“I’m glad you came,” said Chalmers. He was sitting by the window and his face was very pale. Two tall candles guttered at his elbow and cast a sickly amber light over his long nose and slightly receding chin. Chalmers would have nothing modern about his apartment. He had the soul of a mediæval ascetic, and he preferred illuminated manuscripts to automobiles, and leering stone gargoyles to radios and adding–machines.
As I crossed the room to the settee he had cleared for me I glanced at his desk and was surprised to discover that he had been studying the mathematical formulae of a celebrated contemporary physicist, and that he had covered many sheets of thin yellow paper with curious geometric designs.
“Einstein and John Dee are strange bedfellows,” I said as my gaze wandered from his mathematical charts to the sixty or seventy quaint books that comprised his strange little library. Plotinus and Emanuel Moscopulus, St. Thomas Aquinas and Frenicle de Bessy stood elbow to elbow in the somber ebony bookcase, and chairs, table and desk were littered with pamphlets about mediæval sorcery and witchcraft and black magic, and all of the valiant glamorous things that the modern world has repudiated.
Chalmers smiled engagingly, and passed me a Russian cigarette on a curiously carved tray. “We are just discovering now,” he said, “that the old alchemists and sorcerers were two–thirds right, and that your modern biologist and materialist is nine–tenths wrong.”
“You have always scoffed at modern science.” I said, a little impatiently.
“Only at scientific dogmatism,” he replied. “I have always been a rebel, a champion of originality and lost causes; that is why I have chosen to repudiate the conclusions of contemporary biologists.”
“And Einstein?” I asked.
“A priest of transcendental mathematics” he murmured reverently. “A profound mystic and explorer of the great suspected.”
“Then you do not entirely despise science.”
“Of course not.” he affirmed. “I merely distrust the scientific positivism of the past fifty years, the positivism of Haeckel and Darwin and of Mr. Bertrand Russell. I believe that biology has failed pitifully to explain the mystery of man’s origin and destiny.”
“Give them time.” I retorted.
Chalmers’ eyes glowed. “My friend.” he murmured, “your pun is sublime. Give them time. That is precisely what I would do. But your modern biologist scoffs at time. He has the key but he refuses to use it. What do we know of time, really? Einstein believes that it is relative, that it can be interpreted in terms of space, of curved space. But must we stop there? When mathematics fails us can we not advance by—insight?”
“You are treading on dangerous ground,” I replied. “That is a pitfall that your true investigator avoids That is why modern science has advanced so slowly. It accepts nothing that it cannot demonstrate. But you—”
“I would take hashish, opium, all manner of drugs I would emulate the sages of the East. And then perhaps I would apprehend—”
“The fourth dimension.”
“Perhaps. But I believe that drugs expand human consciousness. William James agreed with me. And I have discovered a new one.”
“A new drug?”
“It was used centuries ago by Chinese alchemists, but it is virtually unknown in the West. Its occult properties are amazing. With its aid and the aid of my mathematical knowledge I believe that I can go back through time.”
“I do not understand.”
“Time is merely our imperfect perception of a new dimension of space. Time and motion are both illusions. Everything that has existed from the beginning of the world exists now. Events that occurred centuries ago on this planet continue to exist in another dimension of space. Events that will occur centuries from now exist already. We cannot perceive their existence because we cannot enter the dimension of space that contains them. Human beings as we know them are merely fractions, infinitesimally small fractions of one enormous whole. Every human being is linked with all the life that has preceded him on this planet. All of his ancestors are parts of him. Only time separates him from his forebears, and time is an illusion and does not exist.”
“I think I understand,” I murmured.
“It will be sufficient for my purpose if you can form a vague idea of what I wish to achieve. I wish to strip from my eyes the veils of illusion that time has thrown over them, and see the beginning and the end.”
“And you think this new drug will help you?”
“I am sure that it will. And I want you to help me. I intend to take the drug immediately. I cannot wait. I must see.” His eyes glittered strangely. “I am going back, back through time.”
He rose and strode to the mantel. When he faced me again he was holding a small square box in the palm of his hand. “I have here five pellets of the drug Liao. It was used by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tze, and while under its influence he visioned Tao. Tao is the most mysterious force in the world; it surrounds and pervades all things; it contains the visible universe and everything that we call reality. He who apprehends the mysteries of Tao sees clearly all that was and will be.”
“Rubbish!” I retorted.
“Tao resembles a great animal, recumbent, motionless, containing in its enormous body all the worlds of our universe, the past, the present and the future. We see portions of this great monster through a slit, which we call time. With the aid of this drug I shall enlarge the slit. I shall behold the great figure of life, the great recumbent beast in its entirety.”
“And what do you wish me to do?”
“Watch, my friend. Watch and take notes. And if I go back too far you must recall me to reality. You can recall me by shaking me violently. If I appear to be suffering acute physical pain you must recall me at once.”
“Chalmers.” I said. “I wish you wouldn’t make this experiment. You are taking dreadful risks. I don’t believe that there is any fourth dimension and I emphatically do not believe in Tao. And I don’t approve of your experimenting with unknown drugs.”
“I know the properties of this drug.” he replied. “I know precisely how it affects the human animal and I know its dangers. The risk does not reside in the drug itself My only fear is that I may become lost in time. You see, I shall assist the drug. Before I swallow this pellet I shall give my undivided attention to the geometric and algebraic symbols that I have traced on this paper.” He raised the mathematical chart that rested on his knee. “I shall prepare my mind for an excursion into time. I shall approach the fourth dimension with my conscious mind before I take the drug which will enable me to exercise occult powers of perception. Before I enter the dream world of the Eastern mystics I shall acquire all of the mathematical help that modern science can offer. This mathematical knowledge, this conscious approach to an actual apprehension of the fourth dimension of time, will supplement the work of the drug. The drug will open up stupendous new vistas—the mathematical preparation will enable me to grasp them intellectually. I have often grasped the fourth dimension in dreams, emotionally, intuitively, but I have never been able to recall, in waking life, the occult splendours that were momentarily revealed to me.
“But with your aid, I believe that I can recall them. You will take down everything that I say under the influence of the drug. No matter how strange or incoherent my speech may become you will omit nothing. When I awake I may be able to supply the key to whatever is mysterious or incredible. I am not sure that I shall succeed, but if I do succeed”—his eyes were strangely luminous—“time will exist for me no longer!”
He sat down abruptly. “I shall make the experiment at once. Please stand over there by the window and watch. Have you a fountain pen?”
I nodded gloomily and removed a pale green Waterman from my upper vest pocket.
“And a pad, Frank?”
I groaned and produced a memorandum book. “I emphatically disapprove of this experiment,” I muttered. “You’re taking a frightful risk.”
“Don’t be an asinine old woman!” he admonished. “Nothing that you can say will induce me to stop now. I entreat you to remain silent while I study these charts.”
He raised the charts and studied them intently. I watched the clock on the mantel as it ticked out the seconds, and a curious dread clutched at my heart so that I choked.
Suddenly the clock stopped ticking, and exactly at that moment Chalmers swallowed the drug.
I rose quickly and moved toward him, but his eyes implored me not to interfere. “The clock has stopped.” he murmured. “The forces that control it approve of my experiment. Time stopped, and I swallowed the drug. I pray God that I shall not lose my way.”
He closed his eyes and leaned back on the sofa. All of the blood had left his face and he was breathing heavily. It was clear that the drug was acting with extraordinary rapidity.
“It is beginning to get dark,” he murmured. “Write that. It is beginning to get dark and the familiar objects in the room are fading out. I can discern them vaguely through my eyelids, but they are fading swiftly.”
I shook my pen to make the ink come and wrote rapidly in shorthand as he continued to dictate.
“I am leaving the room. The walls are vanishing and I can no longer see any of the familiar objects. Your face, though, is still visible to me. I hope that you are writing. I think that I am about to make a great leap—a leap through space. Or perhaps it is through time that I shall make the leap. I cannot tell. Everything is dark, indistinct.”
He sat for a while silent, with his head sunk upon his breast. Then suddenly he stiffened and his eyelids fluttered open. “God in heaven!” he cried. “I see!”
He was straining forward in his chair, staring at the opposite wall But I knew that he was looking beyond the wall and that the objects in the room no longer existed for him. “Chalmers,” I cried, “Chalmers, shall I wake you?”
“Do not!” he shrieked. “I see everything. All of the billions of lives that preceeded me on this planet are before me at this moment. I see men of all ages, all races, all colors. They are fighting, killing, building, dancing, singing. They are sitting about rude fires on lonely gray deserts, and flying through the air in monoplanes. They are riding the seas in bark canoes and enormous steamships; they are painting bison and mammoths on the walls of dismal caves and covering huge canvases with queer futuristic designs. I watch the migrations from Atlantis. I watch the migrations from Lemuria. I see the elder races—a strange horde of black dwarfs overwhelming Asia, and the Neandertalers with lowered heads and bent knees ranging obscenely across Europe. I watch the Achæans streaming into the Greek islands, and the crude beginnings of Hellenic culture. I am in Athens and Pericles is young. I am standing on the soil of Italy. I assist in the rape of the Sabines; I march with the Imperial Legions. I tremble with awe and wonder as the enormous standards go by and the ground shakes with the tread of the victorious hastati. A thousand naked slaves grovel before me as I pass in a litter of gold and ivory drawn by night–black oxen from Thebes, and the flower–girls scream ‘Ave Caesar’ as I nod and smile. I am myself a slave on a Moorish galley. I watch the erection of a great cathedral. Stone by stone it rises, and through months and years I stand and watch each stone as it falls into place. I am burned on a cross head downward in the thyme–scented gardens of Nero, and I watch with amusement and scorn the torturers at work in the chambers of the Inquisition.
“I walk in the holiest sanctuaries; I enter the temples of Venus. I kneel in adoration before the Magna Mater, and I throw coins on the bare knees of the sacred courtesans who sit with veiled faces in the groves of Babylon. I creep into an Elizabethan theater and with the stinking rabble about me I applaud The Merchant of Venice. I walk with Dante through the narrow streets of Florence. I meet the young Beatrice, and the hem of her garment brushes my sandals as I stare enraptured. I am a priest of Isis, and my magic astounds the nations. Simon Magus kneels before me, imploring my assistance, and Pharaoh trembles when I approach. In India I talk with the Masters and run screaming from their presence, for their revelations are as salt on wounds that bleed.
“I perceive everything simultaneously. I perceive everything from all sides; I am a part of all the teeming billions about me. I exist in all men and all men exist in me. I perceive the whole of human history in a single instant, the past and the present.
“By simply straining I can see farther and farther back. Now I am going back through strange curves and angles. Angles and curves multiply about me. I perceive great segments of time through curves. There is curved time, and angular time. The beings that exist in angular time cannot enter curved time. It is very strange.
“I am going back and back. Man has disappeared from the earth. Gigantic reptiles crouch beneath enormous palms and swim through the loathly black waters of dismal lakes. Now the reptiles have disappeared. No animals remain upon the land, but beneath the waters, plainly visible to me, dark forms move slowly over the rotting vegetation.
“The forms are becoming simpler and simpler. Now they are single cells. All about me there are angles—strange angles that have no counterparts on the earth. I am desperately afraid.
“There is an abyss of being which man has never fathomed.”
I stared. Chalmers had risen to his feet and he was gesticulating helplessly with his arms. “I am passing through unearthly angles; I am approaching—oh, the burning horror of it.”
“Chalmers!” I cried. “Do you wish me to interfere?”
He brought his right hand quickly before his face, as though to shut out a vision unspeakable. “Not yet!” he cried “I will go on. I will see—what—lies—beyond—”
A cold sweat streamed from his forehead and his shoulders jerked spasmodically. “Beyond life there are”—his face grew ashen with terror—”things that I cannot distinguish. They move slowly through angles. They have no bodies, and they move slowly through outrageous angles.”
It was then that I became aware of the odor in the room. It was a pungent, indescribable odor, so nauseous that I could scarcely endure it. I stepped quickly to the window and threw it open. When I returned to Chalmers and looked into his eyes I nearly fainted.
“I think they have scented me!” he shrieked. “They are slowly turning toward me.”
He was trembling horribly. For a moment he clawed at the air with his hands. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fell forward on his face, slobbering and moaning.
I watched him in silence as he dragged himself across the floor. He was no longer a man. His teeth were bared and saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth.
“Chalmers.” I cried “Chalmers, stop it! Stop it. do you hear?”
As if in reply to my appeal he commenced to utter hoarse convulsive sounds which resembled nothing so much as the barking of a dog. and began a sort of hideous writhing in a circle about the room. I bent and seized him by the shoulders. Violently, desperately, I shook him. He turned his head and snapped at my wrist. I was sick with horror, but I dared not release him for fear that he would destroy himself in a paroxysm of rage.
“Chalmers,” I muttered, “you must stop that. There is nothing in this room that can harm you. Do you understand?”
I continued to shake and admonish him, and gradually the madness died out of his face. Shivering convulsively, he crumpled into a grotesque heap on the Chinese rug.
I carried him to the sofa and deposited him upon it. His features were twisted in pain, and I knew that he was still struggling dumbly to escape from abominable memories.
“Whisky,” he muttered. “You’ll find a flask in the cabinet by the window—upper left–hand drawer.”
When I handed him the flask his fingers tightened about it until the knuckles showed blue. “They nearly got me,” he gasped. He drained the stimulant in immoderate gulps, and gradually the color crept back into his face.
“That drug was the very devil!” I murmured.
“It wasn’t the drug.” he moaned.
His eyes no longer glared insanely, but he still wore the look of a lost soul.
“They scented me in time.” he moaned. “I went too far.”
“What were they like?” I said, to humor him.
He leaned forward and gripped my arm. He was shivering horribly. “No words in our language can describe them!” He spoke in a hoarse whisper. “They are symbolized vaguely in the myth of the Fall, and in an obscene form which is occasionally found engraved on ancient tablets. The Greeks had a name for them, which veiled their essential foulness. The tree, the snake and the apple—these are the vague symbols of a most awful mystery.
His voice had risen to a scream. “Frank, Frank, a terrible and unspeakable deed was done in the beginning. Before time, the deed, and from the deed—”
He had risen and was hysterically pacing the room. “The seeds of the deed move through angles in dim recesses of time. They are hungry and athirst!”
“Chalmers.” I pleaded to quiet him. “We are living in the third decade of the Twentieth Century.”
“They are lean and athirst!” he shrieked. “The Hounds of Tindalos!”
“Chalmers, shall I phone for a physician”
“A physician cannot help me now They are horrors of the soul, and yet”—he hid his face in his hands and groaned—”they are real, Frank. I saw them for a ghastly moment. For a moment I stood on the other side. I stood on the pale gray shores beyond time and space. In an awful light that was not light, in a silence that shrieked, I saw them.
“All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies. Or had they bodies? I saw them only for a moment; I cannot be certain. But I heard them breathe. Indescribably for a moment I felt their breath upon my face. They turned toward me and I fled screaming. In a single moment I fled screaming through time. I fled down quintillions of years.
“But they scented me. Men awake in them cosmic hungers. We have escaped, momentarily, from the foulness that rings them round. They thirst for that in us which is clean, which emerged from the deed without stain. There is a part of us which did not partake in the deed, and that they hate. But do not imagine that they are literally, prosaically evil. They are beyond good and evil as we know it. They are that which in the beginning fell away from cleanliness. Through the deed they became bodies of death, receptacles of all foulness. But they are not evil in our sense because in the spheres through which they move there is no thought, no morals, no right or wrong as we understand it. There is merely the pure and the foul. The foul expresses itself through angles: the pure through curves. Man. the pure part of him, is descended from a curve. Do not laugh. I mean that literally.”
I rose and searched for my hat. “I’m dreadfully sorry for you, Chalmers,” I said, as I walked toward the door. “But I don’t intend to stay and listen to such gibberish. I’ll send my physician to see you. He’s an elderly, kindly chap and he won’t be offended if you tell him to go to the devil. But I hope you’ll respect his advice. A week’s rest in a good sanitarium should benefit you immeasurably.”
I heard him laughing as I descended the stairs, but his laughter was so utterly mirthless that it moved me to tears.
When Chalmers phoned the following morning my first impulse was to hang up the receiver immediately. His request was so unusual and his voice was so wildly hysterical that I feared any further association with him would result in the impairment of my own sanity. But I could not doubt the genuineness of his misery, and when he broke down completely and I heard him sobbing over the wire I decided to comply with his request.
“Very well,” I said. “I will come over immediately and bring the plaster.”
En route to Chalmers’ home I stopped at a hardware store and purchased twenty pounds of plaster of Paris. When I entered my friend’s room he was crouching by the window watching the opposite wall out of eyes that were feverish with fright. When he saw me he rose and seized the parcel containing the plaster with an avidity that amazed and horrified me. He had extruded all of the furniture and the room presented a desolate appearance.
“It is just conceivable that we can thwart them!” he exclaimed, “But we must work rapidly. Frank, there is a stepladder in the hall. Bring it here immediately. And then fetch a pail of water.”
“What for?” I murmured.
He turned sharply and there was a Rush on his face. “To mix the plaster, you fool!” he cried. “To mix the plaster that will save our bodies and souls from a contamination unmentionable. To mix the plaster that will save the world from—Frank, they must be kept out!”
“Who?” I murmured.
“The Hounds of Tindalos!” he muttered. “They can only reach us through angles. We must eliminate all angles from this room. I shall plaster up all of the corners, all of the crevices. We must make this room resemble the interior of a sphere.”
I knew that it would have been useless to argue with him. I fetched the stepladder, Chalmers mixed the plaster, and for three hours we labored. We filled in the four corners of the wall and the intersections of the floor and wall and the wall and ceiling, and we rounded the sharp angles of the window–seat.
“I shall remain in this room until they return in time,” he affirmed when our task was completed. “When they discover that the scent leads through curves they will return. They will return ravenous and snarling and unsatisfied to the foulness that was in the beginning, before time, beyond space.”
He nodded graciously and lit a cigarette. “It was good of you to help.” he said.
“Will you not see a physician. Chalmers?” I pleaded.
“Perhaps—tomorrow,” he murmured. “But now I must watch and wait.”
“Wait for what?” I urged.
Chalmers smiled wanly “I know that you think me insane,” he said. “You have a shrewd but prosaic mind, and you cannot conceive of an entity that does not depend for its existence on force and matter. But did it ever occur to you, my friend, that force and matter are merely the barriers to perception imposed by time and space? When one knows, as I do, that time and space are identical and that they are both deceptive because they are merely imperfect manifestations of a higher reality, one no longer seeks in the visible world for an explanation of the mystery and terror of being.”
I rose and walked toward the door.
“Forgive me.” he cried. “I did not mean to offend you. You have a superlative intellect, but I—I have a superhuman one. It is only natural that I should be aware of your limitations.”
“Phone if you need me,” I said, and descended the stairs two steps at a time. “I’ll send my physician over at once,”‘ I muttered, to myself. “He’s a hopeless maniac, and heaven knows what will happen if someone doesn’t take charge of him immediately.”
THE following is a condensation of two announcements which appeared in the Partridgeville Gazette for July 5, 1928:
At 2 o’clock this morning an earth tremor of unusual severity broke several plate–glass windows in Central Square and completely disorganized the electric and street railway systems. The tremor was felt in the outlying districts and the steeple of the First Baptist Church on Angell Hill (designed by Christopher Wren in 1717) was entirely demolished. Firemen are now attempting to put out a blaze which threatens to destroy the Partridgeville Glue Works. An investigation is promised by the mayor and an immediate attempt will be made to fix responsibility for this disastrous occurrence.
Horrible Crime in Central Square
Mystery Surrounds Death of Halpin Chalmers
At 9 a. m. today the body of Halpin Chalmers, author and journalist, was found in an empty room above the jewelry store of Smithwick and Isaacs, 24 Central Square. The coroner’s investigation revealed that the room had been rented furnished to Mr. Chalmers on May 1, and that he had himself disposed of the furniture a fortnight ago. Chalmers was the author of several recondite books on occult themes, and a member of the Bibliographic Guild. He formerly resided in Brooklyn, New York.
At 7 a. m. Mr. L. E. Hancock, who occupies the apartment opposite Chalmers’ room in the Smithwick and Isaacs establishment, smelt a peculiar odor when he opened his door to take in his cat and the morning edition of the Partridgeville Gazette. The odor he describes as extremely acrid and nauseous, and he affirms that it was so strong in the vicinity of Chalmers’ room that he was obliged to hold his nose when he approached that section of the hall.
He was about to return to his own apartment when it occurred to him that Chalmers might have accidentally forgotten to turn off the gas in his kitchenette. Becoming considerable, alarmed at the thought, he decided to investigate, and when repeated tappings on Chalmers’ door brought no response he notified the superintendent. The latter opened the door by means of a pass key, and the two men quickly made their way into Chalmers room. The room was utterly destitute of furniture, and Hancock asserts that when he first glanced at the floor his heart went cold within him, and that the superintendent. without saying a word, walked to the open window and stared at the building opposite for fully five minutes.
Chalmers lay stretched upon his back in the center of the room. He was starkly nude, and his chest and arms were covered with a peculiar bluish pus or ichor. His head lay grotesquely upon his chest. It had been completely severed from his body, and the features were twisted and torn and horribly mangled. Nowhere was there a trace of blood.
The room presented a most astonishing appearance. The intersections of the walls, ceiling and floor had been thickly smeared with plaster of Paris, but at intervals fragments had cracked and fallen off, and someone had grouped these upon the floor about the murdered man so as to form a perfect triangle.
Beside the body were several sheets of charred yellow paper. These bore fantastic geometric designs and symbols and several hastily scrawled sentences. The sentences were almost illegible and so absurd in content that they furnished no possible clue to the perpetrator of the crime. “I am waiting and watching,” Chalmers wrote. “I sit by the window and watch walls and ceiling. I do not believe they can reach me. but I must beware of the Doels. Perhaps they can help them break through. The satyrs will help, and they can advance through the scarlet circles. The Greeks knew a way of preventing that. It is a great pity that we have forgotten so much.”
On another sheet of paper, the most badly charred of the seven or eight fragments found by Detective Sergeant Douglas (of the Partridgeville Reserve), was scrawled the following:
“Good God, the plaster is falling! A terrific shock has loosened the plaster and it is falling. An earthquake perhaps! I never could have anticipated this. It is growing dark in the room. I must phone Frank. But can he get here in time? I will try. I will recite the Einstein formula. I will—God. they are breaking through! They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the coiners of the wall. Their tongues—ahhhhh—”
In the opinion of Detective Sergeant Douglas. Chalmers was poisoned by some obscure chemical. He has sent specimens of the strange blue slime found on Chalmers’ body to the Partridgeville Chemical Laboratories; and he expects the report will shed new light on one of the most mysterious crimes of recent years. That Chalmers entertained a guest on the evening preceding the earthquake is certain, for his neighbor distinctly heard a low murmur of conversation in the former’s room as he passed it on his way to the stairs. Suspicion points strongly to this unknown visitor and the police are diligently endeavoring to discover his identity.
Report of James Morton, chemist and bacteriologist:
My dear Mr. Douglas:
The fluid sent to me for analysis is the most peculiar that I have ever examined. It resembles living protoplasm, but it lacks the peculiar substances known as enzymes. Enzymes Catalyze the chemical reactions occurring in living ceils, and when the cell dies they cause it to disintegrate by hydrolyzation. Without enzymes protoplasm should possess enduring vitality, i.e. immortality. Enzymes are the negative components, so to speak, of unicellular organism, which is the basis of all life. That living matter can exist without enzymes biologists emphatically deny. And yet the substance that you have sent me is alive and it lacks these “indispensable” bodies. Good God, sir, do you realize what astounding new vistas this opens up?
Excerpt from The Secret Watchers by the late Halpin Chalmers:
What if, parallel to the life we know, there is another life that does not die, which lacks the elements that destroy our life? Perhaps in another dimension there is a different force from that which generates our life. Perhaps this force emits energy, or something similar to energy, which passes from the unknown dimension where it is and creates a new form of cell life in our dimension. No one knows that such new cell life does exist in our dimension. Ah, but I have seen its manifestations. I have talked with them. In my room at night I have talked with the Doels. And in dreams I have seen their maker. I have stood on the dim shore beyond time and matter and seen it. It moves through strange curves and outrageous angles. Someday I shall travel in time and meet it face to face.
Ok, so my title might be a little misleading but, please do read on. I came across this whilst on one of my random trips through cyber space and thought it too good not to share with you guys.
The 14th century church of St. George in the little town of Lukova in the Czech Republic had been in a state of disrepair for many years after the the roof collapsed during a funeral service in 1968 and for the preceding years it had remained largely unused. Not only because of its dangerous sate of disrepair but all because the locals feared that the collapse was some sort of ill omen and henceforth conducted their services and masses outside.
That was until Czech artist Jakub Hadrava was employed to help transform the future of the church which was built in 1352. Jakubs art has seen tourists flock to view it in…
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In the first week of January, 2nd January to be precise, Sheila and I travelled across England going from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in half a day. The weather was cold and dry and when we got to Whitby it was sunny, but the easterly wind was literally Baltic.
Whitby is a wonderful place full of atmosphere. Jarred Triskalion when he’s talking about the Whitby Conclave of Chaos Magicians that existed in the late 1970s on Cliff Street says that like Glastonbury and London, it has its own special atmosphere.
Whitby is famous for its fish and chips, its Goth and Pirate weekends and its synod. The Synod was a big deal in Dark Age England that happened in 664 where the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria chose to go with the practices of the Roman rather than the Celtic Church.
King Oswy of Northumbria gave Whitby to Abbess Hilda, who was so holy that when the birds fly over her Abbey they dip their wings in respect. The ruins of the Abbey you see, aren’t the Anglo-Saxon ones, but in fact a later Gothic abbey ruined by Henry VIII in 1538.
I think, like Glastonbury, Whitby has something magical about it, recognised in both places by the foundation of a Dark Age monastery, lots of legends, Goths and hippies gathering in numbers.
What Whitby has that Glastonbury doesn’t is Bram Stoker and Dracula (Glastonbury has John Cowper Powys’s Glastonbury Romance, but that’s not as widely known)
I photographed a tourist information plaque for the above, but if you look where the Dimitry came aground, you can easily see where it was on the photograph I took a couple of days ago.
Dracula : CHAPTER VI
MINA MURRAY’S JOURNAL
Above is looking to where the Demeter came aground from the seaward side.
24 July. Whitby.
Lucy met me at the station, looking sweeter and lovelier than ever, and we drove up to the house at the Crescent in which they have rooms. This is a lovely place. The little river, the
Esk, runs through a deep valley, which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. A great viaduct runs across, with high piers, through which the view seems somehow further away than it really is. The valley is beautifully green, and it is so steep that when you are on the high land on either side you look right across it, unless you are near enough to see down. The houses of the old town–the side away from us–are all red-roofed, and seem piled up one over the other anyhow, like the pictures we see of Nuremberg.
Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of “Marmion,” where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows.
Between it and the town there is another church, the parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into the sea. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work. Indeed, I am writing now, with my book on my knee, and listening to the talk of three old men who are sitting beside me. They seem to do nothing all day but sit up here and talk.
The harbour lies below me, with, on the far side, one long granite wall stretching out into the sea, with a curve outwards at the end of it, in the middle of which is a lighthouse. A heavy sea-wall runs along outside of it. On the near side, the sea-wall makes an elbow crooked inversely, and its end too has a lighthouse. Between the two piers there is a narrow opening into the harbour, which then suddenly widens.
It is nice at high water; but when the tide is out it shoals away to nothing, and there is merely the stream of the Esk, running between banks of sand, with rocks here and there. Outside the harbour on this side there rises for about half a mile a great reef, the sharp edge of which runs straight out from behind the south lighthouse. At the end of it is a buoy with a bell, which swings in bad weather, and sends in a mournful sound on the wind. They have a legend here that when a ship is lost bells are heard out at sea. I must ask the old man about this; he is coming this way….
He is a funny old man. He must be awfully old, for his face is all gnarled and twisted like the bark of a tree. He tells me that he is nearly a hundred, and that he was a sailor in the Greenland fishing fleet when Waterloo was fought. He is, I am afraid, a very sceptical person, for when I asked him about the bells at sea and the White Lady at the abbey he said very brusquely:–
“I wouldn’t fash masel’ about them, miss. Them things be all wore out. Mind, I don’t say that they never was, but I do say that they wasn’t in my time. They be all very well for comers and trippers, an’ the like, but not for a nice young lady like you. Them feet-folks from York and Leeds that be always eatin’ cured herrin’s an’ drinkin’ tea an’ lookin’ out to buy cheap jet would creed aught. I wonder masel’ who’d be bothered tellin’ lies to them–even the newspapers, which is full of fool-talk.”
I thought he would be a good person to learn interesting things from, so I asked him if he would mind telling me something about the whale-fishing in the old days. He was just settling himself to begin when the clock struck six, whereupon he laboured to get up, and said:–
“I must gang ageeanwards home now, miss. My grand-daughter doesn’t like to be kept waitin’ when the tea is ready, for it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees, for there be a many of ’em; an’, miss, I lack belly-timber sairly by the clock.”
He hobbled away, and I could see him hurrying, as well as he could, down the steps. The steps are a great feature on the place. They lead from the town up to the church, there are hundreds of them–I do not know how many--and they wind up in a delicate curve; the slope is so gentle that a horse could easily walk up and down them. I think they must originally have had something to do with the abbey. I shall go home too. Lucy went out visiting with her mother, and as they were only duty calls, I did not go. They will be home by this.
* * *
I came up here an hour ago with Lucy, and we had a most interesting talk with my old friend and the two others who always come and join him. He is evidently the Sir Oracle of them, and I should think must have been in his time a most dictatorial person. He will not admit anything, and downfaces everybody. If he can’t out-argue them he bullies them, and then takes their silence for agreement with his views.
Lucy was looking sweetly pretty in her white lawn frock; she has got a beautiful colour since she has been here. I noticed that the old men did not lose any time in coming up and sitting near her when we sat down. She is so sweet with old people; I think they all fell in love with her on the spot. Even my old man succumbed and did not contradict her, but gave me double share instead.
I got him on the subject of the legends, and he went off at once into a sort of sermon. I must try to remember it and put it down:–
“It be all fool-talk, lock, stock, and barrel; that’s what it be, an’ nowt else. These bans an’ wafts an’ boh-ghosts an’ barguests an’ bogles an’ all anent them is only fit to set bairns an’ dizzy women a-belderin’.
They be nowt but air-blebs [A bleb is a blister] They, an’ all grims an’ signs an’ warnin’s, be all invented by parsons an’ illsome beuk-bodies [ Illsome Beuk-Bodies is you and me] an’ railway touters to skeer an’ scunner hafflin’s, an’ to get folks to do somethin’ that they don’t other incline to. It makes me ireful to think o’ them. Why, it’s them that, not content with printin’ lies on paper an’ preachin’ them out of pulpits, does want to be cuttin’ them on the tombstones. Look here all around you in what airt ye will; all them steans, holdin’ up their heads as well as they can out of their pride, is acant–simply tumblin’ down with the weight o’ the lies wrote on them, ‘Here lies the body’ or ‘Sacred to the memory’ wrote on all of them, an’ yet in nigh half of them there bean’t no bodies at all; an’ the memories of them bean’t cared a pinch of snuff about, much less sacred.
Lies all of them, nothin’ but lies of one kind or another! My gog, but it’ll be a quare scowderment at the Day of Judgment when they come tumblin’ up in their death-sarks, all jouped together an’ tryin’ to drag their tombsteans with them to prove how good they was; some of them trimmlin’ and ditherin’, with their hands that dozzened an’ slippy from lyin’ in the sea that they can’t even keep their grup o’ them.”
I could see from the old fellow’s self-satisfied air and the way in which he looked round for the approval of his cronies that he was “showing off,” so I put in a word to keep him going:–
“Oh, Mr. Swales, you can’t be serious. Surely these tombstones are not all wrong?”
“Yabblins! There may be a poorish few not wrong, savin’ where they make out the people too good; for there be folk that do think a balm-bowl be like the sea, if only it be their own. The whole thing be only lies. Now look you here; you come here a stranger, an’ you see this kirk-garth.”
I nodded, for I thought it better to assent, though I did not quite understand his dialect. I knew it had something to do with the church.
He went on: “And you consate that all these steans be aboon folk that be happed here, snod an’ snog?” I assented again. “Then that be just where the lie comes in. Why, there be scores of these lay-beds that be toom as old Dun’s ‘bacca-box on Friday night.” He nudged one of his companions, and they all laughed. “And my gog! how could they be otherwise? Look at that one, the aftest abaft the bier-bank: read it!” I went over and read:–
“Edward Spencelagh, master mariner, murdered by pirates off the coast of Andres, April, 1854, æt. 30.”
When I came back Mr. Swales went on:–
“Who brought him home, I wonder, to hap him here? Murdered off the coast of Andres! an’ you consated his body lay under! Why, I could name ye a dozen whose bones lie in the Greenland seas above”
He pointed northwards–“or where the currents may have drifted them. There be the steans around ye. Ye can, with your young eyes, read the small-print of the lies from here. This Braithwaite Lowrey–I knew his father, lost in the _Lively_ off Greenland in ’20; or Andrew Woodhouse, drowned in the same seas in 1777; or John Paxton, drowned off Cape Farewell a year later; or old John Rawlings, whose grandfather sailed with me, drowned in the Gulf of Finland in ’50. Do ye think that all these men will have to make a rush to Whitby when the trumpet sounds? I have me antherums aboot it! I tell ye that when they got here they’d be jommlin’ an’ jostlin’ one another that way that it ‘ud be like a fight up on the ice in the old days, when we’d be at one another from daylight to dark, an’ tryin’ to tie up our cuts by the light of the aurora borealis.” 
This was evidently local pleasantry, for the old man cackled over it, and his cronies joined in with gusto.
“But,” I said, “surely you are not quite correct, for you start on the assumption that all the poor people, or their spirits, will have to take their tombstones with them on the Day of Judgment. Do you think that will be really necessary?”
“Well, what else be they tombstones for? Answer me that, miss!”
“To please their relatives, I suppose.”
“To please their relatives, you suppose!” This he said with intense scorn. “How will it pleasure their relatives to know that lies is wrote over them, and that everybody in the place knows that they be lies?” He pointed to a stone at our feet which had been laid down as a slab, on which the seat was rested, close to the edge of the cliff. “Read the lies on that thruff-stean,“ he said.
The letters were upside down to me from where I sat, but Lucy was more opposite to them, so she leant over and read:–
“Sacred to the memory of George Canon, who died, in the hope of a glorious resurrection, on July, 29, 1873, falling from the rocks at Kettleness. This tomb was erected by his sorrowing mother to her dearly beloved son. ‘He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.’
“Really, Mr. Swales, I don’t see anything very funny in that!” She spoke her comment very gravely and somewhat severely.
“Ye don’t see aught funny! Ha! ha! But that’s because ye don’t gawm the sorrowin’ mother was a hell-cat that hated him because he was acrewk’d–a regular lamiter he was–an’ he hated her so that he committed suicide in order that she mightn’t get an insurance she put on his life. He blew nigh the top of his head off with an old musket that they had for scarin’ the crows with. ‘Twarn’t for crows then, for it brought the clegs and the dowps to him. That’s the way he fell off the rocks. And, as to hopes of a glorious resurrection, I’ve often heard him say masel’ that he hoped he’d go to hell, for his mother was so pious that she’d be sure to go to heaven, an’ he didn’t want to addle where she was. Now isn’t that stean at any rate”–he hammered it with his stick as he spoke–“a pack of lies? and won’t it make Gabriel keckle when Geordie comes pantin’ up the grees with the tombstean balanced on his hump, and asks it to be took as evidence!”
I did not know what to say, but Lucy turned the conversation as she said, rising up:–
“Oh, why did you tell us of this? It is my favourite seat, and I cannot leave it; and now I find I must go on sitting over the grave of a suicide.”
“That won’t harm ye, my pretty; an’ it may make poor Geordie gladsome to have so trim a lass sittin’ on his lap. That won’t hurt ye. Why, I’ve sat here off an’ on for nigh twenty years past, an’ it hasn’t done me no harm. Don’t ye fash about them as lies under ye, or that doesn’ lie there either! It’ll be time for ye to be getting scart when ye see the tombsteans all run away with, and the place as bare as a stubble-field. There’s the clock, an’ I must gang. My service to ye, ladies!” And off he hobbled.
Lucy and I sat awhile, and it was all so beautiful before us that we took hands as we sat; and she told me all over again about Arthur and their coming marriage. That made me just a little heart-sick, for I haven’t heard from Jonathan for a whole month.
The same day
I came up here alone, for I am very sad. There was no letter for me. I hope there cannot be anything the matter with Jonathan. The clock has just struck nine. I see the lights scattered all over the town, sometimes in rows where the streets are, and sometimes singly; they run right up the Esk and die away in the curve of the valley. To my left the view is cut off by a black line of roof of the old house next the abbey. The sheep and lambs are bleating in the fields away behind me, and there is a clatter of a donkey’s hoofs up the paved road below. The band on the pier is playing a harsh waltz in good time, and further
along the quay there is a Salvation Army meeting in a back street. Neither of the bands hears the other, but up here I hear and see them both. I wonder where Jonathan is and if he is thinking of me! I wish he were here.
 I think they must have changed it, because even when it’s low tide, there’s still water in the harbour area and the river channel is not as obvious as it was in Stoker’s time.
 Stoker must have been poring over his Yorkshire dialect book. I recognise many of the words because we share them in Cumberland, but some are so old fashioned my grandmother wouldn’t have known them. “Fashm = worry” is considered Scottish now, but of course Scots and Northern English dialects are both descended from Northumbrian Old English and share vocabulary. In Scots this would be “I wouldnae fash masel”.
 Cured Herrings are Kippers! I got a lungful of smoke from the smokehouse when I was walking past it and it made me cough! Still, they taste nice.
 Whitby is famous for its jet and Church Street is lined with jewellers specialising in jet and silver jewellery.
 True dat.
 There is a pair of crossed whale bones on the West Cliff where the Whitby Ghost Walk starts at 7:30 pm. I’ve been on it before but it was too cold in January to do it again.
 I’ve no idea what crammlin about the grees means. Sounds nasty.
 Theres’s 199. A big sign at the bottom says it. Dunno how Stoker missed that one.
 Boggle, a word in the north of England and Southern Scotland for a spirit. There is a Boggle Hole near Robin Hood’s Bay just about 7 miles south of Whitby. Apparently in the late 1970s the Whitby Conclave of magicians did magic rituals there. There’s a youth hostel there now. The two things are not connected I’m sure. Boh-ghosts is related to Boggart – another dialect word. The first element Bog also in Goblin seems to be related to the Slavonic for god – bog, bozh. A spirit. Boggle is also a word in my dialect for snot. Bougers, Bugbears. Spirits and Snot.
 Surely = scolding.
 Sark is an old word for shirt, here shroud.
 Stones with palatalisation. Styans.
 Church yard. This is most likely Norse rather than English.
 Bram’s making the point that suicides are buried here. And we will remember from previous posts that because suicide is a sin, that suicides are potential hosts for vampirism.
 A thruff-stean is a through stone and when you are building a dry stone wall you lay it athwart (I’m getting into the swing of archaic words now) that is sideways on, through the wall.
 I think he’s gone too far with this. However, I saw something at Whitby that I’d never seen. There were padlocks on the fence beside the graveyard and also at the foot of the cliff where the path goes onto the pier and some at the end of the pier. I’ve seen padlocks on walls, in Paris and Verona and recently in Krakow to indicate undying love. There were bunches of flowers also and I think people were just remembering their loved ones there. I don’t think they’d died there. When we were at the top, while I was figuring this out, some passers by said that the flowers were to remember those who’d jumped off the cliff into the sea. I guess some did it but there was an awful lot of flowers there…
 Related to “keek” = look, Dutch kyk
 He’s foreshadowing Dracula here. I just knows it.
 He’s got other things to think about just now way over in Transylvania.
Dracula came from Romania, Transylvania in fact, though in the times when Stoker was writing Transylvania was part of Hungary and the area has been claimed by the Hungarians, Romanians and Ukrainians at different times.
Romanian is a language descended from Latin, while Hungarian descends from the language of the Huns who invaded this area towards the end of the Roman Empire.
In Romanian there are legends of the Moroi and Strigoi . Moroi is either from the Latin root mort – death, dead, which is still mort in Romanian or from a Slavic root with the sense of nightmare. The Strigoi (probably from the same root as the Latin stryx “he who screeches” = an owl, or in mythology bloodsucking birds with golden beaks) are not quite our modern idea of vampires. They are sometimes dead and sometimes alive. They are sometimes witches and sometimes monsters. We should be clear that monsters in folklore can change their qualities from time to time and place to place, or even be confused in the minds of those who believe in them. In my home area, the word boggle (related to goblin, boggart, and even hobbit via Tolkein – also the the Slavonic word Bog “God” and the word bug.) has the general idea of a spirit, usually malevolent, that haunts certain places. Boggles can be columns of sparks, amorphous black shapes, monstrous pigs, huge black hens, or pretty much anything you like that’s scary. In the same way, I wouldn’t try to pin down Romanian moroi and strigoi as precisely this or that kind of monster.
Patrick Harpur wrote a fantastic book called Daimonic Reality where he talks about how these things are really manifestations of the Collective Unconscious and because the unconscious is ever shifting (As a test of this, close your eyes, wait for an image to swim into your mind and try to hold it without it transforming into something else). You remember Tam Lin? He was a Knight from Carter Bar on the Scottish Border with England:
But tonight is Hallowe’en and the faery folk ride
Those that would their true love win at Miles Cross they must buy
So first let past the horses black and then let past the brown
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down
For I’ll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown
Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby’s father
And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child
And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight”
It is the nature of denizens of the Otherworld to shift their shape when you are trying to fix them. As Harpur points out – it’s true for quantum particles who are never exactly anywhere and sub-atomic particles who are so obliging that as soon as physicists imagine a new one, up it pops! Harpur thinks these are the new faery folk.
Strigoi and Stuff
But I digressed from Romanian vampires. I’m allowed to do this, and in fact can’t stop. But back: – Strigoi could send out their souls and consume the blood of livestock or their neighbours. Again, local to where I live in Bowness on Solway, just over a hundred years ago, farmers would keep elfshot – prehistoric arrows, which they believed the elves used to shoot their cattle with and make them sicken.
If you were a strigoi when you died, you would rise as an undead one after you passed away. There were also a myriad other ways of becoming one of the strigoi while you were alive, such as not eating salt or being crossed by a black cat. Remember the devil doesn’t like salt, and vampires don’t like garlic – both preservatives against food rotting. Romanian vampires would bite their victims over their heart or between their eyes.
The female Strigoacia is simply a witch. The Strigoi Viu is a living sorcerer, but the Strigoi Mort is an undead demon who rises from his grave and visits his family until they die.
The Roma people are found in Romania and across Europe are not Romanian, but descend from wandering folk who left Pakistan centuries ago. The name “Gypsy” comes from the mistaken idea they originated in Egypt. The Roma had ideas about mullo people who returned from the dead to drink blood. Very interestingly dogs and cats and even agricultural tools! could become vampires. The Roma believed that vampires could be invisible and they would only be spotted by twins. I have twins…
Among the Slavs, there was an idea that someone could have two souls and while he was sleeping, the evil soul would wander abroad and drink blood.
And the idea of the vampire is not dead in Romania. In 2011, Mark Dorr wrote an article about his time in Romania after the fall of the Communist regime there. He was there for several years and he comments on the natural beauty of Transylvania (which I would second). He does note he saw the hugest bat he’d ever seen emerge from an old castle. He also says that intelligent locals would take the ideas of vampires very seriously. Sadly, he only briefly notes the two types:
One is like a vampire that comes out at night and drinks blood (a bit like the Slavic idea of the two souls, discussed above. The second is a psychic vampire that can be around in daylight and saps your energy. Importantly Mark notes that the vampire has to avoid the mid-day sun because it is then when the sun is closest to the earth. If we have said that vampires are creatures of the subconscious, of night and nightmare, then the sun represents the full flowering of the conscious mind that scrutinises things and sends them scurrying away – at least as long as it’s light.
Elsewhere, I have discussed the modern Romanian vampire of Petre Toma, who died at the end of 2003. In February 2004, his niece revealed he had been visiting her. I am reminded here of the Polish woman from Highgate who was visited by the Highgate vampire in 1969-70 as documented in Sean Manchester’s book.
In any case, the family dug up Petre Toma’s coffin, cut out his heart, burned it, and all together the vampire hunters drank the nasty tea. The Romanian government didn’t like this kind of press and they imprisoned the vampire hunters for six months for “disturbing the dead.” The family might argue that they wouldn’t have disturbed the dead, if the dead hadn’t disturbed them first.
When the words ‘Not Guilty’ sounded through the crowded courtroom thatdark December afternoon, Arthur Wilbraham, the great criminal KC, andleader for the triumphant defence, was represented by his junior; butJohnson, his private secretary, carried the verdict across to hischambers like lightning.
‘It’s what we expected, I think,’ said the barrister, without emotion;’and, personally, I am glad the case is over.’ There was no particular sign of pleasure that his defence of John Turk, the murderer, on a plea of insanity, had been successful, for no doubt he felt, as everybody who had watched the case felt, that no man had ever better deserved the gallows.
‘I’m glad too,’ said Johnson. He had sat in the court for ten days watching the face of the man who had carried out with callous detail one of the most brutal and cold-blooded murders of recent years.
Be counsel glanced up at his secretary. They were more than employer andemployed; for family and other reasons, they were friends. ‘Ah, Iremember; yes,’ he said with a kind smile, ‘and you want to get away forChristmas? You’re going to skate and ski in the Alps, aren’t you? If Iwas your age I’d come with you.’
Johnson laughed shortly. He was a young man of twenty-six, with adelicate face like a girl’s. ‘I can catch the morning boat now,’ he said;’but that’s not the reason I’m glad the trial is over. I’m glad it’s overbecause I’ve seen the last of that man’s dreadful face. It positivelyhaunted me. Bat white skin, with the black hair brushed low over theforehead, is a thing I shall never forget, and the description of the waythe dismembered body was crammed and packed with lime into that–‘
‘Don’t dwell on it, my dear fellow,’ interrupted the other, looking athim curiously out of his keen eyes, ‘don’t think about it. Such pictureshave a trick of coming back when one least wants them.’ He paused amoment. ‘Now go,’ he added presently, ‘and enjoy your holiday. I shallwant all your energy for my Parliamentary work when you get back. Anddon’t break your neck skiing.’
Johnson shook hands and took his leave. At the door he turned suddenly.
‘I knew there was something I wanted to ask you,’ he said. ‘Would you mind lending me one of your kit-bags? It’s too late to get one tonight,and I leave in the morning before the shops are open.’
‘Of course; I’ll send Henry over with it to your rooms. You shall have it the moment I get home.’
‘I promise to take great care of it,’ said Johnson gratefully, delighted to think that within thirty hours he would be nearing the brilliant sunshine of the high Alps in winter. But the thought of that criminal court was like an evil dream in his mind.
He dined at his club and went on to Bloomsbury, where he occupied the topfloor in one of those old, gaunt houses in which the rooms are large andlofty. The floor below his own was vacant and unfurnished, and below thatwere other lodgers whom he did not know. It was cheerless, and he lookedforward heartily to a change. The night was even more cheerless: it wasmiserable, and few people were about. A cold, sleety rain was drivingdown the streets before the keenest east wind he had ever felt. It howleddismally among the big, gloomy houses of the great squares, and when hereached his rooms he heard it whistling and shouting over the world ofblack roofs beyond his windows.
In the hall he met his landlady, shading a candle from the draughts withher thin hand. ‘This come by a man from Mr Wilbr’im’s, sir.’
She pointed to what was evidently the kit-bag, and Johnson thanked herand took it upstairs with him. ‘I shall be going abroad in the morningfor ten days, Mrs Monks,’ he said. ‘I’ll leave an address for letters.’
‘And I hope you’ll ‘ave a merry Christmas, sir,’ she said, in a raucous,wheezy voice that suggested spirits, ‘and better weather than this.’
‘I hope so too,’ replied her lodger, shuddering a little as the wind went roaring down the street outside.
When he got upstairs he heard the sleet volleying against the windowpanes. He put his kettle on to make a cup of hot coffee, and then set about putting a few things in order for his absence. ‘And now I must pack–such as my packing is,’ he laughed to himself, and set to work at once.
He liked the packing, for it brought the snow mountains so vividly before him, and made him forget the unpleasant scenes of the past ten days. Besides, it was not elaborate in nature. His friend had lent him the very thing–a stout canvas kit-bag, sack-shaped, with holes round the neck for the brass bar and padlock. It was a bit shapeless, true, and not much to look at, but its capacity was unlimited, and there was no need to pack carefully. He shoved in his waterproof coat, his fur cap and gloves,his skates and climbing boots, his sweaters, snow-boots, and ear-caps;and then on the top of these he piled his woollen shirts and underwear,his thick socks, puttees, and knickerbockers. The dress suit came next,in case the hotel people dressed for dinner, and then, thinking of thebest way to pack his white shirts, he paused a moment to reflect. ‘Bat’s the worst of these kit-bags,’ he mused vaguely, standing in the centre of the sitting-room, where he had come to fetch some string
It was after ten o’clock. A furious gust of wind rattled the windows as though to hurry him up, and he thought with pity of the poor Londoners whose Christmas would be spent in such a climate, whilst he was skimming over snowy slopes in bright sunshine, and dancing in the evening with rosy-checked girls–Ah! that reminded him; he must put in his dancing-pumps and evening socks. He crossed over from his sitting-room to the cupboard on the landing where he kept his linen.
And as he did so he heard someone coming softly up the stairs.
He stood still a moment on the landing to listen. It was Mrs Monks’sstep, he thought; she must he coming up with the last post. But then thesteps ceased suddenly, and he heard no more. They were at least twoflights down, and he came to the conclusion they were too heavy to bethose of his bibulous landlady. No doubt they belonged to a late lodgerwho had mistaken his floor. He went into his bedroom and packed his pumps and dress-shirts as best he could.
Be kit-bag by this time was two-thirds full, and stood upright on its own base like a sack of flour. For the first time he noticed that it was old and dirty, the canvas faded and worn, and that it had obviously been subjected to rather rough treatment. It was not a very nice bag to have sent him–certainly not a new one, or one that his chief valued. He gave the matter a passing thought, and went on with his packing. Once or twice, however, he caught himself wondering who it could have been wandering down below, for Mrs Monks had not come up with letters, and the floor was empty and unfurnished. From time to time, moreover, he was almost certain he heard a soft tread of someone padding about over the bare boards–cautiously, stealthily, as silently as possible–and,further, that the sounds had been lately coming distinctly nearer.
For the first time in his life he began to feel a little creepy. Then, asthough to emphasize this feeling, an odd thing happened: as he left thebedroom, having, just packed his recalcitrant white shirts, he noticedthat the top of the kit-bag lopped over towards him with an extraordinaryresemblance to a human face. Be camas fell into a fold like a nose andforehead, and the brass rings for the padlock just filled the position ofthe eyes. A shadow–or was it a travel stain? for he could not tellexactly–looked like hair. It gave him rather a turn, for it was soabsurdly, so outrageously, like the face of John Turk the murderer.
He laughed, and went into the front room, where the light was stronger.
‘That horrid case has got on my mind,’ he thought; ‘I shall be glad of a change of scene and air.’ In the sitting-room, however, he was notpleased to hear again that stealthy tread upon the stairs, and to realizethat it was much closer than before, as well as unmistakably real. Andthis time he got up and went out to see who it could be creeping about onthe upper staircase at so late an hour.
But the sound ceased; there was no one visible on the stairs. He went to the floor below, not without trepidation, and turned on the electric light to make sure that no one was hiding in the empty rooms of the unoccupied suite. There was not a stick of furniture large enough to hidea dog. Then he called over the banisters to Mrs Monks, but there was noanswer, and his voice echoed down into the dark vault of the house, andwas lost in the roar of the gale that howled outside. Everyone was in bed and asleep–everyone except himself and the owner of this soft and stealthy tread.
‘My absurd imagination, I suppose,’ he thought. ‘It must have been thewind after all, although–it seemed so _very_ real and close, I thought.’He went back to his packing. It was by this time getting on towardsmidnight. He drank his coffee up and lit another pipe–the last before turning in.
It is difficult to say exactly at what point fear begins, when the causes of that fear are not plainly before the eyes. Impressions gather on the surface of the mind, film by film, as ice gathers upon the surface of still water, but often so lightly that they claim no definite recognition from the consciousness. Then a point is reached where the accumulatedimpressions become a definite emotion, and the mind realizes thatsomething has happened. With something of a start, Johnson suddenly recognized that he felt nervous–oddly nervous; also, that for some time past the causes of this feeling had been gathering slowly in has mind,but that he had only just reached the point where he was forced to acknowledge them.
It was a singular and curious malaise that had come over him, and he hardly knew what to make of it. He felt as though he were doing somethingthat was strongly objected to by another person, another person,moreover, who had some right to object. It was a most disturbing and disagreeable feeling, not unlike the persistent promptings of conscience:almost, in fact, as if he were doing something he knew to be wrong. Yet,though he searched vigorously and honestly in his mind, he could nowhere lay his finger upon the secret of this growing uneasiness, and it perplexed him. More, it distressed and frightened him.
‘Pure nerves, I suppose,’ he said aloud with a forced laugh. ‘Mountainair will cure all that! Ah,’ he added, still speaking to himself, ‘andthat reminds me–my snow-glasses.’
He was standing by the door of the bedroom during this brief soliloquy,and as he passed quickly towards the sitting-room to fetch them from the cupboard he saw out of the corner of his eye the indistinct outline of a figure standing on the stairs, a few feet from the top. It was someone in a stooping position, with one hand on the banisters, and the face peering up towards the landing. And at the same moment he heard a shuffling footstep. The person who had been creeping about below all this time had at last come up to his own floor. Who in the world could it be? And whatin the name of Heaven did he want?
Johnson caught his breath sharply and stood stock still. Then, after afew seconds’ hesitation, he found his courage, and turned to investigate.Be stairs, he saw to his utter amazement, were empty; there was no one.He felt a series of cold shivers run over him, and something about themuscles of his legs gave a little and grew weak. For the space of several minutes he peered steadily into the shadows that congregated about the top of the staircase where he had seen the figure, and then he walked fast–almost ran, in fact–into the light of the front room; but hardly had he passed inside the doorway when he heard someone come up the stairs behind him with a quick bound and go swiftly into his bedroom. It was a heavy, but at the same time a stealthy footstep–the tread of somebody who did not wish to be seen. And it was at this precise moment that the nervousness he had hitherto experienced leaped the boundary line, and entered the state of fear, almost of acute, unreasoning fear. Before itturned into terror there was a further boundary to cross, and beyond thatagain lay the region of pure horror. Johnson’s position was an unenviable one.
By Jove! That was someone on the stairs, then,’ he muttered, his flesh crawling all over; ‘and whoever it was has now gone into my bedroom.’ His delicate, pale face turned absolutely white, and for some minutes he hardly knew what to think or do. Then he realized intuitively that delayonly set a premium upon fear; and he crossed the landing boldly and wentstraight into the other room, where, a few seconds before, the steps haddisappeared.
‘Who’s there? Is that you, Mrs Monks?’ he called aloud, as he went, and heard the first half of his words echo down the empty stairs, while the second half fell dead against the curtains in a room that apparently held no other human figure than his own.
‘Who’s there?’ he called again, in a voice unnecessarily loud and that only just held firm. ‘What do you want here?’
The curtains swayed very slightly, and, as he saw it, his heart felt as if it almost missed a beat; yet he dashed forward and drew them aside with a rush. A window, streaming with rain, was all that met his gaze. He continued his search, but in vain; the cupboards held nothing but rows of clothes, hanging motionless; and under the bed there was no sign of anyone hiding. He stepped backwards into the middle of the room, and, as he did so, something all but tripped him up. Turning with a sudden springof alarm he saw–the kit-bag.
‘Odd!’ he thought. ‘That’s not where I left it!’ A few moments before ithad surely been on his right, between the bed and the bath; he did notremember having moved it. It was very curious. What in the world was the matter with everything? Were all his senses gone queer? A terrific gust of wind tore at the windows, dashing the sleet against the glass with the force of small gunshot, and then fled away howling dismally over the waste of Bloomsbury roofs. A sudden vision of the Channel next day rose in his mind and recalled him sharply to realities.
There’s no one here at any rate; that’s quite clear!’ he exclaimed aloud.Yet at the time he uttered them he knew perfectly well that his words were not true and that he did not believe them himself. He felt exactly as though someone was hiding close about him, watching all his movements,trying to hinder his packing in some way. ‘And two of my senses,’ he added, keeping up the pretence, ‘have played me the most absurd tricks:the steps I heard and the figure I saw were both entirely imaginary.’
He went hack to the front room, poked the fire into a blaze, and sat down before it to think. What impressed him more than anything else was the fact that the kit-bag was no longer where he had left at. It had beendragged nearer to the door.
What happened afterwards that night happened, of course, to a man already excited by fear, and was perceived by a mind that had not the full and proper control, therefore, of the senses. Outwardly, Johson remained calmand master of himself to the end, pretending to the very last thateverything he witnessed had a natural explanation, or was merelydelusions of his tired nerves. But inwardly, in his very heart, he knew all along that someone had been hiding downstairs in the empty suite when he came in, that this person had watched his opportunity and then stealthily made his way up to the bedroom, and that all he saw and heard afterwards, from the moving of the kit-bag to–well, to the other things this story has to tell–were caused directly by the presence of this invisible person.
And it was here, just when he most desired to keep his mind and thoughts controlled, that the vivid pictures received day after day upon the mental plates exposed in the courtroom of the Old Bailey, came strongly to light and developed themselves in the dark room of his inner vision.Unpleasant, haunting memories have a way of coming to life again just when the mind least desires them–in the silent watches of the night, on sleepless pillows, during the lonely hours spent by sick and dying beds.And so now, in the same way, Johnson saw nothing but the dreadful face of John Turk, the murderer, lowering at him from every corner of his mental field of vision; the white skin, the evil eyes, and the fringe of black hair low over the forehead. All the pictures of those ten days in court crowded back into his mind unbidden, and very vivid.
‘This is all rubbish and nerves,’ he exclaimed at length, springing with sudden energy from his chair. ‘I shall finish my packing and go to bed.I’m overwrought, overtired. No doubt, at this rate I shall hear steps andthings all night!’
But his face was deadly white all the same. He snatched up his field-glasses and walked across to the bedroom, humming a music-hall song as he went–a trifle too loud to be natural; and the instant he crossed the threshold and stood within the room something turned cold about his heart, and he felt that every hair on his head stood up.
The kit-bag lay close in front of him, several feet nearer to the door than he had left it, and just over its crumpled top he saw a head and face slowly sinking down out of sight as though someone were crouching behind it to hide, and at the same moment a sound like a long-drawn sigh was distinctly audible in the still air about him between the gusts of the storm outside.
Johnson had more courage and will-power than the girlish indecision of his face indicated; but at first such a wave of terror came over him that for some seconds he could do nothing but stand and stare. A violent trembling ran down his back and legs, and he was conscious of a foolish,almost a hysterical, impulse to scream aloud. That sigh seemed in his very ear, and the air still quivered with it. It was unmistakably a human sigh.
‘Who’s there?’ he said at length, finding his voice; but thought he meant to speak with loud decision, the tones came out instead in a faint whisper, for he had partly lost the control of his tongue and lips.
He stepped forward, so that he could see all round and over the kit-bag.Of course there was nothing there, nothing but the faded carpet and the bulging canvas sides. He put out his hands and threw open the mouth ofthe sack where it had fallen over, being only three parts full, and thenhe saw for the first time that round the inside, some six inches from thetop, there ran a broad smear of dull crimson. It was an old and faded blood stain. He uttered a scream, and drew hack his hands as if they hadbeen burnt. At the same moment the kit-bag gave a faint, but unmistakable, lurch forward towards the door.
Johnson collapsed backwards, searching with his hands for the support o something solid, and the door, being further behind him than he realized,received his weight just in time to prevent his falling, and shut to with a resounding bang. At the same moment the swinging of his left armaccidentally touched the electric switch, and the light in the room wentout.
It was an awkward and disagreeable predicament, and if Johnson had not been possessed of real pluck he might have done all manner of foolish things. As it was, however, he pulled himself together, and gropedfuriously for the little brass knob to turn the light on again. But the rapid closing of the door had set the coats hanging on it a-swinging, and his fingers became entangled in a confusion of sleeves and pockets, so that it was some moments before he found the switch. And in those few moments of bewilderment and terror two things happened that sent him beyond recall over the boundary into the region of genuine horror–he distinctly heard the kit-bag shuffling heavily across the floor in jerks,and close in front of his face sounded once again the sigh of a human being.
In his anguished efforts to find the brass button on the wall he nearly scraped the nails from his fingers, but even then, in those frenzied moments of alarm–so swift and alert are the impressions of a mind keyed-up by a vivid emotion–he had time to realize that he dreaded there turn of the light, and that it might be better for him to stay hidden in the merciful screen of darkness. It was but the impulse of a moment,however, and before he had time to act upon it he had yielded automatically to the original desire, and the room was flooded again with light.
But the second instinct had been right. It would have been better for himto have stayed in the shelter of the kind darkness. For there, closebefore him, bending over the half-packed kit-bag, clear as life in themerciless glare of the electric light, stood the figure of John Turk, themurderer. Not three feet from him the man stood, the fringe of black hairmarked plainly against the pallor of the forehead, the whole horriblepresentment of the scoundrel, as vivid as he had seen him day after dayin the Old Bailey, when he stood there in the dock, cynical and callous,under the very shadow of the gallows.
In a flash Johnson realized what it all meant: the dirty and much-used bag; the smear of crimson within the top; the dreadful stretched condition of the bulging sides. He remembered how the victim’s body had been stuffed into a canvas bag for burial, the ghastly, dismembered fragments forced with lime into this very bag; and the bag itself produced as evidence–it all came back to him as clear as day…
Very softly and stealthily his hand groped behind him for the handle of the door, but before he could actually turn it the very thing that he most of all dreaded came about, and John Turk lifted his devil’s face and looked at him. At the same moment, that heavy sigh passed through the air of the room, formulated somehow into words: It’s my bag. And I want it.’
Johnson just remembered clawing the door open, and then falling in a heap upon the floor of the landing, as he tried frantically to make his way into the front room.
He remained unconscious for a long time, and it was still dark when he opened his eyes and realized that he was lying, stiff and bruised, on the cold boards. Then the memory of what he had seen rushed back into his mind, and he promptly fainted again. When he woke the second time the wintry dawn was just beginning to peep in at the windows, painting the stairs a cheerless, dismal grey, and he managed to crawl into the front room, and cover himself with an overcoat in the armchair, where at lengthen fell asleep.
A great clamour woke him. He recognized Mrs Monk’s voice, loud and voluble.
‘What! You aren’t been to bed, sir! Are you ill, or has anything ‘appened? And there’s an urgent gentleman to see you, though it ain’t seven o’clock yet, and–‘
‘Who is it?’ he stammered. ‘I’m all right, thanks. Fell asleep in my chair, I suppose.’
‘Someone from Mr Wilb’rim’s, and he says he ought to see you quick before you go abroad, and I told him–‘
‘Show him up, please, at once,’ said Johnson, whose head was whirling, and his mind were still full of dreadful visions.
Mr Wilbraham’s man came in with many apologies, and explained briefly and quickly that an absurd mistake had been made, and that the wrong kit bag had been sent over the night before.
‘Henry somehow got hold of the one that came over from the courtroom, and Mr Wilbraham only discovered it when he saw his own lying in his room, and asked why it had not gone to you,’ the man said.
‘Oh!’ said Johnson stupidly.
‘And he must have brought you the one from the murder case instead, sir, I’m afraid,’ the man continued, without the ghost of an expression on his face. ‘The one John Turk packed the dead both in. Mr Wilbraham’s awful upset about it, sir, and told me to come over first thing this morning with the right one, as you were leaving by the boat.’
He pointed to a clean-looking kit bag on the floor, which he had just brought. ‘And I was to bring the other one back, sir,’ he added casually.
For some minutes, Johnson could not find his voice. At last, he pointed in the direction of his bedroom. ‘Perhaps you would kindly unpack it for me. Just empty the things out on the floor.’
The man disappeared into the other room, and was gone for five minutes. Johnson heard the shifting to and fro of the bag, and the rattle of the skates and boots being unpacked.
‘Thank you, sir,’ the man said, returning with the bag folded over his arm. ‘And can I do anything more to help you, sir?’
‘What is it?’ asked Johnson, seeing that he still had something he wished to say.
The man shuffled and looked mysterious. ‘Beg pardon, sir, but knowing your interest in the Turk case, I thought you’d maybe like to know what’s happened–‘
‘John Turk killed himself last night with poison immediately on getting his release, and he left a note for Mr Wilbraham saying as he’d be much obliged if they’d have him put away, same as the woman he murdered, in the old kit-hag.’
‘What time–did he do it?’ asked Johnson.
‘Ten o’clock last night, sir, the warder says.’
Between the Lights
The day had been one unceasing fall of snow from sunrise until the gradual withdrawal of the vague white light outside indicated that the sun had set again. But as usual at this hospitable and delightful house of Everard Chandler where I often spent Christmas, and was spending it now, there had been no lack of entertainment, and the hours had passed with a rapidity that had surprised us. A short billiard tournament had filled up the time between breakfast and lunch, with Badminton and the morning papers for those who were temporarily not engaged, while afterwards, the interval till tea-time had been occupied by the majority of the party in a huge game of hide-and-seek all over the house, barring the billiard-room, which was sanctuary for any who desired peace. But few had done that; the enchantment of Christmas, I must suppose, had, like some spell, made children of us again, and it was with palsied terror and trembling misgivings that we had tip-toed up and down the dim passages, from any corner of which some wild screaming form might dart out on us. Then, wearied with exercise and emotion, we had assembled again for tea in the hall, a room of shadows and panels on which the light from the wide open fireplace, where there burned a divine mixture of peat and logs, flickered and grew bright again on the walls. Then, as was proper, ghost-stories, for the narration of which the electric light was put out, so that the listeners might conjecture anything they pleased to be lurking in the corners, succeeded, and we vied with each other in blood, bones, skeletons, armour and shrieks. I had, just given my contribution, and was reflecting with some complacency that probably the worst was now known, when Everard, who had not yet administered to the horror of his guests, spoke. He was sitting opposite me in the full blaze of the fire, looking, after the illness he had gone through during the autumn, still rather pale and delicate. All the same he had been among the boldest and best in the exploration of dark places that afternoon, and the look on his face now rather startled me.
“No, I don’t mind that sort of thing,” he said. “The paraphernalia of ghosts has become somehow rather hackneyed, and when I hear of screams and skeletons I feel I am on familiar ground, and can at least hide my head under the bed-clothes.”
“Ah, but the bed-clothes were twitched away by my skeleton,” said I, in self-defence.
“I know, but I don’t even mind that. Why, there are seven, eight skeletons in this room now, covered with blood and skin and other horrors. No, the nightmares of one’s childhood were the really frightening things, because they were vague. There was the true atmosphere of horror about them because one didn’t know what one feared. Now if one could recapture that–”
Mrs. Chandler got quickly out of her seat.
“Oh, Everard,” she said, “surely you don’t wish to recapture it again. I should have thought once was enough.”
This was enchanting. A chorus of invitation asked him to proceed: the real true ghost-story first-hand, which was what seemed to be indicated, was too precious a thing to lose.
Everard laughed. “No, dear, I don’t want to recapture it again at all,” he said to his wife.
Then to us: “But really the–well, the nightmare perhaps, to which I was referring, is of the vaguest and most unsatisfactory kind. It has no apparatus about it at all. You will probably all say that it was nothing, and wonder why I was frightened. But I was; it frightened me out of my wits. And I only just saw something, without being able to swear what it was, and heard something which might have been a falling stone.”
“Anyhow, tell us about the falling stone,” said I.
There was a stir of movement about the circle round the fire, and the movement was not of purely physical order. It was as if–this is only what I personally felt–it was as if the childish gaiety of the hours we had passed that day was suddenly withdrawn; we had jested on certain subjects, we had played hide-and-seek with all the power of earnestness that was in us. But now–so it seemed to me–there was going to be real hide-and-seek, real terrors were going to lurk in dark corners, or if not real terrors, terrors so convincing as to assume the garb of reality, were going to pounce on us. And Mrs. Chandler’s exclamation as she sat down again, “Oh, Everard, won’t it excite you?” tended in any case to excite us. The room still remained in dubious darkness except for the sudden lights disclosed on the walls by the leaping flames on the hearth, and there was wide field for conjecture as to what might lurk in the dim corners. Everard, moreover, who had been sitting in bright light before, was banished by the extinction of some flaming log into the shadows. A voice alone spoke to us, as he sat back in his low chair, a voice rather slow but very distinct.
“Last year,” he said, “on the twenty-fourth of December, we were down here, as usual, Amy and I, for Christmas. Several of you who are here now were here then. Three or four of you at least.”
I was one of these, but like the others kept silence, for the identification, so it seemed to me, was not asked for. And he went on again without a pause.
“Those of you who were here then,” he said, “and are here now, will remember how very warm it was this day year. You will remember, too, that we played croquet that day on the lawn. It was perhaps a little cold for croquet, and we played it rather in order to be able to say–with sound evidence to back the statement–that we had done so.”
Then he turned and addressed the whole little circle.
“We played ties of half-games,” he said, “just as we have played billiards to-day, and it was certainly as warm on the lawn then as it was in the billiard-room this morning directly after breakfast, while to-day I should not wonder if there was three feet of snow outside. More, probably; listen.”
A sudden draught fluted in the chimney, and the fire flared up as the current of air caught it.
The wind also drove the snow against the windows, and as he said, “Listen,” we heard a soft scurry of the falling flakes against the panes, like the soft tread of many little people who stepped lightly, but with the persistence of multitudes who were flocking to some rendezvous. Hundreds of little feet seemed to be gathering outside; only the glass kept them out. And of the eight skeletons present four or five, anyhow, turned and looked at the windows. These were small-paned, with leaden bars. On the leaden bars little heaps of snow had accumulated, but there was nothing else to be seen.
“Yes, last Christmas Eve was very warm and sunny,” went on Everard. “We had had no frost that autumn, and a temerarious dahlia was still in flower. I have always thought that it must have been mad.”
He paused a moment.
“And I wonder if I were not mad too,” he added.
No one interrupted him; there was something arresting, I must suppose, in what he was saying; it chimed in anyhow with the hide-and-seek, with the suggestions of the lonely snow.
Mrs. Chandler had sat down again, but I heard her stir in her chair. But never was there a gay party so reduced as we had been in the last five minutes. Instead of laughing at ourselves for playing silly games, we were all taking a serious game seriously.
“Anyhow, I was sitting out,” he said to me, “while you and my wife played your half-game of croquet. Then it struck me that it was not so warm as I had supposed, because quite suddenly I shivered. And shivering I looked up. But I did not see you and her playing croquet at all. I saw something which had no relation to you and her–at least I hope not.”
Now the angler lands his fish, the stalker kills his stag, and the speaker holds his audience.
And as the fish is gaffed, and as the stag is shot, so were we held. There was no getting away till he had finished with us.
“You all know the croquet lawn,” he said, “and how it is bounded all round by a flower border with a brick wall behind it, through which, you will remember, there is only one gate.
“Well, I looked up and saw that the lawn–I could for one moment see it was still a lawn–was shrinking, and the walls closing in upon it. As they closed in too, they grew higher, and simultaneously the light began to fade and be sucked from the sky, till it grew quite dark overhead and only a glimmer of light came in through the gate.
“There was, as I told you, a dahlia in flower that day, and as this dreadful darkness and bewilderment came over me, I remember that my eyes sought it in a kind of despair, holding on, as it were, to any familiar object. But it was no longer a dahlia, and for the red of its petals I saw only the red of some feeble firelight. And at that moment the hallucination was complete. I was no longer sitting on the lawn watching croquet, but I was in a low-roofed room, something like a cattle-shed, but round. Close above my head, though I was sitting down, ran rafters from wall to wall. It was nearly dark, but a little light came in from the door opposite to me, which seemed to lead into a passage that communicated with the exterior of the place. Little, however, of the wholesome air came into this dreadful den; the atmosphere was oppressive and foul beyond all telling, it was as if for years it had been the place of some human menagerie, and for those years had been uncleaned and unsweetened by the winds of heaven. Yet that oppressiveness was nothing to the awful horror of the place from the view of the spirit. Some dreadful atmosphere of crime and abomination dwelt heavy in it, its denizens, whoever they were, were scarce human, so it seemed to me, and though men and women, were akin more to the beasts of the field. And in addition there was present to me some sense of the weight of years; I had been taken and thrust down into some epoch of dim antiquity.”
He paused a moment, and the fire on the hearth leaped up for a second and then died down again. But in that gleam I saw that all faces were turned to Everard, and that all wore some look of dreadful expectancy. Certainly I felt it myself, and waited in a sort of shrinking horror for what was coming.
“As I told you,” he continued, “where there had been that unseasonable dahlia, there now burned a dim firelight, and my eyes were drawn there. Shapes were gathered round it; what they were I could not at first see. Then perhaps my eyes got more accustomed to the dusk, or the fire burned better, for I perceived that they were of human form, but very small, for when one rose with a horrible chattering, to his feet, his head was still some inches off the low roof. He was dressed in a sort of shirt that came to his knees, but his arms were bare and covered with hair.
“Then the gesticulation and chattering increased, and I knew that they were talking about me, for they kept pointing in my direction. At that my horror suddenly deepened, for I became aware that I was powerless and could not move hand or foot; a helpless, nightmare impotence had possession of me. I could not lift a finger or turn my head. And in the paralysis of that fear I tried to scream, but not a sound could I utter.
“All this I suppose took place with the instantaneousness of a dream, for at once, and without transition, the whole thing had vanished, and I was back on the lawn again, while the stroke for which my wife was aiming was still unplayed. But my face was dripping with perspiration, and I was trembling all over.
“Now you may all say that I had fallen asleep, and had a sudden nightmare. That may be so; but I was conscious of no sense of sleepiness before, and I was conscious of none afterwards. It was as if someone had held a book before me, whisked the pages open for a second and closed them again.”
Somebody, I don’t know who, got up from his chair with a sudden movement that made me start, and turned on the electric light. I do not mind confessing that I was rather glad of this.
“Really I feel like Hamlet in the play-scene,” he said, “and as if there was a guilty uncle present. Shall I go on?”
I don’t think anyone replied, and he went on.
“Well, let us say for the moment that it was not a dream exactly, but a hallucination.
“Whichever it was, in any case it haunted me; for months, I think, it was never quite out of my mind, but lingered somewhere in the dusk of consciousness, sometimes sleeping quietly, so to speak, but sometimes stirring in its sleep. It was no good my telling myself that I was disquieting myself in vain, for it was as if something had actually entered into my very soul, as if some seed of horror had been planted there. And as the weeks went on the seed began to sprout, so that I could no longer even tell myself that that vision had been a moment’s disorderment only. I can’t say that it actually affected my health. I did not, as far as I know, sleep or eat insufficiently, but morning after morning I used to wake, not gradually and through pleasant dozings into full consciousness, but with absolute suddenness, and find myself plunged in an abyss of despair.
“Often too, eating or drinking, I used to pause and wonder if it was worth while.
“Eventually, I told two people about my trouble, hoping that perhaps the mere communication would help matters, hoping also, but very distantly, that though I could not believe at present that digestion or the obscurities of the nervous system were at fault, a doctor by some simple dose might convince me of it. In other words I told my wife, who laughed at me, and my doctor, who laughed also, and assured me that my health was quite unnecessarily robust.
“At the same time he suggested that change of air and scene does wonders for the delusions that exist merely in the imagination. He also told me, in answer to a direct question, that he would stake his reputation on the certainty that I was not going mad.
“Well, we went up to London as usual for the season, and though nothing whatever occurred to remind me in any way of that single moment on Christmas Eve, the reminding was seen to all right, the moment itself took care of that, for instead of fading as is the way of sleeping or waking dreams, it grew every day more vivid, and ate, so to speak, like some corrosive acid into my mind, etching itself there. And to London succeeded Scotland.
“I took last year for the first time a small forest up in Sutherland, called Glen Callan, very remote and wild, but affording excellent stalking. It was not far from the sea, and the gillies used always to warn me to carry a compass on the hill, because sea-mists were liable to come up with frightful rapidity, and there was always a danger of being caught by one, and of having perhaps to wait hours till it cleared again. This at first I always used to do, but, as everyone knows, any precaution that one takes which continues to be unjustified gets gradually relaxed, and at the end of a few weeks, since the weather had been uniformly clear, it was natural that, as often as not, my compass remained at home.
“One day the stalk took me on to a part of my ground that I had seldom been on before, a very high table-land on the limit of my forest, which went down very steeply on one side to a loch that lay below it, and on the other, by gentler gradations, to the river that came from the loch, six miles below which stood the lodge. The wind had necessitated our climbing up–or so my stalker had insisted–not by the easier way, but up the crags from the loch. I had argued the point with him for it seemed to me that it was impossible that the deer could get our scent if we went by the more natural path, but he still held to his opinion; and therefore, since after all this was his part of the job, I yielded. A dreadful climb we had of it, over big boulders with deep holes in between, masked by clumps of heather, so that a wary eye and a prodding stick were necessary for each step if one wished to avoid broken bones. Adders also literally swarmed in the heather; we must have seen a dozen at least on our way up, and adders are a beast for which I have no manner of use. But a couple of hours saw us to the top, only to find that the stalker had been utterly at fault, and that the deer must quite infallibly have got wind of us, if they had remained in the place where we last saw them. That, when we could spy the ground again, we saw had happened; in any case they had gone. The man insisted the wind had changed, a palpably stupid excuse, and I wondered at that moment what other reason he had–for reason I felt sure there must be–for not wishing to take what would clearly now have been a better route. But this piece of bad management did not spoil our luck, for within an hour we had spied more deer, and about two o’clock I got a shot, killing a heavy stag. Then sitting on the heather I ate lunch, and enjoyed a well-earned bask and smoke in the sun. The pony meantime had been saddled with the stag, and was plodding homewards.
“The morning had been extraordinarily warm, with a little wind blowing off the sea, which lay a few miles off sparkling beneath a blue haze, and all morning in spite of our abominable climb I had had an extreme sense of peace, so much so that several times I had probed my mind, so to speak, to find if the horror still lingered there. But I could scarcely get any response from it.
“Never since Christmas had I been so free of fear, and it was with a great sense of repose, both physical and spiritual, that I lay looking up into the blue sky, watching my smoke-whorls curl slowly away into nothingness. But I was not allowed to take my ease long, for Sandy came and begged that I would move. The weather had changed, he said, the wind had shifted again, and he wanted me to be off this high ground and on the path again as soon as possible, because it looked to him as if a sea-mist would presently come up.”
“‘And yon’s a bad place to get down in the mist,’ he added, nodding towards the crags we had come up.
“I looked at the man in amazement, for to our right lay a gentle slope down on to the river, and there was now no possible reason for again tackling those hideous rocks up which we had climbed this morning. More than ever I was sure he had some secret reason for not wishing to go the obvious way. But about one thing he was certainly right, the mist was coming up from the sea, and I felt in my pocket for the compass, and found I had forgotten to bring it.
“Then there followed a curious scene which lost us time that we could really ill afford to waste, I insisting on going down by the way that common sense directed, he imploring me to take his word for it that the crags were the better way. Eventually, I marched off to the easier descent, and told him not to argue any more but follow. What annoyed me about him was that he would only give the most senseless reasons for preferring the crags. There were mossy places, he said, on the way I wished to go, a thing patently false, since the summer had been one spell of unbroken weather; or it was longer, also obviously untrue; or there were so many vipers about.
“But seeing that none of these arguments produced any effect, at last he desisted, and came after me in silence.
“We were not yet half down when the mist was upon us, shooting up from the valley like the broken water of a wave, and in three minutes we were enveloped in a cloud of fog so thick that we could barely see a dozen yards in front of us. It was therefore another cause for self-congratulation that we were not now, as we should otherwise have been, precariously clambering on the face of those crags up which we had come with such difficulty in the morning, and as I rather prided myself on my powers of generalship in the matter of direction, I continued leading, feeling sure that before long we should strike the track by the river. More than all, the absolute freedom from fear elated me; since Christmas I had not known the instinctive joy of that; I felt like a schoolboy home for the holidays. But the mist grew thicker and thicker, and whether it was that real rain-clouds had formed above it, or that it was of an extraordinary density itself, I got wetter in the next hour than I have ever been before or since. The wet seemed to penetrate the skin, and chill the very bones. And still there was no sign of the track for which I was making.
“Behind me, muttering to himself, followed the stalker, but his arguments and protestations were dumb, and it seemed as if he kept close to me, as if afraid.
“Now there are many unpleasant companions in this world; I would not, for instance, care to be on the hill with a drunkard or a maniac, but worse than either, I think, is a frightened man, because his trouble is infectious, and, insensibly. I began to be afraid of being frightened too.
“From that it is but a short step to fear. Other perplexities too beset us. At one time we seemed to be walking on flat ground, at another I felt sure we were climbing again, whereas all the time we ought to have been descending, unless we had missed the way very badly indeed. Also, for the month was October, it was beginning to get dark, and it was with a sense of relief that I remembered that the full moon would rise soon after sunset. But it had grown very much colder, and soon, instead of rain, we found we were walking through a steady fall of snow.
“Things were pretty bad, but then for the moment they seemed to mend, for, far away to the left, I suddenly heard the brawling of the river. It should, it is true, have been straight in front of me and we were perhaps a mile out of our way, but this was better than the blind wandering of the last hour, and turning to the left, I walked towards it. But before I had gone a hundred yards, I heard a sudden choked cry behind me, and just saw Sandy’s form flying as if in terror of pursuit, into the mists. I called to him, but got no reply, and heard only the spurned stones of his running.
“What had frightened him I had no idea, but certainly with his disappearance, the infection of his fear disappeared also, and I went on, I may almost say, with gaiety. On the moment, however, I saw a sudden well-defined blackness in front of me, and before I knew what I was doing I was half stumbling, half walking up a very steep grass slope.
“During the last few minutes the wind had got up, and the driving snow was peculiarly uncomfortable, but there had been a certain consolation in thinking that the wind would soon disperse these mists, and I had nothing more than a moonlight walk home. But as I paused on this slope, I became aware of two things, one, that the blackness in front of me was very close, the other that, whatever it was, it sheltered me from the snow. So I climbed on a dozen yards into its friendly shelter, for it seemed to me to be friendly.
“A wall some twelve feet high crowned the slope, and exactly where I struck it there was a hole in it, or door rather, through which a little light appeared. Wondering at this I pushed on, bending down, for the passage was very low, and in a dozen yards came out on the other side.
“Just as I did this the sky suddenly grew lighter, the wind, I suppose, having dispersed the mists, and the moon, though not yet visible through the flying skirts of cloud, made sufficient illumination.
“I was in a circular enclosure, and above me there projected from the walls some four feet from the ground, broken stones which must have been intended to support a floor. Then simultaneously two things occurred.
“The whole of my nine months’ terror came back to me, for I saw that the vision in the garden was fulfilled, and at the same moment I saw stealing towards me a little figure as of a man, but only about three foot six in height. That my eyes told me; my ears told me that he stumbled on a stone; my nostrils told me that the air I breathed was of an overpowering foulness, and my soul told me that it was sick unto death. I think I tried to scream, but could not; I know I tried to move and could not. And it crept closer.
“Then I suppose the terror which held me spellbound so spurred me that I must move, for next moment I heard a cry break from my lips, and was stumbling through the passage. I made one leap of it down the grass slope, and ran as I hope never to have to run again. What direction I took I did not pause to consider, so long as I put distance between me and that place. Luck, however, favoured me, and before long I struck the track by the river, and an hour afterwards reached the lodge.
“Next day I developed a chill, and as you know pneumonia laid me on my back for six weeks.
“Well, that is my story, and there are many explanations. You may say that I fell asleep on the lawn, and was reminded of that by finding myself, under discouraging circumstances, in an old Picts’ castle, where a sheep or a goat that, like myself, had taken shelter from the storm, was moving about. Yes, there are hundreds of ways in which you may explain it. But the coincidence was an odd one, and those who believe in second sight might find an instance of their hobby in it.”
“And that is all?” I asked.
“Yes, it was nearly too much for me. I think the dressing-bell has sounded.”