« PoprzedniaDalej »
than I had feared. Wading ing must be at hand, and sure up to the knees with nothing enough the mist seemed to be before you but a blank wall of deepening into a greyish black. mist and the cheerful conscious- I began to grow desperate. ness that your next step may Here was I on the summit of be your last—such was my state some infernal mountain, withfor one weary mile. The stream out any certainty where my itself was high, and rose to my road lay. I was lost with a armpits, and once and again I vengeance, and at the thought only saved myself by a violent I began to be acutely afraid. leap backwards from a pitiless I took what seemed to me the green slough. But at last it way I had come, and began to was past, and I was once more descend steeply.
Then someon the solid ground of the hill- thing made me halt, and the side.
next instant I was lying on my Now, in the thick weather I face trying painfully to retrace had crossed the glen much my steps. For I had found mylower down than in the morn- self slipping, and before I could ing, and the result was that stop, my feet were dangling the hill on which I stood was over a precipice with Heaven one of the giants which, with alone knows how many yards the Muneraw for centre, guard of sheer mist between me and the watershed. Had I taken the bottom. Then I tried keepthe proper way, the Nick o' the ing the ridge, and took that to Threshes would have led me to the right, which I thought would the Caulds, and then once over bring me nearer home. the bog a little ridge was all no good trying to think out a that stood between me and the direction, for in the fog my glen of Farawa. But instead brain was running round, and I I had come a wild cross-coun- seemed to stand on a pin-point try road, and was now, though of space where the laws of the I did not know it, nearly as compass
had ceased to hold. far from my destination as at It was the roughest sort of the start.
walking, now stepping warily Well for me that I did not over acres of loose stones, now know, for I was wet and dispir- crawling down the face of some ited, and had I not fancied battered rock, and now wading myself all but home, I should in the long dripping heather. scarcely have had the energy The soft rain had begun to fall to make this last ascent. But again, which completed my
dissoon I found it was not the comfort. I was now seriously little ridge I had expected. I tired, and, like all men who in looked at my watch and saw their day have bent too much that it was five o'clock. When, over books, I began to feel it in after the weariest climb, I lay my back. My spine ached, and
a piece of level ground my breath came in short broken which seemed the top, I was pants. It was a pitiable state not surprised to find that it of affairs for an honest man who
The darken- had never encountered much
was now seven,
grave discomfort. To ease my- Then suddenly in the hollow self I was compelled to leave my trough of mist before me, where basket behind me, trusting to things could still be half disreturn and find it, if I should cerned, there appeared a figure. ever reach safety and discover It was little and squat and on what pathless hill I had been dark; naked, apparently, but strayed. My rod I used as a so rough with hair that it wore staff, but it was of little use, for the appearance of a skin-covered my fingers were getting too being. It crossed my line of numb to hold it.
vision, not staying for a moment, Suddenly from the blankness but in its face and eyes there I heard a sound as of human seemed to lurk an elder world speech. At first I thought it of mystery and barbarism, a mere craziness
the cry of a troll - like life which was too weasel or a hill-bird distorted horrible for words. by my ears. But again it came, The shepherd's fear thick and faint, as through acres back on me like a thunderclap. of mist, and yet clearly the sound For one awful instant my legs of “ articulate-speaking men. failed
and I had almost In a moment I lost my despair fallen. The next I had turned and cried out in answer. This and ran shrieking up the hill. was some forwandered traveller If he who may read this narlike myself, and between us we rative has never felt the force could surely find some road to of an overmastering terror, then safety. So I yelled back at the let him thank his Maker and pitch of my voice and waited pray that he never may. I am intently.
no weak child, but a strong But the sound ceased, and grown man, accredited in genthere was utter silence again. eral with sound sense and little Still I waited, and then from suspected of hysterics.
And some place much nearer came yet I went up that brae-face the same soft mumbling speech. with my heart fluttering like a I could make nothing of it. bird and my throat aching with Heard in that drear place it made fear. I screamed in short dry the nerves tense and the heart gasps ; involuntarily, for my timorous. It was the strangest mind was beyond any purpose. jumble of vowels and consonants I felt that beast - like clutch I had ever met.
at my throat; those red eyes A dozen solutions flashed seemed to be staring at me from through my brain.
the mist; I heard ever behind some maniac talking Jabber- and before and on all sides the wock to himself. It was some patter of those inhuman feet. belated traveller whose wits Before I knew I was down, had given out in fear. Perhaps slipping over a rock and falling it was only some shepherd who some dozen feet into a soft was amusing himself thus, and marshy hollow. I was conscious whiling the way with nonsense. of lying still for a second and Once again I cried out and whimpering like a child. But waited.
as I lay there I awoke to the
silence of the place. There was wildly with my rod at the first no sound of pursuit; perhaps dark body. It was as if I had they had lost my track and struck an animal, and the next given up. My courage began second the thing was wrenched to return, and from this it was from my grasp. But still they an easy step to hope. Perhaps came no nearer. I stood tremafter all it had been merely an bling there in the centre of those illusion, for folk do not see malignant devils, my brain a clearly in the mist, and I was mere weathercock, and my heart already done with weariness. crushed shapeless with horror.
But even as I lay in the green At last the end came, for with moss and began to hope, the the vigour of madness I flung faces of my pursuers grew up myself on the nearest, and we through the mist. I stumbled rolled on the ground. Then the madly to my feet; but I was monstrous things seemed to hemmed in, the rock behind and close over me,
and with my enemies before. With a cry choking cry I passer into unI rushed forward, and struck consciousness.
CHAPTER IV. - THE DARKNESS THAT IS UNDER THE EARTH.
There is an unconsciousness somehow into the abyss, and that is not wholly dead, where danced on the wall above my a man feels numbly and the couch. It caught my eye as body lives without the brain. II wakened, and for long I was beyond speech or thought, lay crazily wondering what it and yet I felt the upward or meant. My head was splitting downward motion as the way with pain, and in my heart was lay in hill or glen, and I most the
the same fluttering nameless assuredly knew when the open fear. I did not wake to full conair was changed for the close sciousness; not till the twinkle underground. I could feel dimly of sun from the clean bright that lights were flared in my out-of-doors caught my senses face, and that I was laid in did I realise that I lay in a some bed on the earth. Then great dark place with a glow with the stopping of movement of dull firelight in the middle. the real sleep of weakness seized In time things rose and me, and for long I knew nothing moved around me, a few ragged of this mad world.
shapes of men, without cloth
ing, shambling with their huge Morning came over the moors feet and looking towards me with bird-song and the glory of with curved beast-like glances. fine weather. The streams were I tried to marshal my thoughts, still rolling in spate, but the hill- and slowly, bit by bit, I built pastures were alight with dawn, up the present. There was no and the little seams of snow question to my mind of dreamglistened like white fire. A raying; the past hours had scored from the sunrise cleft its path reality upon my brain. Yet I cannot say that fear was my curiosity. I strained my ear chief feeling. The first crazy
The first crazy to catch a word, but it was a terror had subsided, and now I mere chaos of sound. The felt mainly a sickened disgust thing ran and thundered in with just a tinge of curiosity. my brain as I stared dumbly I found that my knife, watch, into the vacant air. Then I flask, and money had gone, but thought that unless I spoke I they had left me a map of the should certainly go crazy, for countryside. It seemed strange my head was beginning to to look at the calico, with the swim at the strange cooing name of a London printer noise. stamped on the back, and lines I spoke a word or two in my of railway and highroad running best Gaelic, and they closed through every shire. Decent round me inquiringly. Then I and comfortable civilisation ! was sorry I had spoken, for my And here was I a prisoner in words had brought them nearer, this den of nameless folk, and in and I shrank at the thought. the midst of a life which history But as the faint echoes of my knew not.
speech hummed in the rockCourage is a virtue which chamber, I was struck by a grows with reflection and the curious kinship of sound. Mine absence of the immediate peril. was sharper, more distinct, and I thought myself into some sort staccato; theirs was blurred, of resolution, and lo! when formless, but still with a certain the Folk approached me and root-resemblance. bound
my feet I was back Then from the back there at once in the most miserable
older being, who terror. They tied me all but seemed to have heard
my my hands with some strong words. He was like some foul cord, and carried me to the grey badger, his red eyes sightcentre, where the fire was glow- less, and his hands trembling ing. Their soft touch was the a stump of bog-oak. The acutest torture to my nerves, but others made way for him with I stifled my cries lest some one such deference as they were should lay his hand on my capable of, and the thing mouth. Had that happened, I squatted down by me and am convinced my reason would spoke. have failed me.
To my amazement his words So there I lay in the shine were familiar. of the fire, with the circle of
speech akin to unknown things around me. the Gaelic, but broadened, There seemed but three or four, lengthened, coarsened. but I took no note of number. membered an old book-tongue, They talked huskily among commonly supposed to be an themselves in a tongue which impure dialect once used
in sounded all gutturals. Slowly Brittany, which I had met in my fear became less an emotion the course of my researches. than a habit, and I had room The words recalled it, and as far for the smallest shade of as I could remember the thing,
I asked him who he was and which survive to us in broken where the place might be.
disjointed riddles were intact He answered me in the same here in living form. I lay on speech—still more broadened, my elbow and questioned feverlengthened, coarsened. I lay ishly.
At any moment they back with sheer amazement. I might become morose and
rehad found the key to this un- fuse to speak. Clearly it was earthly life.
my duty to make the most of For a little an insatiable curi- a brief good fortune. osity, the ardour of the scholar,
And then the tale they told prevailed. I forgot the horror me grew more hideous. of the place, and thought only heard of the circumstances of of the fact that here before me the life itself and their daily was the greatest find that shifts for existence.
It was scholarship had ever made. I murderous chronicle—a history was precipitated into the heart of lust and rapine and unmenof the past. Here must be the tionable deeds in the darkness. fountainhead of all legends, the One thing they had early recogchrysalis of all beliefs. I nised—that the race could not actually grew light - hearted. be maintained within itself ; so This strange folk around me that ghoulish carrying away of
now no more shapeless little girls from the lowlands things of terror, but objects of began, which I had heard of research and experiment. I but never credited. almost came to think them not in those dismal holes, the girls unfriendly.
soon died, and when the new For an hour I enjoyed the race had grown up the plunder highest of earthly pleasures. had been repeated. Then there In that strange conversation I were bestial murders in lonely heard—in fragments and sug- cottages, done for God knows gestions — the history of the what purpose. Sometimes the craziest survival the world has
occupant had seen more than I heard of the was safe, sometimes the deed struggles with invaders, pre
mere exuberance of served as it were in a sort of
a lust of slaying. shapeless poetry. There were gabbled their tales my heart's bitter words against the Gaelic blood froze, and I lay back in oppressor, bitterer words against the agonies of fear. the Saxon stranger, and for a
had used the others thus, what moment ancient hatreds flared
myinto life. Then there came the self? I had been brought to tale of the hill-refuge, the mor- this place, and not murdered bid hideous existence preserved on the spot. Clearly there was for centuries amid a changing torture before death in store world. I heard fragments of for me, and I confess I quailed old religions, primeval names
at the thought.
But none molested me. of god and goddess, half-under
The stood by the Folk, but to me the elders continued to jabber out key to a hundred puzzles. Tales their stories, while I lay tense
VOL. CLXV.—NO. DCCCCXCIX.