to be proclaimed to theworld? Imagine my delighted astonishment on hearing the spy inform my parent ina cautious whisper that I had spent the night in the bower outside the tomb; mysleep-filmed eyes fixed upon the crevice where the padlocked portal stood ajar!By what miracle had the watcher been thus deluded? I was now convinced that asupernatural agency protected me. Made bold by this heaven-sent circumstanceIbegan to resume perfect openness in going to the vault; confident that no onecould witness my entrance. For a week I tasted to the full joys of that charnelconviviality which I must not describewhen the thing happenedand I was borneaway to this accursed abode of sorrow and monotony.
I should not have ventured out that night; for the taint of thunder was inthe cloudsand a hellish phosphoresence rose from the rank swamp at the bottomof the hollow. The call of the deadtoowas different. Instead of the hillsidetombit was the charred cellar on the crest of the slope whose presiding demonbeckoned to me with unseen fingers. As I emerged from an intervening grove uponthe plain before the ruin. I beheld in the misty moonlight a thing I had alwaysvaguely expected. The mansiongone for a centuryonce more reared its statelyheight to the raptured vision; every window ablaze with the splendor of manycandles. Up the long drive rolled the coaches of the Boston gentrywhilst onfoot came a numerous assemblage of powdered exquisites from the neighboringmansions. With this throng I mingledthough I knew I belonged with the hostsrather than with the guests. Inside the hall were musiclaughterand wine onevery hand. Several faces I recognized; though I should have known them betterhad they been shriveled or eaten away by death and decomposition. Amidst a wildand reckless throng I was the wildest and most abandoned. Gay blasphemy pouredin torrents from my lipsand in shocking sallies I heeded no law of Godornature.
Suddenly a peal of thunderresonant even above the din of the swinishrevelryclave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterouscompany. Red tongues of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; andthe roysterersstruck with terror at the descent of a calamity which seemed totranscend the bounds of unguided naturefled shrieking into the night. I aloneremainedriveted to my seat by a groveling fear which I had never felt before.And then a second horror took possession of my soul. Burnt alive to ashesmybody dispersed by the four windsI might never lie in the tomb of the HydesiWas not my coffin prepared for me? Had I not a right to rest till eternityamongst the descendants of Sir Geoffrey Hyde? Aye! I would claim my heritage ofdeatheven though my soul go seeking through the ages for another corporealtenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the alcove of the vault. JervasHyde should never share the sad fate of Palinurus!
As the phantom of the burning house fadedI found myself screaming andstruggling madly in the arms of two menone of whom was the spy who hadfollowed me to the tomb. Rain was pouring down in torrentsand upon thesouthern horizon were flashes of lightning that had so lately passed over ourheads. My fatherhis face lined with sorrowstood by as I shouted my demandsto be laid within the tombfrequently admonishing my captors to treat me asgently as they could. A blackened circle on the floor of the ruined cellar toldof a violent stroke from the heavens; and from this spot a group of curiousvillagers with lanterns were prying a small box of antique workmanshipwhichthe thunderbolt had brought to light.
Ceasing my futile and now objectless writhingI watched the spectators asthey viewed the treasure-troveand was permitted to share in their discoveries.The boxwhose fastenings were broken by the stroke which had unearthed itcontained many papers and objects of valuebut I had eyes for one thing alone.It was the porcelain miniature of a young man in a smartly curled bag-wigandbore the initials `J. H.' The face was such that as I gazedI might well havebeen studying my mirror.
On the following day I was brought to this room with the barred windowsbutI have been kept informed of certain things through an aged and simple-mindedservitorfor whom I bore a fondness in infancyand wholike meloves thechurchyard. What I have dared relate of my experiences within the vault hasbrought me only pitying smiles. My fatherwho visits me frequentlydeclaresthat at no time did I pass the chained portaland swears that the rustedpadlock had not been touched for fifty years when he examined it. He even saysthat all the village knew of my journeys to the tomband that I was oftenwatched as I slept in the bower outside the grim facademy half-open eyes fixedon the crevice that leads to the interior. Against these assertions I have notangible proof to offersince my key to the padlock was lost in the struggle onthat night of horrors. The strange things of the past which I have learnedduring those nocturnal meetings with the dead he dismisses as the fruits of mylifelong and omnivorous browsing amongst the ancient volumes of the familylibrary. Had it not been for my old servant HiramI should have by this timebecome quite convinced of my madness.
But Hiramloyal to the lasthas held faith in meand has done that whichimpels me to make public at least part of my story. A week ago he burst open thelock which chains the door of the tomb perpetually ajarand descended with alantern into the murky depths. On a slab in an alcove he found an old but emptycoffin whose tarnished plate bears the single word: Jervas. In that coffin andin that vault they have promised me I shall be buried.
The Music OF Erich Zann
I have examined maps of the city with the greatest careyet have never againfound the Rue d’Auseil. These maps have not been modem maps alonefor I knowthat names change. I haveon the contrarydelved deeply into all theantiquities of the placeand have personally explored every regionof whatevernamewhich could possibly answer to the street I knew as the Rue d’Auseil.But despite all I have doneit remains an humiliating fact that I cannot findthe housethe streetor even the localitywhereduring the last months of myimpoverished life as a student of metaphysics at the universityI heard themusic of Erich Zann.
That my memory is brokenI do not wonder; for my healthphysical andmentalwas gravely disturbed throughout the period of my residence in the Rue d’Auseiland I recall that I took none of my few acquaintances there. But that I cannotfind the place again is both singular and perplexing; for it was within ahalf-hour’s walk of the university and was distinguished by peculiaritieswhich could hardly be forgotten by any one who had been there. I have never meta person who has seen the Rue d’Auseil.
The Rue d’Auseil lay across a dark river bordered by precipitous brickblear-windowed warehouses and spanned by a ponderous bridge of dark stone. Itwas always shadowy along that riveras if the smoke of neighboring factoriesshut out the sun perpetually. The river was also odorous with evil stencheswhich I have never smelled elsewhereand which may some day help me to find itsince I should recognize them at once. Beyond the bridge were narrow cobbledstreets with rails; and then came the ascentat first gradualbut incrediblysteep as the Rue d’Auseil was reached.
I have never seen another street as narrow and steep as the Rue d’Auseil.It was almost a cliffclosed to all vehiclesconsisting in several places offfights of stepsand ending at the top in a lofty ivied wall. Its paving wasirregularsometimes stone slabssometimes cobblestonesand sometimes bareearth with struggling greenish-grey vegetation. The houses were tallpeaked-roofedincredibly oldand crazily leaning backwardforwardandsidewise. Occasionally an opposite pairboth leaning forwardalmost met acrossthe street like an arch; and certainly they kept most of the light from theground below. There were a few overhead bridges from house to house across thestreet.
The inhabitants of that street impressed me peculiarly; At first I thought itwas because they were all silent and reticent; but later decided it was becausethey were all very old. I do not know how I came to live on such a streetbut Iwas not myself when I moved there. I had been living in many poor placesalwaysevicted for want of money; until at last I came upon that tottering house in theRue d’Auseil kept by the paralytic Blandot. It was the third house from thetop of the streetand by far the tallest of them all.
My rcom was on the fifth story; the only inhabited room theresince thehouse was almost empty. On the night I arrived I heard strang music from thepeaked garret overheadand the next day asked old Blandot about it. He told meit was an old German viol-playera strange dumb man who signed his name asErich Zannand who played eve nings in a cheap theater orchestra; adding thatZann’s desire to play in the night after his return from the theater was thereason he had chosen this lofty and isolated garret roomwhose single gablewindow was the only point on the street from which one could look over theterminating wall at the declivity and panorama beyond.
Thereafter I heard Zann every nightand although he kept me awakeI washaunted by the weirdness of his music. Knowing little of the art myselfI wasyet certain that none of his harmonies had any relation to music I had heardbefore; and concluded that he was a composer of highly original genius. Thelonger I listenedthe more I was fascinateduntil after a week I resolved tomake the old man’s acquaintance.
One night as he was returning from his workI intercepted Zann in thehallway and told him that I would like to know him and be with him when heplayed. He was a smallleanbent personwith shabby clothesblue eyesgrotesquesatyrlike faceand nearly bald head; and at my first words seemedboth angered and frightened. My obvious friendlinesshoweverfinally meltedhim; and he grudgingly motioned to me to follow him up the darkcreaking andrickety attic stairs. His roomone of only two in the steeply pitched garretwas on the west sidetoward the high wall that formed the upper end of thestreet. Its size was very greatand seemed the greater because of itsextraordinary barrenness and neglect. Of furniture there was only a narrow ironbedsteada dingy wash-standa small tablea large bookcasean ironmusic-rackand three old-fashioned chairs. Sheets of music were piled indisorder about the floor. The walls were of bare boardsand had probably neverknown plaster; whilst the abundance of dust and cobwebs made the place seem moredeserted than inhabited. Evidently Erich Zann’s world of beauty lay in somefar cosmos of the imagination.
Motioning me to sit downthe dumb man closed the doorturned the largewooden boltand lighted a candle to augment the one he had brought with him. Henow removed his viol from its motheaten coveringand taking itseated himselfin the least uncomfortable of the chairs. He did not employ the music-rackbutoffering no choice and playing from memoryenchanted me for over an hour withstrains I had never heard before; strains which must have been of his owndevising. To describe their exact nature is impossible for one unversed inmusic. They were a kind of fuguewith recurrent passages of the mostcaptivating qualitybut to me were notable for the absence of any of the weirdnotes I had overheard from my room below on other occasions.
Those haunting notes I had rememberedand had often hummed and whistledinaccurately to myselfso when the player at length laid down his bow I askedhim if he would render some of them. As I began my request the wrinkledsatyrlike face lost the bored placidity it had possessed during the playingandseemed to show the same curious mixture of anger and fright which I had noticedwhen first I accosted the old man. For a moment I was inclined to usepersuasionregarding rather lightly the whims of senility; and even tried toawaken my host’s weirder mood by whistling a few of the strains to which I hadlistened the night before. But I did not pursue this course for more than amoment; for when the dumb musician recognized the whistled air his face grewsuddenly distorted with an expression wholly beyond analysisand his longcoldbony right hand reached out to stop my mouth and silence the crudeimitation. As he did this he further demonstrated his eccentricity by casting astartled glance toward the lone curtained windowas if fearful of some intruder—aglance doubly absurdsince the garret stood high and inaccessible above all theadjacent roofsthis window being the only point on the steep streetas theconcierge had told mefrom which one could see over the wall at the summit.
The old man’s glance brought Blandot’s remark to my mindand with acertain capriciousness I felt a wish to look out over the wide and dizzyingpanorama of moonlit roofs and city lights beyond the hilltopwhich of all thedwellers in the Rue d’Auseil only this crabbed musician could see. I movedtoward the window and would have drawn aside the nondescript curtainswhen witha frightened rage even greater than beforethe dumb lodger was upon me again;this time motioning with his head toward the door as he nervously strove to dragme thither with both hands. Now thoroughly disgusted with my hostI ordered himto release meand told him I would go at once. His clutch relaxedand as hesaw my disgust and offensehis own anger seemed to subside. He tightened hisrelaxing gripbut this time in a friendly mannerforcing me into a chair; thenwith an appearance of wistfulness crossing to the littered tablewhere he wrotemany words with a pencilin the labored French of a foreigner.
The note which he finally handed me was an appeal for tolerance andforgiveness. Zann said that he was oldlonelyand afflicted with strange fearsand nervous disorders connected with his music and with other things. He hadenjoyed my listening to his musicand wished I would come again and not mindhis eccentricities. But he could not play to another his weird harmoniesandcould not bear hearing them from another; nor could he bear having anything inhis room touched by an-other. He had not known until our hallway conversationthat I could overhear his playing in my roomand now asked me if I wouldarrange with Blandot to take a lower room where I could not hear him in thenight. He wouldhe wrotedefray the difference in rent.
As I sat deciphering the execrable FrenchI felt more lenient toward the oldman. He was a victim of physical and nervous sufferingas was I; and mymetaphysical studies had taught me kindness. In the silence there came a slightsound from the window—the shutter must have rattled in the night windand forsome reason I started almost as violently as did Erich Zann. So when I hadfinished readingI shook my host by the handand departed as a friend.
The next day Blandot gave me a more expensive room on the third floorbetween the apartments of an aged money-lender and the room of a respectableupholsterer. There was no one on the fourth floor.
It was not long before I found that Zann’s eagerness for my company was notas great as it had seemed while he was persuading me to move down from the fifthstory. He did not ask me to call on himand when I did call he appeared uneasyand played listlessly. This was always at night—in the day he slept and wouldadmit no one. My liking for him did not growthough the attic room and theweird music seemed to hold an odd fascination for me. I had a curious desire tolook out of that windowover the wall and down the unseen slope at theglittering roofs and spires which must lie outspread there. Once I went up tothe garret during theater hourswhen Zann was awaybut the door was locked.
What I did succeed in doing was to overhear the nocturnal playing of the dumbold man. At first I would tip-toe up to my old fifth floorthen I grew boldenough to climb the last creaking staircase to the peaked garret. There in thenarrow halloutside the bolted door with the covered keyholeI often heardsounds which filled me with an indefinable dread—the dread of vague wonder andbrooding mystery. It was not that the sounds were hideousfor they were not;but that they held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of earthandthat at certain intervals they assumed a symphonic quality which I could hardlyconceive as produced by one player. CertainlyErich Zann was a genius of wildpower. As the weeks passedthe playing grew wilderwhilst the old musicianacquired an increasing haggardness and furtiveness pitiful to behold. He nowrefused to admit me at any timeand shunned me whenever we met on the stairs.
Then one night as I listened at the doorI heard the shrieking viol swellinto a chaotic babel of sound; a pandemonium which would have led me to doubt myown shaking sanity had there not come from behind that barred portal a piteousproof that the horror was real—the awfulinarticulate cry which only a mutecan utterand which rises only in moments of the most terrible fear or anguish.I knocked repeatedly at the doorbut received no response. Afterward I waitedin the black hallwayshivering with cold and feartill I heard the poormusician’s feeble effort to rise from the floor by the aid of a chair.Believing him just conscious after a fainting fitI renewed my rappingat thesame time calling out my name reassuringly. I heard Zann stumble to the windowand close both shutter and sashthen stumble to the doorwhich he falteringlyunfastened to admit me. This time his delight at having me present was real; forhis distorted face gleamed with relief while he clutched at my coat as a childclutches at its mother’s skirts.
Shaking patheticallythe old man forced me into a chair whilst he sank intoanotherbeside which his viol and bow lay carelessly on the floor. He sat forsome time inactivenodding oddlybut having a paradoxical suggestion ofintense and frightened listening. Subsequently he seemed to be satisfiedandcrossing to a chair by the table wrote a brief notehanded it to meandreturned to the tablewhere he began to write rapidly and incessantly. The noteimplored me in the name of mercyand for the sake of my own curiosityto waitwhere I was while he prepared a full account in German of all the marvels andterrors which beset him. I waitedand the dumb man’s pencil flew.
It was perhaps an hour laterwhile I still waited and while the old musician’sfeverishly written sheets still continued to pile upthat I saw Zann start asfrom the hint of a horrible shock. Unmistakably he was looking at the curtainedwindow and listening shudderingly. Then I half fancied I heard a sound myself;though it was not a horrible soundbut rather an exquisitely low and infinitelydistant musical notesuggesting a player in one of the neighboring housesorin some abode beyond the lofty wall over which I had never been able to look.Upon Zann the effect was terriblefordropping his pencilsuddenly he roseseized his violand commenced to rend the night with the wildest playing I hadever heard from his bow save when listening at the barred door.
It would be useless to describe the playing of Erich Zann on that dreadfulnight. It was more horrible than anything I had ever overheardbecause I couldnow see the expression of his faceand could realize that this time the motivewas stark fear. He was trying to make a noise; to ward something off or drownsomething out—whatI could not imagineawesome though I felt it must be. Theplaying grew fantasticdehnousand hystericalyet kept to the last thequalities of supreme genius which I knew this strange old man possessed. Irecognized the air—it was a wild Hungarian dance popular in the theatersandI reflected for a moment that this was the first time I had ever heard Zann playthe work of another composer.
Louder and louderwilder and wildermounted the shrieking and whining ofthat desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration andtwisted like a monkeyalways looking frantically at the curtained window. Inhis frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and bacchanals dancingand whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke andlightning. And then I thought I heard a shrillersteadier note that was notfrom the viol; a calmdeliberatepurposefulmocking note from far away in theWest.
At this juncture the shutter began to rattle in a howling night wind whichhad sprung up outside as if in answer to the mad playing within. Zann’sscreaming viol now outdid itself emitting sounds I had never thought a violcould emit. The shutter rattled more loudlyunfastenedand commenced slammingagainst the window. Then the glass broke shiveringly under the persistentimpactsand the chill wind rushed inmaking the candles sputter and rustlingthe sheets of paper on the table where Zann had begun to write out his horriblesecret. I looked at Zannand saw that he was past conscious observation. Hisblue eyes were bulgingglassy and sightlessand the frantic playing had becomea blindmechanicalunrecognizable orgy that no pen could even suggest.
A sudden guststronger than the otherscaught up the manuscript and bore ittoward the window. I followed the flying sheets in desperationbut they weregone before I reached the demolished panes. Then I remembered my old wish togaze from this windowthe only window in the Rue d’Auseil from which onemight see the slope beyond the walland the city outspread beneath. It was verydarkbut the city’s lights always burnedand I expected to see them thereamidst the rain and wind. Yet when I looked from that highest of all gablewindowslooked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with thenight-windI saw no city spread belowand no friendly lights gleamed fromremembered streetsbut only the blackness of space illimitable; unimaginedspace alive with motion and musicand having no semblance of anything on earth.And as I stood there looking in terrorthe wind blew out both the candles inthat ancient peaked garretleaving me in savage and impenetrable darkness withchaos and pandemonium before meand the demon madness of that night-baying violbehind me.
I staggered back in the darkwithout the means of striking a lightcrashingagainst the tableoverturning a chairand finally groping my way to the placewhere the blackness screamed with shocking music. To save myself and Erich ZannI could at least trywhatever the powers opposed to me. Once I thought somechill thing brushed meand I screamedbut my scream could not be heard abovethat hideous viol. Suddenly out of the blackness the madly sawing bow struck meand I knew I was close to the player. I felt aheadtouched the back of Zann’schairand then found and shook his shoulder in an effort to bring him to hissenses.
He did not respondand still the viol shrieked on without slackening. Imoved my hand to his headwhose mechanical nodding I was able to stopandshouted in his ear that we must both flee from the unknown things of the night.But he neither answered me nor abated the frenzy of his unutterable musicwhileall through the garret strange currents of wind seemed to dance in the darknessand babel. When my hand touched his ear I shudderedthough I knew not why—knewnot why till I felt the still face; the ice-coldstiffenedunbreathing facewhose glassy eyes bulged uselessly into the void. And thenby some miraclefinding the door and the large wooden boltI plunged wildly away from thatglassy-eyed thing in the darkand from the ghoulish howling of that accursedviol whose fury increased even as I plunged.
Leapingfloatingflying down those endless stairs through the dark house;racing mindlessly out into the narrowsteepand ancient street of steps andtottering houses; clattering down steps and over cobbles to the lower streetsand the putrid canyon-walled river; panting across the great dark bridge to thebroaderhealthier streets and boulevards we know; all these are terribleimpressions that linger with me. And I recall that there was no windand thatthe moon was outand that all the lights of the city twinkled.
Despite my most careful searches and investigationsI have never since beenable to find the Rue d’Auseil. But I am not wholly sorry; either for this orfor the loss in undreamable abysses of the closely-written sheets which alonecould have explained the music of Erich Zann.
In a dream Kuranes saw the city in the valleyand the seacoast beyondandthe snowy peak overlooking the seaand the gaily painted galleys that sail outof the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meets the sky. In a dream itwas also that he came by his name of Kuranesfor when awake he was called byanother name. Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was thelast of his familyand alone among the indifferent millions of Londonso therewere not many to speak to him and to remind him who he had been. His money andlands were goneand he did not care for the ways of the people about himbutpreferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at bythose to whom he showed itso that after a time he kept his writings tohimselfand finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world abouthimthe more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futileto try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modernand did not think likeothers who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes ofmyth and to show in naked ugliness the foul thing that is realityKuranessought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal ithesought it in fancy and illusionand found it on his very doorstepamid thenebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.
There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in thestories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dreamwethink but half-formed thoughtsand when as men we try to rememberwe aredulled and prosaic with the poison of life. But some of us awake in the nightwith strange phantasms of enchanted hills and gardensof fountains that sing inthe sunof golden cliffs overhanging murmuring seasof plains that stretchdown to sleeping cities of bronze and stoneand of shadowy companies of heroesthat ride caparisoned white horses along the edges of thick forests; and then weknow that we have looked back through the ivory gates into that world of wonderwhich was ours before we were wise and unhappy.
Kuranes came very suddenly upon his old world of childhood. He had beendreaming of the house where he had been born; the great stone house covered withivywhere thirteen generations of his ancestors had livedand where he hadhoped to die. It was moonlightand he had stolen out into the fragrant summernightthrough the gardensdown the terracespast the great oaks of the parkand along the long white road to the village. The village seemed very oldeatenaway at the edge like the moon which had commenced to waneand Kuranes wonderedwhether the peaked roofs of the small houses hid sleep or death. In the streetswere spears of long grassand the window-panes on either side broken or ifimilystaring. Kuranes had not lingeredbut had plodded on as though summoned towardsome goal. He dared not disobey the summons for fear it might prove an illusionlike the urges and aspirations of waking lifewhich do not lead to any goal.Then he had been drawn down a lane that led off from the village street towardthe channel cliffsand had come to the end of things—to the precipice and theabyss where all the village and all the world fell abruptly into the unechoingemptiness of infinityand where even the sky ahead was empty and unit by thecrumbling moon and the peering stars. Faith had urged him onover the precipiceand into the gulfwhere he had floated downdowndown; past darkshapelessundreamed dreamsfaintly glowing spheres that may have been partly dreameddreamsand laughing winged things that seemed to mock the dreamers of all theworlds. Then a rift seemed to open in the darkness before himand he saw thecity of the valleyglistening radiantly farfar belowwith a background ofsea and skyand a snowcapped mountain near the shore.
Kuranes had awakened the very moment he beheld the cityyet he knew from hisbrief glance that it was none other than Celephaisin the Valley of Ooth-Nargaibeyond the Tanarian Hills where his spirit had dwelt all the eternity of an hourone summer afternoon very long agowhen he had slipt away from his nurse andlet the warm sea-breeze lull him to sleep as he watched the clouds from thecliff near the village. He had protested thenwhen they had found himwakedhimand carried him homefor just as he was aroused he had been about to sailin a golden galley for those alluring regions where the sea meets the sky. Andnow he was equally resentful of awakingfor he had found his fabulous cityafter forty weary years.
But three nights afterward Kuranes came again to Celephais. As beforehedreamed first of the village that was asleep or deadand of the abyss downwhich one must float silently; then the rift appeared againand he beheld theglittering minarets of the cityand saw the graceful galleys riding at anchorin the blue harbourand watched the gingko trees of Mount Man swaying in thesea-breeze. But this time he was not snatched awayand like a winged beingsettled gradually over a grassy hillside till finally his feet rested gently onthe turf. He had indeed come back to the Valley of Ooth-Nargai and the splendidcity of Celephais.
Down the hill amid scented grasses and brilliant flowers walked Kuranesoverthe bubbling Naraxa on the small wooden bridge where he had carved his name somany years agoand through the whispering grove to the great stone bridge bythe city gate. All was as of oldnor were the marble walls discolourednor thepolished bronze statues upon them tarnished. And Kuranes saw that he need nottremble lest the things he knew be vanished; for even the sentries on theramparts were the sameand still as young as he remembered them. When heentered the citypast the bronze gates and over the onyx pavementsthemerchants and camel-drivers greeted him as if he had never been away; and it Wasthe same at the turquoise temple of Nath-Horthathwhere the orchid-wreathedpriests told him that there is no time in Ooth-Nargaibut only perpetual youth.Then Kuranes walked through the Street of Pillars to the seaward wallwheregathered the traders and sailorsand strange men from the regions where the seameets the sky. There he stayed longgazing out over the bright harbour wherethe ripples sparkled beneath an unknown sunand where rode lightly the galleysfrom far places over the water. And he gazed also upon Mount Man rising regallyfrom the shoreits lower slopes green with swaying trees and its white summittouching the sky.
More than ever Kuranes wished to sail in a galley to the far places of whichhe had heard so many strange talesand he sought again the captain who hadagreed to carry him so long ago. He found the manAthibsitting on the samechest of spice he had sat upon beforeand Athib seemed not to realize that anytime had passed. Then the two rowed to a galley in the harbourand givingorders to the oarmencommenced to sail out into the billowy Cerenarian Sea thatleads to the sky. For several days they glided undulatingly over the watertillfinally they came to the horizonwhere the sea meets the sky. Here the galleypaused not at allbut floated easily in the blue of the sky among fleecy cloudstinted with rose. And far beneath the keel Kuranes could see strange lands andrivers and cities of surpassing beautyspread indolently in the sunshine whichseemed never to lessen or disappear. At length Athib told him that their journeywas near its endand that they would soon enter the harbour of Serannianthepink marble city of the cloudswhich is built on that ethereal coast where thewest wind flows into the sky; but as the highest of the city’s carven towerscame into sight there was a sound somewhere in spaceand Kuranes awaked in hisLondon garret.
For many months after that Kuranes sought the marvellous city of Celephaisand its sky-bound galleys in vain; and though his dreams carried him to manygorgeous and unheard-of placesno one whom he met could tell him how to findOoth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills. One night he went flying over darkmountains where there were faintlone campfires at great distances apartandstrangeshaggy herds with tinkling bells on the leadersand in the wildestpart of this hilly countryso remote that few men could ever have seen ithefound a hideously ancient wall or causeway of stone zigzagging along the ridgesand valleys; too gigantic ever to have risen by human handsand of such alength that neither end of it could be seen. Beyond that wall in the grey dawnhe came to a land of quaint gardens and cherry treesand when the sun rose hebeheld such beauty of red and white flowersgreen foliage and lawnswhitepathsdiamond brooksblue lakeletscarven bridgesand red-roofed pagodasthat he for a moment forgot Celephais in sheer delight. But he remembered itagain when he walked down a white path toward a red-roofed pagodaand wouldhave questioned the people of this land about ithad he not found that therewere no people therebut only birds and bees and butterflies. On another nightKuranes walked up a damp stone spiral stairway endlesslyand came to a towerwindow overlooking a mighty plain and river lit by the full moon; and in thesilent city that spread away from the river bank he thought he beheld somefeature or arrangement which he had known before. He would have descended andasked the way to OothNargai had not a fearsome aurora sputtered up from someremote place beyond the horizonshowing the ruin and antiquity of the cityandthe stagnation of the reedy riverand the death lying upon that landas it hadlain since King Kynaratholis came home from his conquests to find the vengeanceof the gods.
So Kuranes sought fruitlessly for the marvellous city of Celephais and itsgalleys that sail to Serannian in the skymeanwhile seeing many wonders andonce barely escaping from the high-priest not to be describedwhich wears ayellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stonemonastery in the cold desert plateau of Leng. In time he grew so impatient ofthe bleak intervals of day that he began buying drugs in order to increase hisperiods of sleep. Hasheesh helped a great dealand once sent him to a part ofspace where form does not existbut where glowing gases study the secrets ofexistence. And a violet-coloured gas told him that this part of space wasoutside what he had called infinity. The gas had not heard of planets andorganisms beforebut identified Kuranes merely as one from the infinity wherematterenergyand gravitation exist. Kuranes was now very anxious to return tominaret-studded Celephaisand increased his doses of drugs; but eventually hehad no more money leftand could buy no drugs. Then one summer day he wasturned out of his garretand wandered aimlessly through the streetsdriftingover a bridge to a place where the houses grew thinner and thinner. And it wasthere that fulfillment cameand he met the cortege of knights come fromCelephais to bear him thither forever.
Handsome knights they wereastride roan horses and clad in shining armourwith tabards of cloth-of-gold curiously emblazoned. So numerous were theythatKuranes almost mistook them for an armybut they were sent in his honour; sinceit was he who had created Ooth-Nargai in his dreamson which account he was nowto be appointed its chief god for evermore. Then they gave Kuranes a horse andplaced him at the head of the cavalcadeand all rode majestically through thedowns of Surrey and onward toward the region where Kuranes and his ancestorswere born. It was very strangebut as the riders went on they seemed to gallopback through Time; for whenever they passed through a village in the twilightthey saw only such houses and villagers as Chaucer or men before him might haveseenand sometimes they saw knights on horseback with small companies ofretainers. When it grew dark they travelled more swiftlytill soon they wereflying uncannily as if in the air. In the dim dawn they came upon the villagewhich Kuranes had seen alive in his childhoodand asleep or dead in his dreams.It was alive nowand early villagers curtsied as the horsemen clattered downthe street and turned off into the lane that ends in the abyss of dreams.Kuranes had previously entered that abyss only at nightand wondered what itwould look like by day; so he watched anxiously as the column approached itsbrink. Just as they galloped up the rising ground to the precipice a goldenglare came somewhere out of the west and hid all the landscape in effulgentdraperies. The abyss was a seething chaos of roseate and cerulean splendourandinvisible voices sang exultantly as the knightly entourage plunged over the edgeand floated gracefully down past glittering clouds and silvery coruscations.Endlessly down the horsemen floatedtheir chargers pawing the aether as ifgalloping over golden sands; and then the luminous vapours spread apart toreveal a greater brightnessthe brightness of the city Celephaisand the seacoast beyondand the snowy peak overlooking the seaand the gaily paintedgalleys that sail out of the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meetsthe sky.
And Kuranes reigned thereafter over Ooth-Nargai and all the neighboringregions of dreamand held his court alternately in Celephais and in thecloud-fashioned Serannian. He reigns there stilland will reign happily foreverthough below the cliffs at Innsmouth the channel tides played mockinglywith the body of a tramp who had stumbled through the half-deserted village atdawn; played mockinglyand cast it upon the rocks by ivy-covered Trevor Towerswhere a notably fat and especially offensive millionaire brewer enjoys thepurchased atmosphere of extinct nobility.
Apropos of sleepthat sinister adventure of all our nightswe may say thatmen go to bed daily with an audacity that would be incomprehensible if we didnot know that it is the result of ignorance of the danger.
May the merciful godsif indeed there be suchguard those hours when nopower of the willor drug that the cunning of man devisescan keep me from thechasm of sleep. Death is mercifulfor there is no return therefrombut withhim who has come back out of the nethermost chambers of nighthaggard andknowingpeace rests nevermore. Fool that I was to plunge with such unsanctionedphrensy into mysteries no man was meant to penetrate; fool or god that he was-myonly friendwho led me and went before meand who in the end passed intoterrors which may yet be mine!
We metI recallin a railway stationwhere he was the center of a crowd ofthe vulgarly curious. He was unconscioushaving fallen in a kind of convulsionwhich imparted to his slight black-clad body a strange rigidity. I think he wasthen approaching forty years of agefor there were deep lines in the facewanand hollow-cheekedbut oval and actually beautiful; and touches of gray in thethickwaving hair and small full beard which had once been of the deepest ravenblack. His brow was white as the marble of Pentelicusand of a height andbreadth almost god-like.
I said to myselfwith all the ardor of a sculptorthat this man was afaun's statue out of antique Hellasdug from a temple's ruins and broughtsomehow to life in our stifling age only to feel the chill and pressure ofdevastating years. And when he opened his immensesunkenand wildly luminousblack eyes I knew he would be thence-forth my only friend-the only friend of onewho had never possessed a friend before-for I saw that such eyes must havelooked fully upon the grandeur and the terror of realms beyond normalconsciousness and reality; realms which I had cherished in fancybut vainlysought. So as I drove the crowd away I told him he must come home with me and bemy teacher and leader in unfathomed mysteriesand he assented without speakinga word. Afterward I found that his voice was music-the music of deep viols andof crystalline spheres. We talked often in the nightand in the daywhen Ichiseled busts of him and carved miniature heads in ivory to immortalize hisdifferent expressions.
Of our studies it is impossible to speaksince they held so slight aconnection with anything of the world as living men conceive it. They were ofthat vaster and more appalling universe of dim entity and consciousness whichlies deeper than mattertimeand spaceand whose existence we suspect only incertain forms of sleep- those rare dreams beyond dreams which come never tocommon menand but once or twice in the lifetime of imaginative men. The cosmosof our waking knowledgeborn from such an universe as a bubble is born from thepipe of a jestertouches it only as such a bubble may touch its sardonic sourcewhen sucked back by the jester's whim. Men of learning suspect it little andignore it mostly. Wise men have interpreted dreamsand the gods have laughed.One man with Oriental eyes has said that all time and space are relativeandmen have laughed. But even that man with Oriental eyes has done no more thansuspect. I had wished and tried to do more than suspectand my friend had triedand partly succeeded. Then we both tried togetherand with exotic drugs courtedterrible and forbidden dreams in the tower studio chamber of the old manor-housein hoary Kent.
Among the agonies of these after days is that chief of torments-inarticulateness. What I learned and saw in those hours of impious explorationcan never be told-for want of symbols or suggestions in any language. I say thisbecause from first to last our discoveries partook only of the nature ofsensations; sensations correlated with no impression which the nervous system ofnormal humanity is capable of receiving. They were sensationsyet within themlay unbelievable elements of time and space-things which at bottom possess nodistinct and definite existence. Human utterance can best convey the generalcharacter of our experiences by calling them plungings or soarings; for in everyperiod of revelation some part of our minds broke boldly away from all that isreal and presentrushing aerially along shockingunlightedand fear-hauntedabyssesand occasionally tearing through certain well-marked and typicalobstacles describable only as viscousuncouth clouds of vapors.
In these black and bodiless flights we were sometimes alone and sometimestogether. When we were togethermy friend was always far ahead; I couldcomprehend his presence despite the absence of form by a species of pictorialmemory whereby his face appeared to megolden from a strange light andfrightful with its weird beautyits anomalously youthful cheeksits burningeyesits Olympian browand its shadowing hair and growth of beard.
Of the progress of time we kept no recordfor time had become to us themerest illusion. I know only that there must have been something very singularinvolvedsince we came at length to marvel why we did not grow old. Ourdiscourse was unholyand always hideously ambitious-no god or daemon could haveaspired to discoveries and conquest like those which we planned in whispers. Ishiver as I speak of themand dare not be explicit; though I will say that myfriend once wrote on paper a wish which he dared not utter with his tongueandwhich made me burn the paper and look affrightedly out of the window at thespangled night sky. I will hint-only hint- that he had designs which involvedthe rulership of the visible universe and more; designs whereby the earth andthe stars would move at his commandand the destinies of all living things behis. I affirm-I swear-that I had no share in these extreme aspirations. Anythingmy friend may have said or written to the contrary must be erroneousfor I amno man of strength to risk the unmentionable spheres by which alone one mightachieve success.
There was a night when winds from unknown spaces whirled us irresistibly intolimitless vacua beyond all thought and entity. Perceptions of the mostmaddeningly untransmissible sort thronged upon us; perceptions of infinity whichat the time convulsed us with joyyet which are now partly lost to my memoryand partly incapable of presentation to others. Viscous obstacles were clawedthrough in rapid successionand at length I felt that we had been borne torealms of greater remoteness than any we had previously known.
My friend was vastly in advance as we plunged into this awesome ocean ofvirgin aetherand I could see the sinister exultation on his floatingluminoustoo-youthful memory-face. Suddenly that face became dim and quicklydisappearedand in a brief space I found myself projected against an obstaclewhich I could not penetrate. It was like the othersyet incalculably denser; asticky clammy massif such terms can be applied to analogous qualities in anon-material sphere.
I hadI feltbeen halted by a barrier which my friend and leader hadsuccessfully passed. Struggling anewI came to the end of the drug-dream andopened my physical eyes to the tower studio in whose opposite corner reclinedthe pallid and still unconscious form of my fellow dreamerweirdly haggard andwildly beautiful as the moon shed gold-green light on his marble features.
Thenafter a short intervalthe form in the corner stirred; and may pityingheaven keep from my sight and sound another thing like that which took placebefore me. I cannot tell you how he shriekedor what vistas of unvisitablehells gleamed for a second in black eyes crazed with fright. I can only say thatI faintedand did not stir till he himself recovered and shook me in hisphrensy for someone to keep away the horror and desolation.
That was the end of our voluntary searchings in the caverns of dream. Awedshakenand portentousmy friend who had been beyond the barrier warned me thatwe must never venture within those realms again. What he had seenhe dared nottell me; but he said from his wisdom that we must sleep as little as possibleeven if drugs were necessary to keep us awake. That he was rightI soon learnedfrom the unutterable fear which engulfed me whenever consciousness lapsed.
After each short and inevitable sleep I seemed olderwhilst my friend agedwith a rapidity almost shocking. It is hideous to see wrinkles form and hairwhiten almost before one's eyes. Our mode of life was now totally altered.Heretofore a recluse so far as I know-his true name and origin never havingpassed his lips-my friend now became frantic in his fear of solitude. At nighthe would not be alonenor would the company of a few persons calm him. His solerelief was obtained in revelry of the most general and boisterous sort; so thatfew assemblies of the young and gay were unknown to us.
Our appearance and age seemed to excite in most cases a ridicule which Ikeenly resentedbut which my friend considered a lesser evil than solitude.Especially was he afraid to be out of doors alone when the stars were shiningand if forced to this condition he would often glance furtively at the sky as ifhunted by some monstrous thing therein. He did not always glance at the sameplace in the sky-it seemed to be a different place at different times. On springevenings it would be low in the northeast. In the summer it would be nearlyoverhead. In the autumn it would be in the northwest. In winter it would be inthe eastbut mostly if in the small hours of morning.
Midwinter evenings seemed least dreadful to him. Only after two years did Iconnect this fear with anything in particular; but then I began to see that hemust be looking at a special spot on the celestial vault whose position atdifferent times corresponded to the direction of his glance-a spot roughlymarked by the constellation Corona Borealis.
We now had a studio in Londonnever separatingbut never discussing thedays when we had sought to plumb the mysteries of the unreal world. We were agedand weak from our drugsdissipationsand nervous overstrainand the thinninghair and beard of my friend had become snow-white. Our freedom from long sleepwas surprisingfor seldom did we succumb more than an hour or two at a time tothe shadow which had now grown so frightful a menace.
Then came one January of fog and rainwhen money ran low and drugs were hardto buy. My statues and ivory heads were all soldand I had no means to purchasenew materialsor energy to fashion them even had I possessed them. We sufferedterriblyand on a certain night my friend sank into a deep-breathing sleep fromwhich I could not awaken him. I can recall the scene now-the desolatepitch-black garret studio under the eaves with the rain beating down; theticking of our lone clock; the fancied ticking of our watches as they rested onthe dressing-table; the creaking of some swaying shutter in a remote part of thehouse; certain distant city noises muffled by fog and space; andworst of allthe deepsteadysinister breathing of my friend on the couch-a rhythmicalbreathing which seemed to measure moments of supernal fear and agony for hisspirit as it wandered in spheres forbiddenunimaginedand hideously remote.
The tension of my vigil became oppressiveand a wild train of trivialimpressions and associations thronged through my almost unhinged mind. I heard aclock strike somewhere-not oursfor that was not a striking clock-and my morbidfancy found in this a new starting-point for idle wanderings.Clocks-time-space-infinity- and then my fancy reverted to the locale as Ireflected that even nowbeyond the roof and the fog and the rain and theatmosphereCorona Borealis was rising in the northeast. Corona Borealiswhichmy friend had appeared to dreadand whose scintillant semicircle of stars musteven now be glowing unseen through the measureless abysses of aether. All atonce my feverishly sensitive ears seemed to detect a new and wholly distinctcomponent in the soft medley of drug-magnified sounds-a low and damnablyinsistent whine from very far away; droningclamoringmockingcallingfromthe northeast.
But it was not that distant whine which robbed me of my faculties and setupon my soul such a seal of fright as may never in life be removed; not thatwhich drew the shrieks and excited the convulsions which caused lodgers andpolice to break down the door. It was not what I heardbut what I saw; for inthat darklockedshutteredand curtained room there appeared from the blacknortheast corner a shaft of horrible red-gold light-a shaft which bore with itno glow to disperse the darknessbut which streamed only upon the recumbenthead of the troubled sleeperbringing out in hideous duplication the luminousand strangely youthful memory-face as I had known it in dreams of abysmal spaceand unshackled timewhen my friend had pushed behind the barrier to thosesecretinnermost and forbidden caverns of nightmare.
And as I lookedI beheld the head risethe blackliquidand deep-sunkeneyes open in terrorand the thinshadowed lips part as if for a scream toofrightful to be uttered. There dwelt in that ghastly and flexible faceas itshone bodilessluminousand rejuvenated in the blacknessmore of starkteemingbrain-shattering fear than all the rest of heaven and earth has everrevealed to me.
No word was spoken amidst the distant sound that grew nearer and nearerbutas I followed the memory-face's mad stare along that cursed shaft of light toits sourcethe source whence also the whining cameItoosaw for an instantwhat it sawand fell with ringing ears in that fit of shrieking epilepsy whichbrought the lodgers and the police. Never could I telltry as I mightwhat itactually was that I saw; nor could the still face tellfor although it musthave seen more than I didit will never speak again. But always I shall guardagainst the mocking and insatiate Hypnoslord of sleepagainst the night skyand against the mad ambitions of knowledge and philosophy.
Just what happened is unknownfor not only was my own mind unseated by thestrange and hideous thingbut others were tainted with a forgetfulness whichcan mean nothing if not madness. They have saidI know not for what reasonthat I never had a friend; but that artphilosophyand insanity had filled allmy tragic life. The lodgers and police on that night soothed meand the doctoradministered something to quiet menor did anyone see what a nightmare eventhad taken place. My stricken friend moved them to no pitybut what they foundon the couch in the studio made them give me a praise which sickened meand nowa fame which I spurn in despair as I sit for hoursbaldgray-beardedshriveledpalsieddrug-crazedand brokenadoring and praying to the objectthey found.
For they deny that I sold the last of my statuaryand point with ecstasy atthe thing which the shining shaft of light left coldpetrifiedand unvocal. Itis all that remains of my friend; the friend who led me on to madness andwreckage; a godlike head of such marble as only old Hellas could yieldyoungwith the youth that is outside timeand with beauteous bearded facecurvedsmiling lipsOlympian browand dense locks waving and poppy-crowned. They saythat that haunting memory-face is modeled from my ownas it was at twenty-five;but upon the marble base is carven a single name in the letters ofAttica-HYPNOS.
What the Moon Brings
I hate the moon - I am afraid of it - for when it shines on certain scenesfamiliar and loved it sometimes makes them unfamiliar and hideous.
It was in the spectral summer when the moon shone down on the old gardenwhere I wandered; the spectral summer of narcotic flowers and humid seas offoliage that bring wild and many-coloured dreams. And as I walked by the shallowcrystal stream I saw unwonted ripples tipped with yellow lightas if thoseplacid waters were drawn on in resistless currents to strange oceans that arenot in the world. Silent and sparklingbright and balefulthose moon-cursedwaters hurried I knew not whither; whilst from the embowered banks whitelotos-blossoms fluttered one by one in the opiate night-wind and droppeddespairingly into the streamswirling away horribly under the archedcarvenbridgeand staring back with the sinister resignation of calmdead faces.
And as I ran along the shorecrushing sleeping flowers with heedless feetand maddened ever by the fear of unknown things and the lure of the dead facesI saw that the garden had no end under that moon; for where by day the wallswerethere stretched now only new vistas of trees and pathsflowers andshrubsstone idols and pagodasand bendings of the yellow-litten stream pastgrassy banks and under grotesque bridges of marble. And the lips of the deadlotos-faces whispered sadlyand bade me follownor did I cease my steps tillthe stream became a riverand joined amidst marshes of swaying reeds andbeaches of gleaming sand the shore of a vast and nameless sea.
Upon that sea the hateful moon shoneand over its unvocal waves weirdperfumes breeded. And as I saw therein the lotos-faces vanishI longed for netsthat I might capture them and learn from them the secrets which the moon hadbrought upon the night. But when that moon went over to the west and the stilltide ebbed from the sullen shoreI saw in that light old spires that the wavesalmost uncoveredand white columns gay with festoons of green seaweed. Andknowing that to this sunken place all the dead had comeI trembled and did notwish again to speak with the lotos-faces.
Yet when I saw afar out in the sea a black condor descend from the sky toseek rest on a vast reefI would fain have questioned himand asked him ofthose whom I had known when they were alive. This I would have asked him had henot been so far awaybut he was very farand could not be seen at all when hedrew nigh that gigantic reef.
So I watched the tide go out under that sinking moonand saw gleaming thespiresthe towersand the roofs of that deaddripping city. And as I watchedmy nostrils tried to close against the perfume-conquering stench of the world'sdead; for trulyin this unplaced and forgotten spot had all the flesh of thechurchyards gathered for puffy sea-worms to gnaw and glut upon.
Over these horrors the evil moon now hung very lowbut the puffy worms ofthe sea need no moon to feed by. And as I watched the ripples that told of thewrithing of worms beneathI felt a new chill from afar out whither the condorhad flownas if my flesh had caught a horror before my eyes had seen it.
Nor had my flesh trembled without causefor when I raised my eyes I saw thatthe waters had ebbed very lowshewing much of the vast reef whose rim I hadseen before. And when I saw that the reef was but the black basalt crown of ashocking eikon whose monstrous forehead now shown in the dim moonlight and whosevile hooves must paw the hellish ooze miles belowI shrieked and shrieked lestthe hidden face rise above the watersand lest the hidden eyes look at me afterthe slinking away of that leering and treacherous yellow moon.
And to escape this relentless thing I plunged gladly and unhesitantly intothe stinking shallows where amidst weedy walls and sunken streets fat sea-wormsfeast upon the world's dead.
The Lurking Fear
I. THE SHADOW ON THE CHIMNEY
There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atopTempest Mountain to find the lurking fear. I was not alonefor foolhardinesswas not then mixed with that love of the grotesque and the terrible which hasmade my career a series of quests for strange horrors in literature and in life.With me were two faithful and muscular men for whom I had sent when the timecame; men long associated with me in my ghastly explorations because of theirpeculiar fitness.
We had started quietly from the village because of the reporters who stilllingered about after the eldritch panic of a month before - the nightmarecreeping death. LaterI thoughtthey might aid me; but I did not want themthen. Would to God I had let them share the searchthat I might not have had tobear the secret alone so long; to bear it alone for fear the world would call memad or go mad itself at the demon implications of the thing. Now that I amtelling it anywaylest the brooding make me a maniacI wish I had neverconcealed it. For Iand I onlyknow what manner of fear lurked on thatspectral and desolate mountain.
In a small motor-car we covered the miles of primeval forest and hill untilthe wooded ascent checked it. The country bore an aspect more than usuallysinister as we viewed it by night and without the accustomed crowds ofinvestigatorsso that we were often tempted to use the acetylene headlightdespite the attention it might attract. It was not a wholesome landscape afterdarkand I believe I would have noticed its morbidity even had I been ignorantof the terror that stalked there. Of wild creatures there were none-they arewise when death leers close. The ancient lightning-scarred trees seemedunnaturally large and twistedand the other vegetation unnaturally thick andfeverishwhile curious mounds and hummocks in the weedyfulgurite-pitted earthreminded me of snakes and dead men's skulls swelled to gigantic proportions.
Fear had lurked on Tempest Mountain for more than a century. This I learnedat once from newspaper accounts of the catastrophe which first brought theregion to the world's notice. The place is a remotelonely elevation in thatpart of the Catskills where Dutch civiisation once feebly and transientlypenetratedleaving behind as it receded only a few mined mansions and adegenerate squatter population inhabiting pitiful hamlets on isolated slopes.Normal beings seldom visited the locality till the state police were formedandeven now only infrequent troopers patrol it. The fearhoweveris an oldtradition throughout the neighboring villages; since it is a prime topic in thesimple discourse of the poor mongrels who sometimes leave their valleys to tradehandwoven baskets for such primitive necessities as theycannot shootraiseor make.
The lurking fear dwelt in the shunned and deserted Martense mansionwhichcrowned the high but gradual eminence whose liability to frequent thunderstormsgave it the name of Tempest Mountain. For over a hundred years the antiquegrove-circled stone house had been the subject of stories incredibly wild andmonstrously hideous; stories of a silent colossal creeping death which stalkedabroad in summer. With whimpering insistence the squatters told tales of a demonwhich seized lone wayfarers after darkeither carrying them off or leaving themin a frightful state of gnawed dismemberment; while sometimes they whispered ofblood trails toward the distant mansion. Some said the thunder called thelurking fear out of its habitationwhile others said the thunder was its voice.
No one outside the backwoods had believed these varying and conflictingstorieswith their incoherentextravagant descriptions of the hall-glimpsedfiend; yet not a farmer or villager doubted that the Martense mansion wasghoulishly haunted. Local history forbade such a doubtalthough no ghostlyevidence was ever found by such investigators as had visited the building aftersome especially vivid tale of the squatters. Grandmothers told strange myths ofthe Martense spectre; myths oonceming the Martense family itselfits queerhereditary dissimilarity of eyesits longunnatural annalsand the murderwhich had cursed it.
The terror which brought me to the scene was a sudden and portentousconfirmation of the mountaineers' wildest legends. One summer nightafter athunderstorm of unprecedented violencethe countryside was aroused by asquatter stampede which no mere delusion could create. The pitiful throngs ofnatives shrieked and whined of the unnamable horror which had descended uponthemand they were not doubted. They had not seen itbut had heard such criesfrom one of their hamlets that they knew a creeping death had come.
In the morning citizens and state troopers followed the shudderingmountaineers to the place where they said the death had come. Death was indeedthere. The ground under one of the squatter's villages had caved in after alightning strokedestroying several of the malodorous shanties; but upon thisproperty damage was superimposed an organic devastation which paled it toinsignificance. Of a possible seventy-five natives who had inhabited this spotnot one living specimen was visible. The disordered earth was covered with bloodand human debris bespeaking too vividly the ravages of demon teeth and talons;yet no visible trail led away from the carnage. That some hideous animal must bethe causeeveryone quickly agreed; nor did any tongue now revive the chargethat such cryptic deaths formed merely the sordid murders common in decadentcommunities. That charge was revived only when about twenty-five of theestimated population were found missing from the dead; and even then it was hardto explain the murder of fifty by half that number. But the fact remained thaton a summer night a bolt had come out of the heavens and left a dead villagewhose corpses were horribly mangledchewedand clawed.
The excited oountryside immediately connected the horror with the hauntedMartense mansionthough the localities were over three miles apart. Thetroopers were more skeptical; including the mansion only casually in theirinvestigationsand dropping it altogether when they found it thoroughlydeserted. Country and vrnage peoplehowever I canvassed the place with infinitecare; overturning everything in the housesounding ponds and brooksbeatingdown bushesand ransacking the nearby forests. All was in vain; the death thathad come had left no trace save destruction itself.
By the second day of the search the affair was fully treated by thenewspaperswhose reporters overran Tempest Mountain. They described it in muchdetailand with many interviews to elucidate the horror's history as told bylocal grandams. I followed the accounts languidly at firstfor I am aconnoisseur in horrors; but after a week I detected an atmosphere which stirredme oddlysQ that on August 5th1921I registered among the reporters whocrowded the hotel at Lefferts Cornersnearest village to Tempest Mountain andacknowledged headquarters of the searchers. Three weeks moreand the dispersalof the reporters left me free-to begin a terrible exploration based on theminute inquiries and surveying with which I had meanwhile busied myself.
So on this summer nightwhile distant thunder rumbledI left a silentmotor-car and tramped with two armed companions up the last mound-coveredreaches of Tempest Mountaincasting the beams of an electric torch on thespectral grey walls that began to appear through giant oaks ahead. In thismorbid night solitude and feeble shifting illuminationthe vast boxlike piledisplayed obscure hints of terror which day could not uncover; yet I did nothesitatesince I had come with fierce resolution to test an idea. I believedthat the thunder called the death-demon out of some fearsome secret place; andbe that demon solid entity or vaporous pestilenceI meant to see it
I had thoroughly searched the ruin beforehence knew my plan well; choosingas the seat of my vigil the old room of Jan Martensewhose murder looms sogreat in the rural legends. I felt subtly that the apartment of this ancientvictim was best for my purposes. The chambermeasuring about twenty feetsquarecontained like the other rooms some rubbish which had once beenfurniture. It lay on the second storyon the southeast corner of the houseandhad an immense east window and narrow south windowboth devoid of panes orshutters. Opposite the large window was 'an enormous Dutch fireplace withscriptural tiles representing the prodigal sonand opposite the narrow windowwas a spacious bed built into the wall.
As the tree-muffled thunder grew louderI arranged my plan's details. FirstI fastened side by side to the ledge of the large window three rope ladderswhich I had' brought with me. I knew they reached a suitable spot on the grassoutsidefor I had tested them. Then the three of us dragged from another room awide four-poster bedsteadcrowding it laterally against the window. Havingstrewn it with fir boughsall now rested on it with drawn automaticstworelaxing while the third watched. From whatever direction the demon might comeour potential escape was provided. If it came from within the housewe had thewindow ladders; if from outside the door and the stairs. We did not thinkjudging from precedentthat it would pursue us far even at worst.
I watched from midnight to one o'clockwhen in spite of the sinister housethe unprotected windowand the approaching thunder and lightningI feltsingularly drowsy. I was between my two companionsGeorge Bennett being towardthe window and William Tobey toward the fireplace. Bennett was asleephavingapparently felt the same anomalous drowsiness which affected meso I designatedTobey for the next watch although even he was nodding. It is curious howintently I had been watching the fireplace.
The increasing thunder must have affected my dreamsfor in the brief time Islept there came to me apocalyptic visions. Once I partly awakedprobablybecause the sleeper toward the window had restlessly flung an arm across mychest. I was not sufficiently awake to see whether Tobey was attending to hisduties as sentinelbut felt a distinct anxiety on that score. Never before hadthe presence of evil so poignantly oppressed me. Later I must have droppedasleep againfor it was out of a phantasmal chaos that my mind leaped when thenight grew hideous with shrieks beyond anything in my former experience orimagination.
In that shrieking the inmost soul of human fear and agony clawed hopelesslyand insanely at the ebony gates of oblivion. I awoke to red madness and themockery of diabolismas farther and farther down inconceivable vistas thatphobic and crystalline anguish retreated and reverberated. There wasno lightbut I knew from the empty space at my right that Tobey was goneGod alone knewwhither. Across my chest still lay the heavy arm of the sleeper at my left.
Then came the devastating stroke of lightning which shook the whole mountainlit the darkest crypts of the hoary groveand splintered the patriarch of thetwisted trees. In the demon flash of a monstrous fireball the sleeper started upsuddenly while the glare from beyond the window threw his shadow vividly uponthe chimney above the fireplace from which my eyes had never strayed. That I amstill alive and saneis a marvel I cannot fathom. I cannot fathom itfor theshadow on that chimney was not that of George Bennett or of any other humancreaturebut a blasphemous abnormality from hell's nethermost craters; anamelessshapeless abomination which no mind could fully grasp and no pen evenpartly describe. In another second I was alone in the accursed mansionshivering and gibbering. George Bennett and William Tobey had left no tracenoteven of a struggle. They were never heard of again.
II. A PASSER IN THE STORM
For days after that hideous experience in the forest-swathed mansion I laynervously exhausted in my hotel room at Lefferts Corners. I do not rememberexactly how I managed to reach the motor-carstart itand slip unobserved backto the village; for I retain no distinct impression save of wild-armed titantreesdemoniac mutterings of thunderand Charonian shadows athwart the lowmounds that dotted and streaked the region.
As I shivered and brooded on the casting of that brain-blasting shadowIknew that I had at last pried out one of earth's supreme horors-one of thosenameless blights of outer voids whose faint demon scratchings we sometimes hearon the farthest rim of spaceyet from which our own finite vision has given usa merciful immunity. The shadow I had seenI hardly dared to analyse oridentify. Something had lain between me and the window that nightbut Ishuddered whenever I could not cast off the instinct to classify it. If it hadonly snarledor bayedor laughed titteringly-even that would have relieved theabysmal hideousness. But it was so silent. It had rested a heavy arm or forelegon my chest...
Obviously it was organicor had once been organic... Jan Martensewhoseroom I had invadedwas buried in the grave-yard near the mansion... I must findBennett and Tobeyif they lived... why had it picked themand left me for thelast?... Drowsiness is so stiflingand dreams are so horrible...
In a short time I realised that I must tell my storyto someone or break downcompletely. I had already decided not to abandon the quest for the lurking fearfor in my rash ignorance it seemed to me that uncertainty was worse thanenlightenmenthowever terrible the latter might prove to be. Accordingly Iresolved in my mind the best course to pursue; whom to select for myconfidencesand how to track down the thing which had obliterated two men andcast a nightmare shadow.
My chief acquaintances at Lefferts Corners had been the affable reportersofwhom several had still remained to collect final echoes of the tragedy. It wasfrom these that I determined to choose a colleagueand the more I reflected themore my preference inclined toward one Arthur Munroea 'darklean man of aboutthirty-fivewhose educationtasteintelligenceand temperament all seemed tomark him as one not bound to conventional ideas and experiences.
On an afternoon in early SeptemberArthur Munroe listened to my story. I sawfrom the beginning that he was both interested and sympatheticand when I hadfinished he analysed and discussed the thing with the greatest shrewdness andjudgement. His advicemoreoverwas eminently practical; for he recommended apostponement of operations at the Martense mansion until we might becomefortified with more detailed historical and geographical data. On his initiativewe combed the countryside for information regarding the terrible Martensefamilyand discovered a man who possessed a marvellously illuminating ancestraldiary. We also talked at length with such of the mountain mongrels as had notfled from the terror and confusion to remoter slopesand slope again scannedfor dens and cavesbut all without result. And yetas I have saidvague newfears hovered menacingly overus; as if giant bat-winged gryphons looked ontranscosmic gulfs.
As the afternoon advancedit became increasingly difficult to see; and weheard the rumble of a thunderstorm gathering over Tempest Mountain. This soundin such a locality naturally stirred usthough less than it would have done atnight. As it waswe hoped desperately that the storm would last until wellafter dark; and with that hope turned from our aimless hillside searching towardthe nearest inhabited hamlet to gather a body of squatters as helpers in theinvestigation. Timid as they werea few of the younger men were sufficientlyinspired by our protective leadership to promise such help.
We had hardly more than turnedhoweverwhen there descended such a blindingsheet of torrential rain that shelter became imperative. The extremealmostnocturnal darkness of the sky caused us to stumble badlybut guided by thefrequent flashes of lightning and by our minute knowledge of the hamlet we soonreached the least porous cabin of the lot; an heterogeneous combination of logsand boards whose still existing door and single tiny window both faced MapleHill. Barring the door after us against the fury of the wind and rainwe put inplace the crude window shutter which our frequent searches had taught us whereto find. It was dismal sitting there on rickety boxes in the pitchy darknessbut we smoked pipes and occasionally flashed our pocket lamps about. Now andthen we could see the lightning through cracks in the wall; the afternoon was soincredibly dark that each flash was extremely vivid.
The stormy vigil reminded me shudderingly of my ghastly night on TempestMountain. My mind turned to that odd question which had kept recurring eversince the nightmare thing had happened; and again I wondered why the demonapproaching the three watchers either from the window or the interiorhad begunwith the men on each side and left the middle man till the lastwhen the titanfireball had scared it away. Why had it not taken its victims in natural orderwith myself secondfrom whichever direction it had approached? With what mannerof far-reaching tentacles did it prey? Or did it know that I was the leaderandsaved me for a fate worse than that of my companions?
In the midst of these reflectionsas if dramatically arranged to intensifythemthere fell nearby a terrific bolt of lightning followed by the sound ofsliding earth. At the same time the wolfish wind rose to demoniac crescendos ofululation. We were sure that the one tree on Maple Hill had been struck againand Munroe rose from his box and went to the tiny window to ascertain thedamage. When he took down the shutter the windand rain howled deafeningly inso that I could not hear what he said; but I waited while he leaned out andtried to fathom Nature's pandemonium.
Gradually a calming of the wind and dispersal of the unusual darkness told ofthe storm's passing. I had hoped it would last into the night to help our questbut a furtive sunbeam from a knothole behind me removed the likelihood of such athing. Suggesting to Munroe that we had better get some light even if moreshowers cameI unbarred and opened the crude door. The ground outside was asingular mass of mud and poolswith fresh heaps of earth from the slightlandslide; but I saw nothing to justify the interest which kept my companionsilently leaning out the window. Crossing to where he leanedI touched hisshoulder; but he did not move. Thenas I playfully shook him and turned himaroundI felt the strangling tendrils of a cancerous horror whose roots reachedinto illimitable pasts and fathomless abysms of the night that broods beyondtime.
For Arthur Munroe was dead. And on what remained of his chewed and gougedhead there was no longer a face.
III. WHAT THE RED GLARE MEANT
On the tempest-racked night of November 81921with a lantern which castcharnel shadowsI stood digging alone and idiotically in the grave of JanMartense. I had begun to dig in the afternoonbecause a thunderstorm wasbrewingand now that it was dark and the storm had burst above the maniacallythick foliage I was glad.
I believe that my mind was partly unhinged by events since August 5th; thedemon shadow in the mansion the general strain and disappointmentand the thingthat occurred at the hamlet in an October storm. After that thing I had dug agrave for one whose death I could not understand. I knew that others could notunderstand eitherso let them think Arthur Munroe had wandered away. Theysearchedbut found nothing. The squatters might have understoodhut I darednot frighten them more. I myself seemed strangely callous. That shock at themansion had done something to my brainand I could think only of the quest fora horror now grown to cataclysmic stature in my imagination; a quest which thefate of Arthur Munroe made me vow to keep silent and solitary.
The scene of my excavations would alone have been enough to unnerve anyordinary man. Baleful primal trees of unholy sizeageand grotesqueness leeredabove me like the pillars of some hellish Druidic temple; muffling the thunderhushing the clawing windand admitting but little rain. Beyond the scarredtrunks in the backgroundillumined by faint flashes of filtered lightningrosethe damp ivied stones of the deserted mansionwhile somewhat nearer was theabandoned Dutch garden whose walks and beds were polluted by a whitefungousfoetidover-nourished vegetation that never saw full daylight. And nearest ofall was the graveyardwhere deformed trees tossed insane branches as theirroots displaced unhallowed slabs and sucked venom from what lay below. Now andthenbeneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in theantediluvian forest darknessI could trace the sinister outlines of some ofthose low mounds which characterized the lightning-pierced region.
History had led me to this archaic grave. Historyindeedwas all I hadafter everything else ended in mocking Satanism.. I now believed that thelurking fear was no material beingbut a wolf-fanged ghost that rode themidnight lightning. And I believedbecause of the masses of local tradition Ihad unearthed in search with Arthur Munroethat the ghost was that of JanMartensewho died in 1762. This is why I was digging idiotically in his grave.
The Martense mansion was built in 1670 by Gent Martensea wealthyNew-Amsterdam merchant who disliked the changing order under British ruleandhad constructed this magnificent domicile on a remote woodland summit whoseuntrodden solitude and unusual scenery pleased him. The only substantialdisappointment encountered in this site was that which concerned the prevalenceof violent thunderstorms in summer. When selecting the hill and building hismansionMynheer Martense had laid these frequent natural outbursts to somepeculiarity of the year; but in time he perceived that the locality wasespecially liable to such phenomena. At lengthhaving found these stormsinjurious to his headhe fitted up a cellar into which he could retreat fromtheir wildest pandemonium.
Of Gerrit Martense's descendants less is known than of himself; since theywere all reared in hatred of the English civilisationand trained to shun suchof the colonists as accepted it. Their life was exceedingly secludedand peopledeclared that their isolation had made them heavy of speech and comprehension.In appearance all were marked by a peculiar inherited dissimilarity of eyes; onegenerally being blue and the other brown. Their social contacts grew fewer andfewertill at last they took to intermarrying with the numerous menial classabout the estate. Many of the crowded family degeneratedmoved across thevalleyand merged with the mongrel population which was later to produce thepitiful squatters. The rest had stuck sullenly to their ancestral mansionbecoming more and more clannish and taciturnyet developing a nervousresponsiveness to the frequent thunderstorms.
Most of this information reached the outside world through young JanMartensewho from some kind of restlessness joined the colonial army when newsof the Albany Convention reached Tempest Mountain. He was the first of Gerrit'sdescendants to see much of the world; and when he returned in 1760 after sixyears of campaigninghe was hated as an outsider by his fatherunclesandbrothersin spite of his dissimilar Martense eyes. No longer could he share thepeculiarities and prejudices of the Martenseswhile the very mountainthunderstorms failed to intoxicate him as they had before. Insteadhissurroundings depressed him; and he frequently wrote to a friend in Albany ofplans to leave the paternal roof.
In the spring of 1763 Jonathan Giffordthe Albany friend of Jan Martensebecame worried by his correspondent's silence; especially in view of theconditions and quarrels at the Martense mansion. Determined to visit Jan inpersonhe went into the mountains on horseback. His diary states that hereached Tempest Mountain on September 20finding the mansion in greatdecrepitude. The sullenodd-eyed Martenseswhose unclean animal aspect shockedhimtold him in broken gutterals that Jan was dead. He hadthey insistedbeenstruck by lightning the autumn before; and now lay buried behind the neglectedsunken gardens. They showed the visitor the gravebarren and devoid of markers.Something in the Martenses' manner gave Gifford a feeling of repulsion andsuspicionand a week later he returned' with spade and mattock to explore thesepulchral spot. He found what he expected - a skull crushed cruelly as if bysavage blows-so returning to Albany he openly charged the Martenses with themurder of their kinsman.
Legal evidence was lackingbut the story spread rapidly round thecountryside; and from that time the Martenses were ostracised by the world. Noone would deal with themand their distant manor was shunned as an accursedplace. Some how they managed to live on independently by the product of theirestatefor occasional lights glimpsed from far-away hills attested theircontinued presence. These lights were seen as late as 1810but toward the lastthey became very infrequent.
Meanwhile there grew up about the mansion and the mountain a body of diaboliclegendry. The place was avoided with doubled assiduousnessand invested withevery whispered myth tradition could supply. It remained unvisited till 1816when the continued absence of lights was noticed by the squatters. At that timea party made investigationsfinding the house deserted and partly m ruins.
There were no skeletons aboutso that departure rather than death wasinferred. The clan seemed to have left several years beforeand improvisedpenthouses showed how numerous it had grown prior to its migration. Its culturallevel had fallen very lowas proved by decaying furniture and scatteredsilverware which must have been long abandoned when its owners left. But thoughthe dreaded Martenses were gonethe fear of the haunted house continued; andgrew very acute when new and strange stories arose among the mountain decadents.There it stood; desertedfearedand linked with the vengeful ghost of JanMartense. There it still stood on the night I dug in Jan Martense's grave.
I have described my protracted digging as idioticand such It indeed was inobject and method. The coffin of Jan Martense had soon been unearthed-it nowheld only dust and nitre-but in my fury to exhume his ghost I delvedirrationally and clumsily down beneath where he had lain. God knows what Iexpected to find-I only felt that I was digging in the grave of a man whoseghost stalked by night.
It is impossible to say what monstrous depth I had attained when my spadeand soon my feetbroke through the ground beneath. The eventunder thecircumstanceswas tremendous; for in the existence of a subterranean spaceheremy mad theories had terrible confirmation. My slight fall had extinguishedthe lanternbut I produced an electric pocket lamp and viewed the smallhorizontal tunnel which led away indefinitely in both directions. It was amplylarge enough for a man to wriggle through; and though no sane person would havetried at that timeI forgot dangerreasonand cleanliness in my single-mindedfever to unearth the lurking fear. Choosing the direction toward the houseIscrambled recklessly into the narrow burrow; squirming ahead blindly andrapidlyand flashing but seldom the lamp I kept before me.
What language can describe the spectacle of a man lost in infinitely abysmalearth; pawingtwistingwheezing; scrambling madly through sunken -convolutionsof immemorial blackness without an idea of timesafetydirectionor definiteobject? There is something hideous in itbut that is what I did. I did it forso long that life faded to a far memoryand I became one with the moles andgrubs of nighted depths. hdeedit was only by accident that after interminablewrithings I jarred my forgotten electric lamp alightso that it shone eerilyalong the burrow of caked loam that stretched and curved ahead.
I had been scrambling in this way for some timeso that my battery hadburned very lowwhen the passage suddenly inclined sharply upwardaltering mymode of progress. And as I raised my glance it was without preparation that Isaw glistening in the distance two demoniac reflections of my expiring lamp; tworeflections glowing with a baneful and unmistakable effulgenceand provokingmaddeningly nebulous memories. I stopped automaticallythough lacking the brainto retreat. The eyes approachedyet of the thing that bore them I coulddistinguish only a claw. But what a claw! Then far overhead I heard a faintcrashing which I recognized. It was the wild thunder of the mountainraised tohysteric fury - I must have been crawling upward for some timeso that thesurface was now quite near. And as the muffled thunder clatteredthose eyesstill stared with vacuous viciousness.
Thank God I did not then know what it waselse I should have died. But I wassaved by the very thunder that had summoned itfor after a hideous wait thereburst from the unseen outside sky one of those frequent mountainward bolts whoseaftermath I had noticed here and there as gashes of disturbed earth andfulgurites of various sizes. With Cyclopean rage it tore through the soil abovethat damnable pitblinding and deafening meyet not wholly reducing me to acoma. In the chaos of slidingshifting earth I clawed and floundered helplesslytill the rain on my head steadied me and I saw that I had come to the surface ina familiar spot; a steep unforested place on the southwest slope of themountain. Recurrent sheet lightuings illumed the tumbled ground and the remainsof the curious low hummock which had stretched down from the wooded higherslopebut there was nothing in the chaos to show my place of egress from thelethal catacomb. My brain was as great a chaos as the earthand as a distantred glare burst on the landscape from the south I hardly realised the horror Ihad been through.
But when two days later the squatters told me what the red glare meantIfelt more horror than that which the mould-burrow and the claw and eyes hadgiven; more horror because of the overwhelming implications. In a hamlet twentymiles away an orgy of fear had followed the bolt which brought me above groundand a nameless thing had dropped from an overhanging tree into a weak-roofedcabin. It had done a deedbut the squatters had fired the cabin in frenzybefore it could escape. It had been doing that deed at the very moment the earthcaved in on the thing with the claw and eyes.
IV. THE HORROR IN THE EYES
There can be nothing normal in the mind of one whoknowing what I knew ofthe horrors of Tempest Mountainwould seek alone for the fear that lurkedthere. That at least two of the fear's embodiments were destroyedformed but aslight guarantee of mental and physical safety in this Acheron of multiformdiabolism; yet I continued my quest with even greater zeal as events andrevelations became more monstrous. Whentwo days after my frightful crawlthrough that crypt of the eyes and clawI learned that a thing had malignalyhovered twenty miles away at the same instant the eyes were glaring at meIexperienced virtual convulsions of fright. But that fright was so mixed withwonder and alluring grotesquenessthat it was almost a pleasant sensation.Sometimesin the throes of a nightmare when unseen powers whirl one over theroofs of strange dead cities toward the grinning chasm of Nisit is a reliefand even a delight to shriek wildly and throw oneself voluntarily along with thehideous vortex of dream-doom into whatever bottomless gulf may yawn. And so itwas with the walking nightmare of Tempest Mountain; the discovery that twomonsters had haunted the spot gave me ultimately a mad craving to plunge intothe very earth of the accursed regionand with bare hands dig out the deaththat leered from every inch of the poisonous soil.
As soon as possible I visited the grave of Jan Martense and dug vainly whereI had dug before. Some extensive cave-in had obliterated all trace of theunderground passagewhile the rain had washed so much earth back into theexcavation that I could not tell how deeply I had dug that other day. I likewisemade a difficult trip to the distant hamlet where the death-creature had beenburntand was little repaid for my trouble. In the ashes of the fateful cabin Ifound several bonesbut apparently none of the monster's. The squatters saidthe thing had had only one victim; but in this I judged them inaccuratesincebesides the complete skull of a human beingthere was another bony fragmentwhich seemed certainly to have belonged to a human skull at some time. Thoughthe rapid drop of the monster had been seenno one could say just what thecreature was like; those who had glimpsed it called it simply a devil. Examiningthe great tree where it had lurkedI could discern no distinctive marks. Itried to find some trail into the black forestbut on this occasion could notstand the sight of those morbidly large bolesor of those vast serpent-likeroots that twisted so malevolently before they sank into the earth.
My next step was to reexamine with microscopic care the deserted hamlet wheredeath had come most abundantlyand where Arthur -Munroe had seen something henever lived to describe. Though my vain previous searches had been exceedinglyminuteI now had new data to test; for my horrible grave-crawl convinced methat at least one of the phases of the monstrosity had been an undergroundcreature. This timeon the 14th of Novembermy quest concerned itself mostlywith the slopes of Cone Mountain and Maple Hill where they overlook theunfortunate hamletand I gave particular attention to the loose earth of thelandslide region on the latter eminence.
The afternoon of my search brought nothing to lightand dusk came as I stoodon Maple Hill looking down at the hamlet and across the valley to TempestMountain. There had been a gorgeous sunsetand now the moon came upnearlyfull and shedding a silver flood over the plainthe distant tant mountainsideand the curious low mounds that rose here and there. It was a peaceful Arcadianscenebut knowing what it hid I hated it. I hated the mocking moonthehypocritical plainthe festering mountainand those sinister mounds.Everything seemed to me tainted with a loathsome contagionand inspired by anoxious alliance with distorted hidden powers.
Presentlyas I gazed abstractedly at the moonlit panoramamy eye becameattracted by something singular in the nature and arrangement of a certaintopographical element. Without having any exact knowledge of geologyI had fromthe first been interested in the odd mounds and hummocks of the region. I hadnoticed that they were pretty widely distributed around Tempest Mountainthoughless numerous on the plain than near the hilltop itselfwhere prehistoricglaciation had doubtless found feebler opposition to its striking and fantasticcaprices. Nowin the light of that low moon which cast long weird shadowsitstruck me forcibly that the various points and lines of the mound system had apeculiar relation to the summit of Tempest Mountain. That summit was undeniablya centre from which the lines or rows of points radiated indefinitely andirregularlyas if the unwholesome Martense mansion had thrown visible tentaclesof terror. The idea of such tentacles gave me an unexplained thrilland Istopped to analyse my reason for believing these mounds glacial phenomena.
The more I analysed the less I believedand against my newly opened mindthere began to beat grotesque and horrible analogies based on superficialaspects and upon my experience beneath the earth. Before I knew it I wasuttering frenzied and disjointed words to myself; "My God!... Molehills...the damned place must be honeycombed... how many... that night at the mansion...they took Bennett and Tobey first... on each side of us..." Then I wasdigging frantically into the mound which had stretched nearest me; diggingdesperatelyshiveringlybut almost jubilantly; digging and at last shriekingaloud with some unplaced emotion as I came upon a tunnel or burrow just like theone through which I had crawled on the other demoniac night.
After that I recall runningspade in hand; a hideous run across moon-littenmound-marked meadows and through diseasedprecipitous abysses of hauntedhillside forest; leaping screamingpantingbounding toward the terribleMartense mansion. I recall digging unreasonably in all parts of the brier-chokedcellar; digging to find the core and centre of that malignant universe ofmounds. And then I recall how I laughed when I stumbled on the passageway; thehole at the base of the old chimneywhere the thick weeds grew and cast queershadows in the light of the lone candle I had happened to have with me. Whatstill remained down in that hell-hivelurking and waiting for the thunder toarouse itI did not know. Two had been killed; perhaps that had finished it.But still there remained that burning determination to reach the innermostsecret of the fearwhich I had once more come to deem definitematerialandorganic.
My indecisive speculation whether to explore the passage alone andimmediately with my pocket-light or to try to assemble a band of squatters forthe questwas interrupted after a time by a sudden rush of wind from theoutside which blew out the candle and left me in stark blackness. The moon nolonger shone through the chinks and apertures above meand with a sense offateful alarm I heard the sinister and significant rumble of approachingthunder. A confusion of associated ideas possessed my brainleading me to gropeback toward the farthest corner of the cellar. My eyeshowevernever turnedaway from the horrible opening at the base of the chimney; and I began to getglimpses of the crumbling bricks and unhealthy weeds as faint glows of lightningpenetrated the weeds outside and illumined the chinks in the upper wall. Everysecond I was consumed with a mixture of fear and curiosity. What would the stormcall forth-or was there anything left for it to call? Guided by a lightningflash I settled myself down behind a dense clump of vegetationthrough which Icould see the opening without being seen.
If heaven is mercifulit will some day efface from my consciousness thesight that I sawand let me live my last years in peace. I cannot sleep atnight nowand have to take opiates when it thunders. The thing came abruptlyand unannounced; a demonratlike scurrying from pits remote and unimaginableahellish panting and stifled gruntingand then from that opening beneath thechimney a burst of multitudinous and leprous life - a loathsome night-spawnedflood of organic corruption more devastatingly hideous than the blackestconjurations of mortal madness and morbidity. Seethingstewingsurgingbubbling like serpents' slime it rolled up and out of that yawning holespreading like a septic contagion and streaming from the cellar at every pointof egress - streaming out to scatter through the accursed midnight forests andstrew fearmadnessand death.
God knows how many there were - there must have been thousands. To see thestream of them in that faint intermittent lightning was shocking. When they hadthinned out enough to be glimpsed as separate organismsI saw that they weredwarfeddeformed hairy devils or apes-monstrous and diabolic caricatures of themonkey tribe. They were so hideously silent; there was hardly a squeal when oneof the last stragglers turned with the skill of long practice to make a meal inaccustomed fashion on a weaker companion. 0thers snapped up what it left and atewith slavering relish. Thenin spite of my daze of fright and disgustmymorbid curiosity triumphed; and as the last of the monstrosities oozed up alonefrom that nether world of unknown nightmareI drew my automatic pistol and shotit under cover of the thunder.
Shriekingslitheringtorrential shadows of red viscous madness chasing oneanother through endlessensanguined condors of purple fulgurous sky... formlessphantasms and kaleidoscopic mutations of a ghoulishremembered scene; forestsof monstrous over-nourished oaks with serpent roots twisting and suckingunnamable juices from an earth verminous with millions of cannibal devils;mound-like tentacles groping from underground nuclei of polypous perversion...insane lightning over malignant ivied walls and demon arcades choked withfungous vegetation... Heaven be thanked for the instinct which led meunconscious to places where men dwell; to the peaceful village that slept underthe calm stars of clearing skies.
I had recovered enough in a week to send to Albany for a gang of men to blowup the Martense mansion and the entire top of Tempest Mountain with dynamitestop up all the discoverable mound-burrowsand destroy certain over-nourishedtrees whose very existence seemed an insult to sanity. I could sleep a littleafter they had done thisbut true rest will never come as long as I rememberthat nameless secret of the lurking fear. The thing will haunt mefor who cansay the extermination is completeand that analogous phenomena do not exist allover the world? Who canwith my knowledgethink of the earth's unknown cavernswithout a nightmare dread of future possibilities? I cannot see a well or asubway entrance without shuddering... why cannot the doctors give me somethingto make me sleepor truly calm my brain when it thunders?
What I saw in the glow of flashlight after I shot the unspeakable stragglingobject was so simple that almost a minute elapsed before I understood and wentdelirious. The object was nauseous; a filthy whitish gorilla thing with sharpyellow fangs and matted fur. It was the ultimate product of mammaliandegeneration; the frightful outcome of isolated spawningmultiplicationandcannibal nutrition above and below the ground; the embodiment of all thesnarling and chaos and grinning fear that lurk behind life. It had looked at meas it diedand its eyes had the same odd quality that marked those other eyeswhich had stared at me underground and excited cloudy recollections. One eye wasbluethe other brown. They were the dissimilar Martense eyes of the oldlegendsand I knew in one inundating cataclysm of voiceless horror what hadbecome of that vanished family; the terrible and thunder-crazed house ofMartense.