Part 2 out of 5
A few moments later the butler swung open the door and ushered
in a small and decrepit man, who walked with a bent back and with
the forward push of the face and blink of the eyes which goes with
extreme short sight. His face was swarthy, and his hair and beard
of the deepest black. In one hand he held a turban of white muslin
striped with red, in the other a small chamois-leather bag.
"Good evening," said Douglas Stone, when the butler had closed
the door. "You speak English, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. I am from Asia Minor, but I speak English when I
"You wanted me to go out, I understand?"
"Yes, sir. I wanted very much that you should see my wife."
"I could come in the morning, but I have an engagement which
prevents me from seeing your wife tonight."
The Turk's answer was a singular one. He pulled the string
which closed the mouth of the chamois-leather bag, and poured a
flood of gold on to the table.
"There are one hundred pounds there," said he, "and I promise
you that it will not take you an hour. I have a cab ready at the
Douglas Stone glanced at his watch. An hour would not make it
too late to visit Lady Sannox. He had been there later. And the
fee was an extraordinarily high one. He had been pressed by his
creditors lately, and he could not afford to let such a chance
pass. He would go.
"What is the case?" he asked.
"Oh, it is so sad a one! So sad a one! You have not, perhaps
heard of the daggers of the Almohades?"
"Ah, they are Eastern daggers of a great age and of a singular
shape, with the hilt like what you call a stirrup. I am a
curiosity dealer, you understand, and that is why I have come to
England from Smyrna, but next week I go back once more. Many
things I brought with me, and I have a few things left, but among
them, to my sorrow, is one of these daggers."
"You will remember that I have an appointment, sir," said the
surgeon, with some irritation; "pray confine yourself to the
"You will see that it is necessary. Today my wife fell down in
a faint in the room in which I keep my wares, and she cut her lower
lip upon this cursed dagger of Almohades."
"I see," said Douglas Stone, rising. "And you wish me to dress
"No, no, it is worse than that."
"These daggers are poisoned."
"Yes, and there is no man, East or West, who can tell now what
is the poison or what the cure. But all that is known I know, for
my father was in this trade before me, and we have had much to do
with these poisoned weapons."
"What are the symptoms?"
"Deep sleep, and death in thirty hours."
"And you say there is no cure. Why then should you pay me this
"No drug can cure, but the knife may."
"The poison is slow of absorption. It remains for hours in the
"Washing, then, might cleanse it?"
"No more than in a snake bite. It is too subtle and too
"Excision of the wound, then?"
"That is it. If it be on the finger, take the finger off. So
said my father always. But think of where this wound is, and that
it is my wife. It is dreadful!"
But familiarity with such grim matters may take the finer edge
from a man's sympathy. To Douglas Stone this was already an
interesting case, and he brushed aside as irrelevant the feeble
objections of the husband.
"It appears to be that or nothing," said he brusquely. "It is
better to loose a lip than a life."
"Ah, yes, I know that you are right. Well, well, it is kismet,
and it must be faced. I have the cab, and you will come with me
and do this thing."
Douglas Stone took his case of bistouries from a drawer, and
placed it with a roll of bandage and a compress of lint in his
pocket. He must waste no more time if he were to see Lady Sannox.
"I am ready," said he, pulling on his overcoat. "Will you take
a glass of wine before you go out into this cold air?"
His visitor shrank away, with a protesting hand upraised.
"You forget that I am a Mussulman, and a true follower of the
Prophet," said he. "But tell me what is the bottle of green glass
which you have placed in your pocket?"
"It is chloroform."
"Ah, that also is forbidden to us. It is a spirit, and we make
no use of such things."
"What! You would allow your wife to go through an operation
without an anaesthetic?"
"Ah! she will feel nothing, poor soul. The deep sleep has
already come on, which is the first working of the poison. And
then I have given her of our Smyrna opium. Come, sir, for already
an hour has passed."
As they stepped out into the darkness, a sheet of rain was
driven in upon their faces, and the hall lamp, which dangled from
the arm of a marble Caryatid, went out with a fluff. Pim, the
butler, pushed the heavy door to, straining hard with his shoulder
against the wind, while the two men groped their way towards the
yellow glare which showed where the cab was waiting. An instant
later they were rattling upon their journey.
"Is it far?" asked Douglas Stone.
"Oh, no. We have a very little quiet place off the Euston
The surgeon pressed the spring of his repeater and listened to
the little tings which told him the hour. It was a quarter past
nine. He calculated the distances, and the short time which it
would take him to perform so trivial an operation. He ought to
reach Lady Sannox by ten o'clock. Through the fogged windows he
saw the blurred gas lamps dancing past, with occasionally the
broader glare of a shop front. The rain was pelting and rattling
upon the leathern top of the carriage, and the wheels swashed as
they rolled through puddle and mud. Opposite to him the white
headgear of his companion gleamed faintly through the obscurity.
The surgeon felt in his pockets and arranged his needles, his
ligatures and his safety-pins, that no time might be wasted when
they arrived. He chafed with impatience and drummed his foot upon
But the cab slowed down at last and pulled up. In an instant
Douglas Stone was out, and the Smyrna merchant's toe was at his
"You can wait," said he to the driver.
It was a mean-looking house in a narrow and sordid street. The
surgeon, who knew his London well, cast a swift glance into the
shadows, but there was nothing distinctive--no shop, no movement,
nothing but a double line of dull, flat-faced houses, a double
stretch of wet flagstones which gleamed in the lamplight, and a
double rush of water in the gutters which swirled and gurgled
towards the sewer gratings. The door which faced them was blotched
and discoloured, and a faint light in the fan pane above, it served
to show the dust and the grime which covered it. Above in one of
the bedroom windows, there was a dull yellow glimmer. The merchant
knocked loudly, and, as he turned his dark face towards the light,
Douglas Stone could see that it was contracted with anxiety. A
bolt was drawn, and an elderly woman with a taper stood in the
doorway, shielding the thin flame with her gnarled hand.
"Is all well?" gasped the merchant.
"She is as you left her, sir."
"She has not spoken?"
"No, she is in a deep sleep."
The merchant closed the door, and Douglas Stone walked down the
narrow passage, glancing about him in some surprise as he did so.
There was no oil-cloth, no mat, no hat-rack. Deep grey dust and
heavy festoons of cobwebs met his eyes everywhere. Following
the old woman up the winding stair, his firm footfall echoed
harshly through the silent house. There was no carpet.
The bedroom was on the second landing. Douglas Stone followed
the old nurse into it, with the merchant at his heels. Here, at
least, there was furniture and to spare. The floor was littered
and the corners piled with Turkish cabinets, inlaid tables, coats
of chain mail, strange pipes, and grotesque weapons. A single
small lamp stood upon a bracket on the wall. Douglas Stone took it
down, and picking his way among the lumber, walked over to a couch
in the corner, on which lay a woman dressed in the Turkish fashion,
with yashmak and veil. The lower part of the face was exposed, and
the surgeon saw a jagged cut which zigzagged along the border of
the under lip.
"You will forgive the yashmak," said the Turk. "You know our
views about women in the East."
But the surgeon was not thinking about the yashmak. This was
no longer a woman to him. It was a case. He stooped and examined
the wound carefully.
"There are no signs of irritation," said he. "We might delay
the operation until local symptoms develop."
The husband wrung his hands in uncontrollable agitation.
"Oh! sir, sir," he cried. "Do not trifle. You do not know.
It is deadly. I know, and I give you my assurance that an
operation is absolutely necessary. Only the knife can save her."
"And yet I am inclined to wait," said Douglas Stone.
"That is enough," the Turk cried, angrily. "Every minute is of
importance, and I cannot stand here and see my wife allowed to
sink. It only remains for me to give you my thanks for having
come, and to call in some other surgeon before it is too late."
Douglas Stone hesitated. To refund that hundred pounds was no
pleasant matter. But of course if he left the case he must return
the money. And if the Turk were right and the woman died, his
position before a coroner might be an embarrassing one.
"You have had personal experience of this poison?" he asked.
"And you assure me that an operation is needful."
"I swear it by all that I hold sacred."
"The disfigurement will be frightful."
"I can understand that the mouth will not be a pretty one to
Douglas Stone turned fiercely upon the man. The speech was a
brutal one. But the Turk has his own fashion of talk and of
thought, and there was no time for wrangling. Douglas Stone drew
a bistoury from his case, opened it and felt the keen straight edge
with his forefinger. Then he held the lamp closer to the bed. Two
dark eyes were gazing up at him through the slit in the yashmak.
They were all iris, and the pupil was hardly to be seen.
"You have given her a very heavy dose of opium."
"Yes, she has had a good dose."
He glanced again at the dark eyes which looked straight at his
own. They were dull and lustreless, but, even as he gazed, a
little shifting sparkle came into them, and the lips quivered.
"She is not absolutely unconscious," said he.
"Would it not be well to use the knife while it will be
The same thought had crossed the surgeon's mind. He grasped
the wounded lip with his forceps, and with two swift cuts he took
out a broad V-shaped piece. The woman sprang up on the couch with
a dreadful gurgling scream. Her covering was torn from her face.
It was a face that he knew. In spite of that protruding upper lip
and that slobber of blood, it was a face that he knew, She kept on
putting her hand up to the gap and screaming. Douglas Stone sat
down at the foot of the couch with his knife and his forceps. The
room was whirling round, and he had felt something go like a
ripping seam behind his ear. A bystander would have said that his
face was the more ghastly of the two. As in a dream, or as if he
had been looking at something at the play, he was conscious that
the Turk's hair and beard lay upon the table, and that Lord Sannox
was leaning against the wall with his hand to his side, laughing
silently. The screams had died away now, and the dreadful head had
dropped back again upon the pillow, but Douglas Stone still sat
motionless, and Lord Sannox still chuckled quietly to himself.
"It was really very necessary for Marion, this operation," said
he, "not physically, but morally, you know, morally."
Douglas Stone stooped for yards and began to play with the
fringe of the coverlet. His knife tinkled down upon the ground,
but he still held the forceps and something more.
"I had long intended to make a little example," said Lord
Sannox, suavely. "Your note of Wednesday miscarried, and I have it
here in my pocket-book. I took some pains in carrying out my idea.
The wound, by the way, was from nothing more dangerous than my
He glanced keenly at his silent companion, and cocked the small
revolver which he held in his coat pocket. But Douglas Stone was
still picking at the coverlet.
"You see you have kept your appointment after all," said Lord
And at that Douglas Stone began to laugh. He laughed long and
loudly. But Lord Sannox did not laugh now. Something like fear
sharpened and hardened his features. He walked from the room, and
he walked on tiptoe. The old woman was waiting outside.
"Attend to your mistress when she awakes," said Lord Sannox.
Then he went down to the street. The cab was at the door, and
the driver raised his hand to his hat.
"John," said Lord Sannox, "you will take the doctor home first.
He will want leading downstairs, I think. Tell his butler that he
has been taken ill at a case."
"Very good, sir."
"Then you can take Lady Sannox home."
"And how about yourself, sir?"
"Oh, my address for the next few months will be Hotel di Roma,
Venice. Just see that the letters are sent on. And tell Stevens
to exhibit all the purple chrysanthemums next Monday, and to wire
me the result."
The Terror of Blue John Gap
The following narrative was found among the papers of Dr. James
Hardcastle, who died of phthisis on February 4th, 1908, at 36,
Upper Coventry Flats, South Kensington. Those who knew him best,
while refusing to express an opinion upon this particular
statement, are unanimous in asserting that he was a man of a sober
and scientific turn of mind, absolutely devoid of imagination, and
most unlikely to invent any abnormal series of events. The paper
was contained in an envelope, which was docketed, "A Short Account
of the Circumstances which occurred near Miss Allerton's Farm in
North-West Derbyshire in the Spring of Last Year." The envelope
was sealed, and on the other side was written in pencil--
"It may interest, and perhaps pain you, to know that the
incredulity with which you met my story has prevented me from ever
opening my mouth upon the subject again. I leave this record after
my death, and perhaps strangers may be found to have more
confidence in me than my friend."
Inquiry has failed to elicit who this Seaton may have been. I
may add that the visit of the deceased to Allerton's Farm, and the
general nature of the alarm there, apart from his particular
explanation, have been absolutely established. With this foreword
I append his account exactly as he left it. It is in the form of
a diary, some entries in which have been expanded, while a few have
April 17.--Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful
upland air. The farm of the Allertons lies fourteen hundred and
twenty feet above sea-level, so it may well be a bracing climate.
Beyond the usual morning cough I have very little discomfort, and,
what with the fresh milk and the home-grown mutton, I have
every chance of putting on weight. I think Saunderson will be
The two Miss Allertons are charmingly quaint and kind, two dear
little hard-working old maids, who are ready to lavish all the
heart which might have gone out to husband and to children upon an
invalid stranger. Truly, the old maid is a most useful person, one
of the reserve forces of the community. They talk of the
superfluous woman, but what would the poor superfluous man do
without her kindly presence? By the way, in their simplicity they
very quickly let out the reason why Saunderson recommended their
farm. The Professor rose from the ranks himself, and I believe
that in his youth he was not above scaring crows in these very
It is a most lonely spot, and the walks are picturesque in the
extreme. The farm consists of grazing land lying at the bottom of
an irregular valley. On each side are the fantastic limestone
hills, formed of rock so soft that you can break it away with your
hands. All this country is hollow. Could you strike it with some
gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum, or possibly cave in
altogether and expose some huge subterranean sea. A great sea
there must surely be, for on all sides the streams run into the
mountain itself, never to reappear. There are gaps everywhere amid
the rocks, and when you pass through them you find yourself in
great caverns, which wind down into the bowels of the earth. I
have a small bicycle lamp, and it is a perpetual joy to me to carry
it into these weird solitudes, and to see the wonderful silver and
black effect when I throw its light upon the stalactites which
drape the lofty roofs. Shut off the lamp, and you are in the
blackest darkness. Turn it on, and it is a scene from the Arabian
But there is one of these strange openings in the earth which
has a special interest, for it is the handiwork, not of nature, but
of man. I had never heard of Blue John when I came to these parts.
It is the name given to a peculiar mineral of a beautiful purple
shade, which is only found at one or two places in the world. It
is so rare that an ordinary vase of Blue John would be valued at a
great price. The Romans, with that extraordinary instinct of
theirs, discovered that it was to be found in this valley, and sank
a horizontal shaft deep into the mountain side. The opening of
their mine has been called Blue John Gap, a clean-cut arch in
the rock, the mouth all overgrown with bushes. It is a goodly
passage which the Roman miners have cut, and it intersects some of
the great water-worn caves, so that if you enter Blue John Gap you
would do well to mark your steps and to have a good store of
candles, or you may never make your way back to the daylight again.
I have not yet gone deeply into it, but this very day I stood at
the mouth of the arched tunnel, and peering down into the black
recesses beyond, I vowed that when my health returned I would
devote some holiday to exploring those mysterious depths and
finding out for myself how far the Roman had penetrated into the
Strange how superstitious these countrymen are! I should have
thought better of young Armitage, for he is a man of some education
and character, and a very fine fellow for his station in life. I
was standing at the Blue John Gap when he came across the field to
"Well, doctor," said he, "you're not afraid, anyhow."
"Afraid!" I answered. "Afraid of what?"
"Of it," said he, with a jerk of his thumb towards the black
vault, "of the Terror that lives in the Blue John Cave."
How absurdly easy it is for a legend to arise in a lonely
countryside! I examined him as to the reasons for his weird
belief. It seems that from time to time sheep have been missing
from the fields, carried bodily away, according to Armitage. That
they could have wandered away of their own accord and disappeared
among the mountains was an explanation to which he would not
listen. On one occasion a pool of blood had been found, and some
tufts of wool. That also, I pointed out, could be explained in a
perfectly natural way. Further, the nights upon which sheep
disappeared were invariably very dark, cloudy nights with no moon.
This I met with the obvious retort that those were the nights which
a commonplace sheep-stealer would naturally choose for his work.
On one occasion a gap had been made in a wall, and some of
the stones scattered for a considerable distance. Human agency
again, in my opinion. Finally, Armitage clinched all his arguments
by telling me that he had actually heard the Creature--indeed, that
anyone could hear it who remained long enough at the Gap. It was
a distant roaring of an immense volume. I could not but smile
at this, knowing, as I do, the strange reverberations which come
out of an underground water system running amid the chasms of a
limestone formation. My incredulity annoyed Armitage so that he
turned and left me with some abruptness.
And now comes the queer point about the whole business. I was
still standing near the mouth of the cave turning over in my mind
the various statements of Armitage, and reflecting how readily they
could be explained away, when suddenly, from the depth of the
tunnel beside me, there issued a most extraordinary sound. How
shall I describe it? First of all, it seemed to be a great
distance away, far down in the bowels of the earth. Secondly, in
spite of this suggestion of distance, it was very loud. Lastly, it
was not a boom, nor a crash, such as one would associate with
falling water or tumbling rock, but it was a high whine, tremulous
and vibrating, almost like the whinnying of a horse. It was
certainly a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment,
I must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words. I
waited by the Blue John Gap for half an hour or more, but there was
no return of the sound, so at last I wandered back to the
farmhouse, rather mystified by what had occurred. Decidedly I
shall explore that cavern when my strength is restored. Of course,
Armitage's explanation is too absurd for discussion, and yet that
sound was certainly very strange. It still rings in my ears as I
April 20.--In the last three days I have made several
expeditions to the Blue John Gap, and have even penetrated some
short distance, but my bicycle lantern is so small and weak that I
dare not trust myself very far. I shall do the thing more
systematically. I have heard no sound at all, and could almost
believe that I had been the victim of some hallucination suggested,
perhaps, by Armitage's conversation. Of course, the whole idea is
absurd, and yet I must confess that those bushes at the entrance of
the cave do present an appearance as if some heavy creature had
forced its way through them. I begin to be keenly interested. I
have said nothing to the Miss Allertons, for they are quite
superstitious enough already, but I have bought some candles, and
mean to investigate for myself.
I observed this morning that among the numerous tufts of
sheep's wool which lay among the bushes near the cavern there
was one which was smeared with blood. Of course, my reason tells
me that if sheep wander into such rocky places they are likely to
injure themselves, and yet somehow that splash of crimson gave me
a sudden shock, and for a moment I found myself shrinking back in
horror from the old Roman arch. A fetid breath seemed to ooze from
the black depths into which I peered. Could it indeed be possible
that some nameless thing, some dreadful presence, was lurking down
yonder? I should have been incapable of such feelings in the days
of my strength, but one grows more nervous and fanciful when one's
health is shaken.
For the moment I weakened in my resolution, and was ready to
leave the secret of the old mine, if one exists, for ever unsolved.
But tonight my interest has returned and my nerves grown more
steady. Tomorrow I trust that I shall have gone more deeply into
April 22.--Let me try and set down as accurately as I can
my extraordinary experience of yesterday. I started in the
afternoon, and made my way to the Blue John Gap. I confess that my
misgivings returned as I gazed into its depths, and I wished that
I had brought a companion to share my exploration. Finally, with
a return of resolution, I lit my candle, pushed my way through the
briars, and descended into the rocky shaft.
It went down at an acute angle for some fifty feet, the floor
being covered with broken stone. Thence there extended a long,
straight passage cut in the solid rock. I am no geologist, but the
lining of this corridor was certainly of some harder material than
limestone, for there were points where I could actually see the
tool-marks which the old miners had left in their excavation, as
fresh as if they had been done yesterday. Down this strange, old-
world corridor I stumbled, my feeble flame throwing a dim circle of
light around me, which made the shadows beyond the more threatening
and obscure. Finally, I came to a spot where the Roman tunnel
opened into a water-worn cavern--a huge hall, hung with long white
icicles of lime deposit. From this central chamber I could dimly
perceive that a number of passages worn by the subterranean streams
wound away into the depths of the earth. I was standing there
wondering whether I had better return, or whether I dare venture
farther into this dangerous labyrinth, when my eyes fell upon
something at my feet which strongly arrested my attention.
The greater part of the floor of the cavern was covered with
boulders of rock or with hard incrustations of lime, but at this
particular point there had been a drip from the distant roof, which
had left a patch of soft mud. In the very centre of this there was
a huge mark--an ill-defined blotch, deep, broad and irregular, as
if a great boulder had fallen upon it. No loose stone lay near,
however, nor was there anything to account for the impression. It
was far too large to be caused by any possible animal, and besides,
there was only the one, and the patch of mud was of such a size
that no reasonable stride could have covered it. As I rose from
the examination of that singular mark and then looked round into
the black shadows which hemmed me in, I must confess that I felt
for a moment a most unpleasant sinking of my heart, and that, do
what I could, the candle trembled in my outstretched hand.
I soon recovered my nerve, however, when I reflected how absurd
it was to associate so huge and shapeless a mark with the track of
any known animal. Even an elephant could not have produced it. I
determined, therefore, that I would not be scared by vague and
senseless fears from carrying out my exploration. Before
proceeding, I took good note of a curious rock formation in the
wall by which I could recognize the entrance of the Roman tunnel.
The precaution was very necessary, for the great cave, so far as I
could see it, was intersected by passages. Having made sure of my
position, and reassured myself by examining my spare candles and my
matches, I advanced slowly over the rocky and uneven surface of the
And now I come to the point where I met with such sudden and
desperate disaster. A stream, some twenty feet broad, ran across
my path, and I walked for some little distance along the bank to
find a spot where I could cross dry-shod. Finally, I came to a
place where a single flat boulder lay near the centre, which I
could reach in a stride. As it chanced, however, the rock had been
cut away and made top-heavy by the rush of the stream, so that
it tilted over as I landed on it and shot me into the ice-cold
water. My candle went out, and I found myself floundering about in
utter and absolute darkness.
I staggered to my feet again, more amused than alarmed by my
adventure. The candle had fallen from my hand, and was lost in the
stream, but I had two others in my pocket, so that it was of no
importance. I got one of them ready, and drew out my box of
matches to light it. Only then did I realize my position. The box
had been soaked in my fall into the river. It was impossible to
strike the matches.
A cold hand seemed to close round my heart as I realized my
position. The darkness was opaque and horrible. It was so utter
one put one's hand up to one's face as if to press off something
solid. I stood still, and by an effort I steadied myself. I tried
to reconstruct in my mind a map of the floor of the cavern as I had
last seen it. Alas! the bearings which had impressed themselves
upon my mind were high on the wall, and not to be found by touch.
Still, I remembered in a general way how the sides were situated,
and I hoped that by groping my way along them I should at last come
to the opening of the Roman tunnel. Moving very slowly, and
continually striking against the rocks, I set out on this desperate
But I very soon realized how impossible it was. In that black,
velvety darkness one lost all one's bearings in an instant. Before
I had made a dozen paces, I was utterly bewildered as to my
whereabouts. The rippling of the stream, which was the one sound
audible, showed me where it lay, but the moment that I left its
bank I was utterly lost. The idea of finding my way back in
absolute darkness through that limestone labyrinth was clearly an
I sat down upon a boulder and reflected upon my unfortunate
plight. I had not told anyone that I proposed to come to the Blue
John mine, and it was unlikely that a search party would come after
me. Therefore I must trust to my own resources to get clear of the
danger. There was only one hope, and that was that the matches
might dry. When I fell into the river, only half of me had got
thoroughly wet. My left shoulder had remained above the water. I
took the box of matches, therefore, and put it into my left armpit.
The moist air of the cavern might possibly be counteracted by
the heat of my body, but even so, I knew that I could not hope to
get a light for many hours. Meanwhile there was nothing for it but
By good luck I had slipped several biscuits into my pocket
before I left the farm-house. These I now devoured, and washed
them down with a draught from that wretched stream which had been
the cause of all my misfortunes. Then I felt about for a
comfortable seat among the rocks, and, having discovered a place
where I could get a support for my back, I stretched out my legs
and settled myself down to wait. I was wretchedly damp and cold,
but I tried to cheer myself with the reflection that modern science
prescribed open windows and walks in all weather for my disease.
Gradually, lulled by the monotonous gurgle of the stream, and by
the absolute darkness, I sank into an uneasy slumber.
How long this lasted I cannot say. It may have been for an
hour, it may have been for several. Suddenly I sat up on my rock
couch, with every nerve thrilling and every sense acutely on the
alert. Beyond all doubt I had heard a sound--some sound very
distinct from the gurgling of the waters. It had passed, but the
reverberation of it still lingered in my ear. Was it a search
party? They would most certainly have shouted, and vague as this
sound was which had wakened me, it was very distinct from the human
voice. I sat palpitating and hardly daring to breathe. There it
was again! And again! Now it had become continuous. It was a
tread --yes, surely it was the tread of some living creature.
But what a tread it was! It gave one the impression of enormous
weight carried upon sponge-like feet, which gave forth a muffled
but ear-filling sound. The darkness was as complete as ever, but
the tread was regular and decisive. And it was coming beyond all
question in my direction.
My skin grew cold, and my hair stood on end as I listened to
that steady and ponderous footfall. There was some creature there,
and surely by the speed of its advance, it was one which could see
in the dark. I crouched low on my rock and tried to blend myself
into it. The steps grew nearer still, then stopped, and presently
I was aware of a loud lapping and gurgling. The creature was
drinking at the stream. Then again there was silence, broken by a
succession of long sniffs and snorts of tremendous volume and
energy. Had it caught the scent of me? My own nostrils were
filled by a low fetid odour, mephitic and abominable. Then I heard
the steps again. They were on my side of the stream now. The
stones rattled within a few yards of where I lay. Hardly daring to
breathe, I crouched upon my rock. Then the steps drew away. I
heard the splash as it returned across the river, and the sound
died away into the distance in the direction from which it had
For a long time I lay upon the rock, too much horrified to
move. I thought of the sound which I had heard coming from the
depths of the cave, of Armitage's fears, of the strange impression
in the mud, and now came this final and absolute proof that there
was indeed some inconceivable monster, something utterly unearthly
and dreadful, which lurked in the hollow of the mountain. Of its
nature or form I could frame no conception, save that it was both
light-footed and gigantic. The combat between my reason, which
told me that such things could not be, and my senses, which told me
that they were, raged within me as I lay. Finally, I was almost
ready to persuade myself that this experience had been part of some
evil dream, and that my abnormal condition might have conjured up
an hallucination. But there remained one final experience which
removed the last possibility of doubt from my mind.
I had taken my matches from my armpit and felt them. They
seemed perfectly hard and dry. Stooping down into a crevice of the
rocks, I tried one of them. To my delight it took fire at once.
I lit the candle, and, with a terrified backward glance into the
obscure depths of the cavern, I hurried in the direction of the
Roman passage. As I did so I passed the patch of mud on which I
had seen the huge imprint. Now I stood astonished before it, for
there were three similar imprints upon its surface, enormous in
size, irregular in outline, of a depth which indicated the
ponderous weight which had left them. Then a great terror surged
over me. Stooping and shading my candle with my hand, I ran in a
frenzy of fear to the rocky archway, hastened up it, and never
stopped until, with weary feet and panting lungs, I rushed up the
final slope of stones, broke through the tangle of briars, and
flung myself exhausted upon the soft grass under the peaceful light
of the stars. It was three in the morning when I reached the farm-
house, and today I am all unstrung and quivering after my
terrific adventure. As yet I have told no one. I must move warily
in the matter. What would the poor lonely women, or the uneducated
yokels here think of it if I were to tell them my experience? Let
me go to someone who can understand and advise.
April 25.--I was laid up in bed for two days after my
incredible adventure in the cavern. I use the adjective with a
very definite meaning, for I have had an experience since which has
shocked me almost as much as the other. I have said that I was
looking round for someone who could advise me. There is a Dr. Mark
Johnson who practices some few miles away, to whom I had a note of
recommendation from Professor Saunderson. To him I drove,
when I was strong enough to get about, and I recounted to him my
whole strange experience. He listened intently, and then carefully
examined me, paying special attention to my reflexes and to the
pupils of my eyes. When he had finished, he refused to discuss my
adventure, saying that it was entirely beyond him, but he gave me
the card of a Mr. Picton at Castleton, with the advice that I
should instantly go to him and tell him the story exactly as I had
done to himself. He was, according to my adviser, the very man who
was pre-eminently suited to help me. I went on to the station,
therefore, and made my way to the little town, which is some ten
miles away. Mr. Picton appeared to be a man of importance, as his
brass plate was displayed upon the door of a considerable building
on the outskirts of the town. I was about to ring his bell, when
some misgiving came into my mind, and, crossing to a neighbouring
shop, I asked the man behind the counter if he could tell me
anything of Mr. Picton. "Why," said he, "he is the best mad doctor
in Derbyshire, and yonder is his asylum." You can imagine that it
was not long before I had shaken the dust of Castleton from my feet
and returned to the farm, cursing all unimaginative pedants who
cannot conceive that there may be things in creation which have
never yet chanced to come across their mole's vision. After all,
now that I am cooler, I can afford to admit that I have been no
more sympathetic to Armitage than Dr. Johnson has been to me.
April 27. When I was a student I had the reputation of
being a man of courage and enterprise. I remember that when there
was a ghost-hunt at Coltbridge it was I who sat up in the
haunted house. Is it advancing years (after all, I am only thirty-
five), or is it this physical malady which has caused degeneration?
Certainly my heart quails when I think of that horrible cavern in
the hill, and the certainty that it has some monstrous occupant.
What shall I do? There is not an hour in the day that I do not
debate the question. If I say nothing, then the mystery remains
unsolved. If I do say anything, then I have the alternative of mad
alarm over the whole countryside, or of absolute incredulity which
may end in consigning me to an asylum. On the whole, I think that
my best course is to wait, and to prepare for some expedition which
shall be more deliberate and better thought out than the last. As
a first step I have been to Castleton and obtained a few
essentials--a large acetylene lantern for one thing, and a good
double-barrelled sporting rifle for another. The latter I have
hired, but I have bought a dozen heavy game cartridges, which would
bring down a rhinoceros. Now I am ready for my troglodyte friend.
Give me better health and a little spate of energy, and I shall try
conclusions with him yet. But who and what is he? Ah! there is
the question which stands between me and my sleep. How many
theories do I form, only to discard each in turn! It is all so
utterly unthinkable. And yet the cry, the footmark, the tread in
the cavern--no reasoning can get past these I think of the old-
world legends of dragons and of other monsters. Were they,
perhaps, not such fairy-tales as we have thought? Can it be that
there is some fact which underlies them, and am I, of all mortals,
the one who is chosen to expose it?
May 3.--For several days I have been laid up by the
vagaries of an English spring, and during those days there have
been developments, the true and sinister meaning of which no one
can appreciate save myself. I may say that we have had cloudy and
moonless nights of late, which according to my information were the
seasons upon which sheep disappeared. Well, sheep have
disappeared. Two of Miss Allerton's, one of old Pearson's of the
Cat Walk, and one of Mrs. Moulton's. Four in all during three
nights. No trace is left of them at all, and the countryside is
buzzing with rumours of gipsies and of sheep-stealers.
But there is something more serious than that. Young Armitage
has disappeared also. He left his moorland cottage early on
Wednesday night and has never been heard of since. He was an
unattached man, so there is less sensation than would otherwise be
the case. The popular explanation is that he owes money, and has
found a situation in some other part of the country, whence he will
presently write for his belongings. But I have grave misgivings.
Is it not much more likely that the recent tragedy of the sheep has
caused him to take some steps which may have ended in his own
destruction? He may, for example, have lain in wait for the
creature and been carried off by it into the recesses of the
mountains. What an inconceivable fate for a civilized Englishman
of the twentieth century! And yet I feel that it is possible and
even probable. But in that case, how far am I answerable both for
his death and for any other mishap which may occur? Surely with
the knowledge I already possess it must be my duty to see that
something is done, or if necessary to do it myself. It must be the
latter, for this morning I went down to the local police-station
and told my story. The inspector entered it all in a large book
and bowed me out with commendable gravity, but I heard a burst of
laughter before I had got down his garden path. No doubt he was
recounting my adventure to his family.
June 10.--I am writing this, propped up in bed, six weeks
after my last entry in this journal. I have gone through a
terrible shock both to mind and body, arising from such an
experience as has seldom befallen a human being before. But I have
attained my end. The danger from the Terror which dwells in the
Blue John Gap has passed never to return. Thus much at least I, a
broken invalid, have done for the common good. Let me now recount
what occurred as clearly as I may.
The night of Friday, May 3rd, was dark and cloudy--the very
night for the monster to walk. About eleven o'clock I went from
the farm-house with my lantern and my rifle, having first left a
note upon the table of my bedroom in which I said that, if I were
missing, search should be made for me in the direction of the Gap.
I made my way to the mouth of the Roman shaft, and, having perched
myself among the rocks close to the opening, I shut off my lantern
and waited patiently with my loaded rifle ready to my hand.
It was a melancholy vigil. All down the winding valley I could
see the scattered lights of the farm-houses, and the church clock
of Chapel-le-Dale tolling the hours came faintly to my ears.
These tokens of my fellow-men served only to make my own position
seem the more lonely, and to call for a greater effort to overcome
the terror which tempted me continually to get back to the farm,
and abandon for ever this dangerous quest. And yet there lies deep
in every man a rooted self-respect which makes it hard for him to
turn back from that which he has once undertaken. This feeling of
personal pride was my salvation now, and it was that alone which
held me fast when every instinct of my nature was dragging me away.
I am glad now that I had the strength. In spite of all that is has
cost me, my manhood is at least above reproach.
Twelve o'clock struck in the distant church, then one, then
two. It was the darkest hour of the night. The clouds were
drifting low, and there was not a star in the sky. An owl was
hooting somewhere among the rocks, but no other sound, save the
gentle sough of the wind, came to my ears. And then suddenly I
heard it! From far away down the tunnel came those muffled steps,
so soft and yet so ponderous. I heard also the rattle of stones as
they gave way under that giant tread. They drew nearer. They were
close upon me. I heard the crashing of the bushes round the
entrance, and then dimly through the darkness I was conscious of
the loom of some enormous shape, some monstrous inchoate creature,
passing swiftly and very silently out from the tunnel. I was
paralysed with fear and amazement. Long as I had waited, now that
it had actually come I was unprepared for the shock. I lay
motionless and breathless, whilst the great dark mass whisked by me
and was swallowed up in the night.
But now I nerved myself for its return. No sound came from the
sleeping countryside to tell of the horror which was loose. In no
way could I judge how far off it was, what it was doing, or when it
might be back. But not a second time should my nerve fail me, not
a second time should it pass unchallenged. I swore it between my
clenched teeth as I laid my cocked rifle across the rock.
And yet it nearly happened. There was no warning of approach
now as the creature passed over the grass. Suddenly, like a dark,
drifting shadow, the huge bulk loomed up once more before me,
making for the entrance of the cave. Again came that paralysis of
volition which held my crooked forefinger impotent upon the
trigger. But with a desperate effort I shook it off. Even as the
brushwood rustled, and the monstrous beast blended with the shadow
of the Gap, I fired at the retreating form. In the blaze of the
gun I caught a glimpse of a great shaggy mass, something with rough
and bristling hair of a withered grey colour, fading away to white
in its lower parts, the huge body supported upon short, thick,
curving legs. I had just that glance, and then I heard the rattle
of the stones as the creature tore down into its burrow. In an
instant, with a triumphant revulsion of feeling, I had cast my
fears to the wind, and uncovering my powerful lantern, with my
rifle in my hand, I sprang down from my rock and rushed after the
monster down the old Roman shaft.
My splendid lamp cast a brilliant flood of vivid light in front
of me, very different from the yellow glimmer which had aided me
down the same passage only twelve days before. As I ran, I saw the
great beast lurching along before me, its huge bulk filling up the
whole space from wall to wall. Its hair looked like coarse faded
oakum, and hung down in long, dense masses which swayed as it
moved. It was like an enormous unclipped sheep in its fleece, but
in size it was far larger than the largest elephant, and its
breadth seemed to be nearly as great as its height. It fills me
with amazement now to think that I should have dared to follow such
a horror into the bowels of the earth, but when one's blood is up,
and when one's quarry seems to be flying, the old primeval hunting-
spirit awakes and prudence is cast to the wind. Rifle in hand, I
ran at the top of my speed upon the trail of the monster.
I had seen that the creature was swift. Now I was to find out
to my cost that it was also very cunning. I had imagined that it
was in panic flight, and that I had only to pursue it. The idea
that it might turn upon me never entered my excited brain. I have
already explained that the passage down which I was racing opened
into a great central cave. Into this I rushed, fearful lest I
should lose all trace of the beast. But he had turned upon his own
traces, and in a moment we were face to face.
That picture, seen in the brilliant white light of the lantern,
is etched for ever upon my brain. He had reared up on his hind
legs as a bear would do, and stood above me, enormous, menacing--
such a creature as no nightmare had ever brought to my imagination.
I have said that he reared like a bear, and there was something
bear-like--if one could conceive a bear which was ten-fold the bulk
of any bear seen upon earth--in his whole pose and attitude, in his
great crooked forelegs with their ivory-white claws, in his rugged
skin, and in his red, gaping mouth, fringed with monstrous fangs.
Only in one point did he differ from the bear, or from any other
creature which walks the earth, and even at that supreme moment a
shudder of horror passed over me as I observed that the eyes which
glistened in the glow of my lantern were huge, projecting bulbs,
white and sightless. For a moment his great paws swung over my
head. The next he fell forward upon me, I and my broken lantern
crashed to the earth, and I remember no more.
When I came to myself I was back in the farm-house of the
Allertons. Two days had passed since my terrible adventure in the
Blue John Gap. It seems that I had lain all night in the cave
insensible from concussion of the brain, with my left arm and two
ribs badly fractured. In the morning my note had been found, a
search party of a dozen farmers assembled, and I had been tracked
down and carried back to my bedroom, where I had lain in high
delirium ever since. There was, it seems, no sign of the creature,
and no bloodstain which would show that my bullet had found him as
he passed. Save for my own plight and the marks upon the mud,
there was nothing to prove that what I said was true.
Six weeks have now elapsed, and I am able to sit out once more
in the sunshine. Just opposite me is the steep hillside, grey with
shaly rock, and yonder on its flank is the dark cleft which marks
the opening of the Blue John Gap. But it is no longer a source of
terror. Never again through that ill-omened tunnel shall any
strange shape flit out into the world of men. The educated and the
scientific, the Dr. Johnsons and the like, may smile at my
narrative, but the poorer folk of the countryside had never a doubt
as to its truth. On the day after my recovering consciousness
they assembled in their hundreds round the Blue John Gap. As the
Castleton Courier said:
"It was useless for our correspondent, or for any of the
adventurous gentlemen who had come from Matlock, Buxton, and other
parts, to offer to descend, to explore the cave to the end, and to
finally test the extraordinary narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.
The country people had taken the matter into their own hands, and
from an early hour of the morning they had worked hard in stopping
up the entrance of the tunnel. There is a sharp slope where the
shaft begins, and great boulders, rolled along by many willing
hands, were thrust down it until the Gap was absolutely sealed. So
ends the episode which has caused such excitement throughout the
country. Local opinion is fiercely divided upon the subject. On
the one hand are those who point to Dr. Hardcastle's impaired
health, and to the possibility of cerebral lesions of tubercular
origin giving rise to strange hallucinations. Some idee fixe,
according to these gentlemen, caused the doctor to wander down the
tunnel, and a fall among the rocks was sufficient to account for
his injuries. On the other hand, a legend of a strange creature in
the Gap has existed for some months back, and the farmers look upon
Dr. Hardcastle's narrative and his personal injuries as a final
corroboration. So the matter stands, and so the matter will
continue to stand, for no definite solution seems to us to be now
possible. It transcends human wit to give any scientific
explanation which could cover the alleged facts."
Perhaps before the Courier published these words they would
have been wise to send their representative to me. I have thought
the matter out, as no one else has occasion to do, and it is
possible that I might have removed some of the more obvious
difficulties of the narrative and brought it one degree nearer to
scientific acceptance. Let me then write down the only explanation
which seems to me to elucidate what I know to my cost to have been
a series of facts. My theory may seem to be wildly improbable, but
at least no one can venture to say that it is impossible.
My view is--and it was formed, as is shown by my diary, before
my personal adventure--that in this part of England there is a
vast subterranean lake or sea, which is fed by the great number of
streams which pass down through the limestone. Where there is a
large collection of water there must also be some evaporation,
mists or rain, and a possibility of vegetation. This in turn
suggests that there may be animal life, arising, as the vegetable
life would also do, from those seeds and types which had been
introduced at an early period of the world's history, when
communication with the outer air was more easy. This place had
then developed a fauna and flora of its own, including such
monsters as the one which I had seen, which may well have been the
old cave-bear, enormously enlarged and modified by its new
environment. For countless aeons the internal and the external
creation had kept apart, growing steadily away from each other.
Then there had come some rift in the depths of the mountain which
had enabled one creature to wander up and, by means of the Roman
tunnel, to reach the open air. Like all subterranean life, it had
lost the power of sight, but this had no doubt been compensated for
by nature in other directions. Certainly it had some means of
finding its way about, and of hunting down the sheep upon the
hillside. As to its choice of dark nights, it is part of my theory
that light was painful to those great white eyeballs, and that it
was only a pitch-black world which it could tolerate. Perhaps,
indeed, it was the glare of my lantern which saved my life at that
awful moment when we were face to face. So I read the riddle. I
leave these facts behind me, and if you can explain them, do so; or
if you choose to doubt them, do so. Neither your belief nor your
incredulity can alter them, nor affect one whose task is nearly
So ended the strange narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.
The Brazilian Cat
It is hard luck on a young fellow to have expensive tastes, great
expectations, aristocratic connections, but no actual money in
his pocket, and no profession by which he may earn any. The fact
was that my father, a good, sanguine, easy-going man, had such
confidence in the wealth and benevolence of his bachelor elder
brother, Lord Southerton, that he took it for granted that I, his
only son, would never be called upon to earn a living for myself.
He imagined that if there were not a vacancy for me on the great
Southerton Estates, at least there would be found some post in
that diplomatic service which still remains the special preserve
of our privileged classes. He died too early to realize how
false his calculations had been. Neither my uncle nor the State
took the slightest notice of me, or showed any interest in my
career. An occasional brace of pheasants, or basket of hares,
was all that ever reached me to remind me that I was heir to
Otwell House and one of the richest estates in the country. In
the meantime, I found myself a bachelor and man about town,
living in a suite of apartments in Grosvenor Mansions, with no
occupation save that of pigeon-shooting and polo-playing at
Hurlingham. Month by month I realized that it was more and more
difficult to get the brokers to renew my bills, or to cash any
further post-obits upon an unentailed property. Ruin lay right
across my path, and every day I saw it clearer, nearer, and more
What made me feel my own poverty the more was that, apart from
the great wealth of Lord Southerton, all my other relations were
fairly well-to-do. The nearest of these was Everard King, my
father's nephew and my own first cousin, who had spent an
adventurous life in Brazil, and had now returned to this country to
settle down on his fortune. We never knew how he made his money,
but he appeared to have plenty of it, for he bought the estate of
Greylands, near Clipton-on-the-Marsh, in Suffolk. For the
first year of his residence in England he took no more notice of me
than my miserly uncle; but at last one summer morning, to my very
great relief and joy, I received a letter asking me to come down
that very day and spend a short visit at Greylands Court. I was
expecting a rather long visit to Bankruptcy Court at the time, and
this interruption seemed almost providential. If I could only get
on terms with this unknown relative of mine, I might pull through
yet. For the family credit he could not let me go entirely to the
wall. I ordered my valet to pack my valise, and I set off the same
evening for Clipton-on-the-Marsh.
After changing at Ipswich, a little local train deposited me at
a small, deserted station lying amidst a rolling grassy country,
with a sluggish and winding river curving in and out amidst the
valleys, between high, silted banks, which showed that we were
within reach of the tide. No carriage was awaiting me (I found
afterwards that my telegram had been delayed), so I hired a dogcart
at the local inn. The driver, an excellent fellow, was full of my
relative's praises, and I learned from him that Mr. Everard King
was already a name to conjure with in that part of the county. He
had entertained the school-children, he had thrown his grounds open
to visitors, he had subscribed to charities--in short, his
benevolence had been so universal that my driver could only account
for it on the supposition that he had parliamentary ambitions.
My attention was drawn away from my driver's panegyric by the
appearance of a very beautiful bird which settled on a telegraph-
post beside the road. At first I thought that it was a jay, but it
was larger, with a brighter plumage. The driver accounted for its
presence at once by saying that it belonged to the very man whom we
were about to visit. It seems that the acclimatization of foreign
creatures was one of his hobbies, and that he had brought with him
from Brazil a number of birds and beasts which he was endeavouring
to rear in England. When once we had passed the gates of Greylands
Park we had ample evidence of this taste of his. Some small
spotted deer, a curious wild pig known, I believe, as a peccary, a
gorgeously feathered oriole, some sort of armadillo, and a singular
lumbering in-toed beast like a very fat badger, were among the
creatures which I observed as we drove along the winding avenue.
Mr. Everard King, my unknown cousin, was standing in person
upon the steps of his house, for he had seen us in the distance,
and guessed that it was I. His appearance was very homely and
benevolent, short and stout, forty-five years old, perhaps, with a
round, good-humoured face, burned brown with the tropical sun, and
shot with a thousand wrinkles. He wore white linen clothes, in
true planter style, with a cigar between his lips, and a large
Panama hat upon the back of his head. It was such a figure as one
associates with a verandahed bungalow, and it looked curiously out
of place in front of this broad, stone English mansion, with its
solid wings and its Palladio pillars before the doorway.
"My dear!" he cried, glancing over his shoulder; "my dear, here
is our guest! Welcome, welcome to Greylands! I am delighted to
make your acquaintance, Cousin Marshall, and I take it as a great
compliment that you should honour this sleepy little country place
with your presence."
Nothing could be more hearty than his manner, and he set me at
my ease in an instant. But it needed all his cordiality to atone
for the frigidity and even rudeness of his wife, a tall, haggard
woman, who came forward at his summons. She was, I believe, of
Brazilian extraction, though she spoke excellent English, and I
excused her manners on the score of her ignorance of our customs.
She did not attempt to conceal, however, either then or afterwards,
that I was no very welcome visitor at Greylands Court. Her actual
words were, as a rule, courteous, but she was the possessor of a
pair of particularly expressive dark eyes, and I read in them very
clearly from the first that she heartily wished me back in London
However, my debts were too pressing and my designs upon my
wealthy relative were too vital for me to allow them to be upset by
the ill-temper of his wife, so I disregarded her coldness and
reciprocated the extreme cordiality of his welcome. No pains had
been spared by him to make me comfortable. My room was a charming
one. He implored me to tell him anything which could add to my
happiness. It was on the tip of my tongue to inform him that a
blank cheque would materially help towards that end, but I felt
that it might be premature in the present state of our
acquaintance. The dinner was excellent, and as we sat together
afterwards over his Havanas and coffee, which later he told me was
specially prepared upon his own plantation, it seemed to me that
all my driver's eulogies were justified, and that I had never met
a more large-hearted and hospitable man.
But, in spite of his cheery good nature, he was a man with a
strong will and a fiery temper of his own. Of this I had an
example upon the following morning. The curious aversion which
Mrs. Everard King had conceived towards me was so strong, that her
manner at breakfast was almost offensive. But her meaning became
unmistakable when her husband had quitted the room.
"The best train in the day is at twelve-fifteen," said she.
"But I was not thinking of going today," I answered, frankly--
perhaps even defiantly, for I was determined not to be driven out
by this woman.
"Oh, if it rests with you--" said she, and stopped with a most
insolent expression in her eyes.
"I am sure," I answered, "that Mr. Everard King would tell me
if I were outstaying my welcome."
"What's this? What's this?" said a voice, and there he was in
the room. He had overheard my last words, and a glance at our
faces had told him the rest. In an instant his chubby, cheery face
set into an expression of absolute ferocity.
"Might I trouble you to walk outside, Marshall?" said he. (I
may mention that my own name is Marshall King.)
He closed the door behind me, and then, for an instant, I heard
him talking in a low voice of concentrated passion to his wife.
This gross breach of hospitality had evidently hit upon his
tenderest point. I am no eavesdropper, so I walked out on to the
lawn. Presently I heard a hurried step behind me, and there was
the lady, her face pale with excitement, and her eyes red with
"My husband has asked me to apologize to you, Mr. Marshall
King," said she, standing with downcast eyes before me.
"Please do not say another word, Mrs. King."
Her dark eyes suddenly blazed out at me.
"You fool!" she hissed, with frantic vehemence, and turning on
her heel swept back to the house.
The insult was so outrageous, so insufferable, that I could
only stand staring after her in bewilderment. I was still there
when my host joined me. He was his cheery, chubby self once more.
"I hope that my wife has apologized for her foolish remarks,"
"Oh, yes--yes, certainly!"
He put his hand through my arm and walked with me up and down
"You must not take it seriously," said he. "It would grieve me
inexpressibly if you curtailed your visit by one hour. The fact
is--there is no reason why there should be any concealment between
relatives--that my poor dear wife is incredibly jealous. She hates
that anyone--male or female--should for an instant come between us.
Her ideal is a desert island and an eternal tete-a-tete. That
gives you the clue to her actions, which are, I confess, upon this
particular point, not very far removed from mania. Tell me that
you will think no more of it."
"No, no; certainly not."
"Then light this cigar and come round with me and see my little
The whole afternoon was occupied by this inspection, which
included all the birds, beasts, and even reptiles which he had
imported. Some were free, some in cages, a few actually in the
house. He spoke with enthusiasm of his successes and his failures,
his births and his deaths, and he would cry out in his delight,
like a schoolboy, when, as we walked, some gaudy bird would flutter
up from the grass, or some curious beast slink into the cover.
Finally he led me down a corridor which extended from one wing of
the house. At the end of this there was a heavy door with a
sliding shutter in it, and beside it there projected from the wall
an iron handle attached to a wheel and a drum. A line of stout
bars extended across the passage.
"I am about to show you the jewel of my collection," said he.
"There is only one other specimen in Europe, now that the Rotterdam
cub is dead. It is a Brazilian cat."
"But how does that differ from any other cat?"
"You will soon see that," said he, laughing. "Will you kindly
draw that shutter and look through?"
I did so, and found that I was gazing into a large, empty room,
with stone flags, and small, barred windows upon the farther wall.
In the centre of this room, lying in the middle of a golden patch
of sunlight, there was stretched a huge creature, as large as a
tiger, but as black and sleek as ebony. It was simply a very
enormous and very well-kept black cat, and it cuddled up and basked
in that yellow pool of light exactly as a cat would do. It was so
graceful, so sinewy, and so gently and smoothly diabolical, that I
could not take my eyes from the opening.
"Isn't he splendid?" said my host, enthusiastically.
"Glorious! I never saw such a noble creature."
"Some people call it a black puma, but really it is not a puma
at all. That fellow is nearly eleven feet from tail to tip. Four
years ago he was a little ball of back fluff, with two yellow eyes
staring out of it. He was sold me as a new-born cub up in the wild
country at the head-waters of the Rio Negro. They speared his
mother to death after she had killed a dozen of them."
"They are ferocious, then?"
"The most absolutely treacherous and bloodthirsty creatures
upon earth. You talk about a Brazilian cat to an up-country
Indian, and see him get the jumps. They prefer humans to game.
This fellow has never tasted living blood yet, but when he does he
will be a terror. At present he won't stand anyone but me in his
den. Even Baldwin, the groom, dare not go near him. As to me, I
am his mother and father in one."
As he spoke he suddenly, to my astonishment, opened the door
and slipped in, closing it instantly behind him. At the sound of
his voice the huge, lithe creature rose, yawned and rubbed its
round, black head affectionately against his side, while he patted
and fondled it.
"Now, Tommy, into your cage!" said he.
The monstrous cat walked over to one side of the room and
coiled itself up under a grating. Everard King came out, and
taking the iron handle which I have mentioned, he began to turn it.
As he did so the line of bars in the corridor began to pass through
a slot in the wall and closed up the front of this grating, so as
to make an effective cage. When it was in position he opened the
door once more and invited me into the room, which was heavy with
the pungent, musty smell peculiar to the great carnivora.
"That's how we work it," said he. "We give him the run of the
room for exercise, and then at night we put him in his cage. You
can let him out by turning the handle from the passage, or you can,
as you have seen, coop him up in the same way. No, no, you should
not do that!"
I had put my hand between the bars to pat the glossy, heaving
flank. He pulled it back, with a serious face.
"I assure you that he is not safe. Don't imagine that because
I can take liberties with him anyone else can. He is very
exclusive in his friends--aren't you, Tommy? Ah, he hears his
lunch coming to him! Don't you, boy?"
A step sounded in the stone-flagged passage, and the creature
had sprung to his feet, and was pacing up and down the narrow cage,
his yellow eyes gleaming, and his scarlet tongue rippling and
quivering over the white line of his jagged teeth. A groom entered
with a coarse joint upon a tray, and thrust it through the bars to
him. He pounced lightly upon it, carried it off to the corner, and
there, holding it between his paws, tore and wrenched at it,
raising his bloody muzzle every now and then to look at us. It was
a malignant and yet fascinating sight.
"You can't wonder that I am fond of him, can you?" said my
host, as we left the room, "especially when you consider that I
have had the rearing of him. It was no joke bringing him over from
the centre of South America; but here he is safe and sound--and, as
I have said, far the most perfect specimen in Europe. The people
at the Zoo are dying to have him, but I really can't part with him.
Now, I think that I have inflicted my hobby upon you long enough,
so we cannot do better than follow Tommy's example, and go to our
My South American relative was so engrossed by his grounds and
their curious occupants, that I hardly gave him credit at first for
having any interests outside them. That he had some, and pressing
ones, was soon borne in upon me by the number of telegrams which he
received. They arrived at all hours, and were always opened by him
with the utmost eagerness and anxiety upon his face. Sometimes I
imagined that it must be the Turf, and sometimes the Stock
Exchange, but certainly he had some very urgent business going
forwards which was not transacted upon the Downs of Suffolk.
During the six days of my visit he had never fewer than three
or four telegrams a day, and sometimes as many as seven or eight.
I had occupied these six days so well, that by the end of them
I had succeeded in getting upon the most cordial terms with my
cousin. Every night we had sat up late in the billiard-room, he
telling me the most extraordinary stories of his adventures in
America--stories so desperate and reckless, that I could hardly
associate them with the brown little, chubby man before me. In
return, I ventured upon some of my own reminiscences of London
life, which interested him so much, that he vowed he would come up
to Grosvenor Mansions and stay with me. He was anxious to see the
faster side of city life, and certainly, though I say it, he could
not have chosen a more competent guide. It was not until the last
day of my visit that I ventured to approach that which was on my
mind. I told him frankly about my pecuniary difficulties and my
impending ruin, and I asked his advice--though I hoped for
something more solid. He listened attentively, puffing hard at his
"But surely," said he, "you are the heir of our relative, Lord
"I have every reason to believe so, but he would never make me
"No, no, I have heard of his miserly ways. My poor Marshall,
your position has been a very hard one. By the way, have you heard
any news of Lord Southerton's health lately?"
"He has always been in a critical condition ever since my
"Exactly--a creaking hinge, if ever there was one. Your
inheritance may be a long way off. Dear me, how awkwardly situated
"I had some hopes, sir, that you, knowing all the facts, might
be inclined to advance----"
"Don't say another word, my dear boy," he cried, with the
utmost cordiality; "we shall talk it over tonight, and I give you
my word that whatever is in my power shall be done."
I was not sorry that my visit was drawing to a close, for it is
unpleasant to feel that there is one person in the house who
eagerly desires your departure. Mrs. King's sallow face and
forbidding eyes had become more and more hateful to me. She was
no longer actively rude--her fear of her husband prevented
her--but she pushed her insane jealousy to the extent of ignoring
me, never addressing me, and in every way making my stay at
Greylands as uncomfortable as she could. So offensive was her
manner during that last day, that I should certainly have left had
it not been for that interview with my host in the evening which
would, I hoped, retrieve my broken fortunes.
It was very late when it occurred, for my relative, who had
been receiving even more telegrams than usual during the day, went
off to his study after dinner, and only emerged when the household
had retired to bed. I heard him go round locking the doors, as
custom was of a night, and finally he joined me in the billiard-
room. His stout figure was wrapped in a dressing-gown, and he wore
a pair of red Turkish slippers without any heels. Settling down
into an arm-chair, he brewed himself a glass of grog, in which I
could not help noticing that the whisky considerably predominated
over the water.
"My word!" said he, "what a night!"
It was, indeed. The wind was howling and screaming round the
house, and the latticed windows rattled and shook as if they were
coming in. The glow of the yellow lamps and the flavour of our
cigars seemed the brighter and more fragrant for the contrast.
"Now, my boy," said my host, "we have the house and the night
to ourselves. Let me have an idea of how your affairs stand, and
I will see what can be done to set them in order. I wish to hear
Thus encouraged, I entered into a long exposition, in which all
my tradesmen and creditors from my landlord to my valet, figured in
turn. I had notes in my pocket-book, and I marshalled my facts,
and gave, I flatter myself, a very businesslike statement of my own
unbusinesslike ways and lamentable position. I was depressed,
however, to notice that my companion's eyes were vacant and his
attention elsewhere. When he did occasionally throw out a remark
it was so entirely perfunctory and pointless, that I was sure he
had not in the least followed my remarks. Every now and then he
roused himself and put on some show of interest, asking me to
repeat or to explain more fully, but it was always to sink once
more into the same brown study. At last he rose and threw the end
of his cigar into the grate.
"I'll tell you what, my boy," said he. "I never had a head for
figures, so you will excuse me. You must jot it all down upon
paper, and let me have a note of the amount. I'll understand it
when I see it in black and white."
The proposal was encouraging. I promised to do so.
"And now it's time we were in bed. By Jove, there's one
o'clock striking in the hall."
The tingling of the chiming clock broke through the deep roar
of the gale. The wind was sweeping past with the rush of a great
"I must see my cat before I go to bed," said my host. "A high
wind excites him. Will you come?"
"Certainly," said I.
"Then tread softly and don't speak, for everyone is asleep."
We passed quietly down the lamp-lit Persian-rugged hall, and
through the door at the farther end. All was dark in the stone
corridor, but a stable lantern hung on a hook, and my host took it
down and lit it. There was no grating visible in the passage, so
I knew that the beast was in its cage.
"Come in!" said my relative, and opened the door.
A deep growling as we entered showed that the storm had really
excited the creature. In the flickering light of the lantern, we
saw it, a huge black mass coiled in the corner of its den and
throwing a squat, uncouth shadow upon the whitewashed wall. Its
tail switched angrily among the straw.
"Poor Tommy is not in the best of tempers," said Everard King,
holding up the lantern and looking in at him. "What a black devil
he looks, doesn't he? I must give him a little supper to put him
in a better humour. Would you mind holding the lantern for a
I took it from his hand and he stepped to the door.
"His larder is just outside here," said he. "You will excuse
me for an instant won't you?" He passed out, and the door shut
with a sharp metallic click behind him.
That hard crisp sound made my heart stand still. A sudden wave
of terror passed over me. A vague perception of some monstrous
treachery turned me cold. I sprang to the door, but there was no
handle upon the inner side.
"Here!" I cried. "Let me out!"
"All right! Don't make a row!" said my host from the passage.
"You've got the light all right."
"Yes, but I don't care about being locked in alone like this."
"Don't you?" I heard his hearty, chuckling laugh. "You won't
be alone long."
"Let me out, sir!" I repeated angrily. "I tell you I don't
allow practical jokes of this sort."
"Practical is the word," said he, with another hateful chuckle.
And then suddenly I heard, amidst the roar of the storm, the creak
and whine of the winch-handle turning and the rattle of the grating
as it passed through the slot. Great God, he was letting loose the
In the light of the lantern I saw the bars sliding slowly
before me. Already there was an opening a foot wide at the farther
end. With a scream I seized the last bar with my hands and pulled
with the strength of a madman. I WAS a madman with rage and
horror. For a minute or more I held the thing motionless. I knew
that he was straining with all his force upon the handle, and that
the leverage was sure to overcome me. I gave inch by inch, my feet
sliding along the stones, and all the time I begged and prayed this
inhuman monster to save me from this horrible death. I conjured
him by his kinship. I reminded him that I was his guest; I begged
to know what harm I had ever done him. His only answers were the
tugs and jerks upon the handle, each of which, in spite of all my
struggles, pulled another bar through the opening. Clinging and
clutching, I was dragged across the whole front of the cage, until
at last, with aching wrists and lacerated fingers, I gave up the
hopeless struggle. The grating clanged back as I released it, and
an instant later I heard the shuffle of the Turkish slippers in the
passage, and the slam of the distant door. Then everything was
The creature had never moved during this time. He lay still in
the corner, and his tail had ceased switching. This apparition of
a man adhering to his bars and dragged screaming across him had
apparently filled him with amazement. I saw his great eyes staring
steadily at me. I had dropped the lantern when I seized the
bars, but it still burned upon the floor, and I made a movement
to grasp it, with some idea that its light might protect me. But
the instant I moved, the beast gave a deep and menacing growl. I
stopped and stood still, quivering with fear in every limb. The
cat (if one may call so fearful a creature by so homely a name) was
not more than ten feet from me. The eyes glimmered like two disks
of phosphorus in the darkness. They appalled and yet fascinated
me. I could not take my own eyes from them. Nature plays strange
tricks with us at such moments of intensity, and those glimmering
lights waxed and waned with a steady rise and fall. Sometimes they
seemed to be tiny points of extreme brilliancy--little electric
sparks in the black obscurity--then they would widen and widen
until all that corner of the room was filled with their shifting
and sinister light. And then suddenly they went out altogether.
The beast had closed its eyes. I do not know whether there may
be any truth in the old idea of the dominance of the human gaze, or
whether the huge cat was simply drowsy, but the fact remains that,
far from showing any symptom of attacking me, it simply rested its
sleek, black head upon its huge forepaws and seemed to sleep. I
stood, fearing to move lest I should rouse it into malignant life
once more. But at least I was able to think clearly now that the
baleful eyes were off me. Here I was shut up for the night with
the ferocious beast. My own instincts, to say nothing of the words
of the plausible villain who laid this trap for me, warned me that
the animal was as savage as its master. How could I stave it off
until morning? The door was hopeless, and so were the narrow,
barred windows. There was no shelter anywhere in the bare, stone-
flagged room. To cry for assistance was absurd. I knew that this
den was an outhouse, and that the corridor which connected it with
the house was at least a hundred feet long. Besides, with the gale
thundering outside, my cries were not likely to be heard. I had
only my own courage and my own wits to trust to.
And then, with a fresh wave of horror, my eyes fell upon the
lantern. The candle had burned low, and was already beginning to
gutter. In ten minutes it would be out. I had only ten minutes
then in which to do something, for I felt that if I were once left
in the dark with that fearful beast I should be incapable of
action. The very thought of it paralysed me. I cast my
despairing eyes round this chamber of death, and they rested upon
one spot which seemed to promise I will not say safety, but less
immediate and imminent danger than the open floor.
I have said that the cage had a top as well as a front, and
this top was left standing when the front was wound through the
slot in the wall. It consisted of bars at a few inches' interval,
with stout wire netting between, and it rested upon a strong
stanchion at each end. It stood now as a great barred canopy over
the crouching figure in the corner. The space between this iron
shelf and the roof may have been from two or three feet. If I
could only get up there, squeezed in between bars and ceiling, I
should have only one vulnerable side. I should be safe from below,
from behind, and from each side. Only on the open face of it could
I be attacked. There, it is true, I had no protection whatever;
but at least, I should be out of the brute's path when he began to
pace about his den. He would have to come out of his way to reach
me. It was now or never, for if once the light were out it would
be impossible. With a gulp in my throat I sprang up, seized the
iron edge of the top, and swung myself panting on to it. I writhed
in face downwards, and found myself looking straight into the
terrible eyes and yawning jaws of the cat. Its fetid breath came
up into my face like the steam from some foul pot.
It appeared, however, to be rather curious than angry. With a
sleek ripple of its long, black back it rose, stretched itself, and
then rearing itself on its hind legs, with one forepaw against the
wall, it raised the other, and drew its claws across the wire
meshes beneath me. One sharp, white hook tore through my
trousers--for I may mention that I was still in evening dress--and
dug a furrow in my knee. It was not meant as an attack, but rather
as an experiment, for upon my giving a sharp cry of pain he dropped
down again, and springing lightly into the room, he began walking
swiftly round it, looking up every now and again in my direction.
For my part I shuffled backwards until I lay with my back against
the wall, screwing myself into the smallest space possible. The
farther I got the more difficult it was for him to attack me.
He seemed more excited now that he had begun to move about, and
he ran swiftly and noiselessly round and round the den,
passing continually underneath the iron couch upon which I lay. It
was wonderful to see so great a bulk passing like a shadow, with
hardly the softest thudding of velvety pads. The candle was
burning low--so low that I could hardly see the creature. And
then, with a last flare and splutter it went out altogether. I was
alone with the cat in the dark!
It helps one to face a danger when one knows that one has done
all that possibly can be done. There is nothing for it then but to
quietly await the result. In this case, there was no chance of
safety anywhere except the precise spot where I was. I stretched
myself out, therefore, and lay silently, almost breathlessly,
hoping that the beast might forget my presence if I did nothing to
remind him. I reckoned that it must already be two o'clock. At
four it would be full dawn. I had not more than two hours to wait
Outside, the storm was still raging, and the rain lashed
continually against the little windows. Inside, the poisonous and
fetid air was overpowering. I could neither hear nor see the cat.
I tried to think about other things--but only one had power enough
to draw my mind from my terrible position. That was the
contemplation of my cousin's villainy, his unparalleled hypocrisy,
his malignant hatred of me. Beneath that cheerful face there
lurked the spirit of a mediaeval assassin. And as I thought of it
I saw more clearly how cunningly the thing had been arranged. He
had apparently gone to bed with the others. No doubt he had his
witness to prove it. Then, unknown to them, he had slipped down,
had lured me into his den and abandoned me. His story would be so
simple. He had left me to finish my cigar in the billiard-room.
I had gone down on my own account to have a last look at the cat.
I had entered the room without observing that the cage was opened,
and I had been caught. How could such a crime be brought home to
him? Suspicion, perhaps--but proof, never!
How slowly those dreadful two hours went by! Once I heard a
low, rasping sound, which I took to be the creature licking its own
fur. Several times those greenish eyes gleamed at me through the
darkness, but never in a fixed stare, and my hopes grew stronger
that my presence had been forgotten or ignored. At last the least
faint glimmer of light came through the windows--I first dimly
saw them as two grey squares upon the black wall, then grey turned
to white, and I could see my terrible companion once more. And he,
alas, could see me!
It was evident to me at once that he was in a much more
dangerous and aggressive mood than when I had seen him last. The
cold of the morning had irritated him, and he was hungry as well.
With a continual growl he paced swiftly up and down the side of the
room which was farthest from my refuge, his whiskers bristling
angrily, and his tail switching and lashing. As he turned at the
corners his savage eyes always looked upwards at me with a dreadful
menace. I knew then that he meant to kill me. Yet I found myself
even at that moment admiring the sinuous grace of the devilish
thing, its long, undulating, rippling movements, the gloss of its
beautiful flanks, the vivid, palpitating scarlet of the glistening
tongue which hung from the jet-black muzzle. And all the time that
deep, threatening growl was rising and rising in an unbroken
crescendo. I knew that the crisis was at hand.
It was a miserable hour to meet such a death--so cold, so
comfortless, shivering in my light dress clothes upon this gridiron
of torment upon which I was stretched. I tried to brace myself
to it, to raise my soul above it, and at the same time, with the
lucidity which comes to a perfectly desperate man, I cast round for
some possible means of escape. One thing was clear to me. If that
front of the cage was only back in its position once more, I could
find a sure refuge behind it. Could I possibly pull it back? I
hardly dared to move for fear of bringing the creature upon me.
Slowly, very slowly, I put my hand forward until it grasped the
edge of the front, the final bar which protruded through the wall.
To my surprise it came quite easily to my jerk. Of course the
difficulty of drawing it out arose from the fact that I was
clinging to it. I pulled again, and three inches of it came
through. It ran apparently on wheels. I pulled again . . . and
then the cat sprang!
It was so quick, so sudden, that I never saw it happen. I
simply heard the savage snarl, and in an instant afterwards the
blazing yellow eyes, the flattened black head with its red tongue
and flashing teeth, were within reach of me. The impact of the
creature shook the bars upon which I lay, until I thought (as far
as I could think of anything at such a moment) that they were
coming down. The cat swayed there for an instant, the head
and front paws quite close to me, the hind paws clawing to find a
grip upon the edge of the grating. I heard the claws rasping as
they clung to the wire-netting, and the breath of the beast made me
sick. But its bound had been miscalculated. It could not retain
its position. Slowly, grinning with rage, and scratching madly at
the bars, it swung backwards and dropped heavily upon the floor.
With a growl it instantly faced round to me and crouched for
I knew that the next few moments would decide my fate. The
creature had learned by experience. It would not miscalculate
again. I must act promptly, fearlessly, if I were to have a chance
for life. In an instant I had formed my plan. Pulling off my
dress-coat, I threw it down over the head of the beast. At the
same moment I dropped over the edge, seized the end of the front
grating, and pulled it frantically out of the wall.
It came more easily than I could have expected. I rushed
across the room, bearing it with me; but, as I rushed, the accident
of my position put me upon the outer side. Had it been the other
way, I might have come off scathless. As it was, there was a
moment's pause as I stopped it and tried to pass in through the
opening which I had left. That moment was enough to give time to
the creature to toss off the coat with which I had blinded him and
to spring upon me. I hurled myself through the gap and pulled the
rails to behind me, but he seized my leg before I could entirely
withdraw it. One stroke of that huge paw tore off my calf as a
shaving of wood curls off before a plane. The next moment,
bleeding and fainting, I was lying among the foul straw with a line
of friendly bars between me and the creature which ramped so
frantically against them.
Too wounded to move, and too faint to be conscious of fear, I
could only lie, more dead than alive, and watch it. It pressed its
broad, black chest against the bars and angled for me with its
crooked paws as I have seen a kitten do before a mouse-trap. It
ripped my clothes, but, stretch as it would, it could not quite
reach me. I have heard of the curious numbing effect produced by
wounds from the great carnivora, and now I was destined to
experience it, for I had lost all sense of personality, and was as
interested in the cat's failure or success as if it were some
game which I was watching. And then gradually my mind drifted away
into strange vague dreams, always with that black face and red
tongue coming back into them, and so I lost myself in the nirvana
of delirium, the blessed relief of those who are too sorely tried.
Tracing the course of events afterwards, I conclude that I must
have been insensible for about two hours. What roused me to
consciousness once more was that sharp metallic click which had
been the precursor of my terrible experience. It was the shooting
back of the spring lock. Then, before my senses were clear enough
to entirely apprehend what they saw, I was aware of the round,
benevolent face of my cousin peering in through the open door.
What he saw evidently amazed him. There was the cat crouching on
the floor. I was stretched upon my back in my shirt-sleeves within
the cage, my trousers torn to ribbons and a great pool of blood all
round me. I can see his amazed face now, with the morning sunlight
upon it. He peered at me, and peered again. Then he closed the
door behind him, and advanced to the cage to see if I were really
I cannot undertake to say what happened. I was not in a fit
state to witness or to chronicle such events. I can only say that
I was suddenly conscious that his face was away from me--that he
was looking towards the animal.
"Good old Tommy!" he cried. "Good old Tommy!"
Then he came near the bars, with his back still towards me.
"Down, you stupid beast!" he roared. "Down, sir! Don't you
know your master?"
Suddenly even in my bemuddled brain a remembrance came of those
words of his when he had said that the taste of blood would turn
the cat into a fiend. My blood had done it, but he was to pay the
"Get away!" he screamed. "Get away, you devil! Baldwin!
Baldwin! Oh, my God!"
And then I heard him fall, and rise, and fall again, with a
sound like the ripping of sacking. His screams grew fainter until
they were lost in the worrying snarl. And then, after I thought
that he was dead, I saw, as in a nightmare, a blinded, tattered,
blood-soaked figure running wildly round the room--and
that was the last glimpse which I had of him before I fainted once
I was many months in my recovery--in fact, I cannot say that I
have ever recovered, for to the end of my days I shall carry a
stick as a sign of my night with the Brazilian cat. Baldwin, the
groom, and the other servants could not tell what had occurred,
when, drawn by the death-cries of their master, they found me
behind the bars, and his remains--or what they afterwards
discovered to be his remains--in the clutch of the creature which
he had reared. They stalled him off with hot irons, and afterwards
shot him through the loophole of the door before they could finally
extricate me. I was carried to my bedroom, and there, under the
roof of my would-be murderer, I remained between life and death for
several weeks. They had sent for a surgeon from Clipton and a
nurse from London, and in a month I was able to be carried to the
station, and so conveyed back once more to Grosvenor Mansions.
I have one remembrance of that illness, which might have been
part of the ever-changing panorama conjured up by a delirious brain
were it not so definitely fixed in my memory. One night, when the
nurse was absent, the door of my chamber opened, and a tall woman
in blackest mourning slipped into the room. She came across to me,
and as she bent her sallow face I saw by the faint gleam of the
night-light that it was the Brazilian woman whom my cousin had
married. She stared intently into my face, and her expression was
more kindly than I had ever seen it.
"Are you conscious?" she asked.
I feebly nodded--for I was still very weak.
"Well; then, I only wished to say to you that you have yourself
to blame. Did I not do all I could for you? From the beginning I
tried to drive you from the house. By every means, short of
betraying my husband, I tried to save you from him. I knew that he
had a reason for bringing you here. I knew that he would never let
you get away again. No one knew him as I knew him, who had
suffered from him so often. I did not dare to tell you all this.
He would have killed me. But I did my best for you. As
things have turned out, you have been the best friend that I
have ever had. You have set me free, and I fancied that nothing
but death would do that. I am sorry if you are hurt, but I cannot
reproach myself. I told you that you were a fool--and a fool you
have been." She crept out of the room, the bitter, singular woman,
and I was never destined to see her again. With what remained from
her husband's property she went back to her native land, and I have
heard that she afterwards took the veil at Pernambuco.
It was not until I had been back in London for some time that
the doctors pronounced me to be well enough to do business. It was
not a very welcome permission to me, for I feared that it would be
the signal for an inrush of creditors; but it was Summers, my
lawyer, who first took advantage of it.
"I am very glad to see that your lordship is so much better,"
said he. "I have been waiting a long time to offer my
"What do you mean, Summers? This is no time for joking."
"I mean what I say," he answered. "You have been Lord
Southerton for the last six weeks, but we feared that it would
retard your recovery if you were to learn it."
Lord Southerton! One of the richest peers in England! I could
not believe my ears. And then suddenly I thought of the time which
had elapsed, and how it coincided with my injuries.
"Then Lord Southerton must have died about the same time that
I was hurt?"
"His death occurred upon that very day." Summers looked hard
at me as I spoke, and I am convinced--for he was a very shrewd
fellow--that he had guessed the true state of the case. He paused
for a moment as if awaiting a confidence from me, but I could not
see what was to be gained by exposing such a family scandal.
"Yes, a very curious coincidence," he continued, with the same
knowing look. "Of course, you are aware that your cousin Everard
King was the next heir to the estates. Now, if it had been you
instead of him who had been torn to pieces by this tiger, or
whatever it was, then of course he would have been Lord Southerton
at the present moment."
"No doubt," said I.
"And he took such an interest in it," said Summers. "I happen
to know that the late Lord Southerton's valet was in his pay, and
that he used to have telegrams from him every few hours to tell him
how he was getting on. That would be about the time when you were
down there. Was it not strange that he should wish to be so well
informed, since he knew that he was not the direct heir?"
"Very strange," said I. "And now, Summers, if you will bring
me my bills and a new cheque-book, we will begin to get things into
Tales of Mystery
The Lost Special
The confession of Herbert de Lernac, now lying under sentence of
death at Marseilles, has thrown a light upon one of the most
inexplicable crimes of the century--an incident which is, I
believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any
country: Although there is a reluctance to discuss the matter in
official circles, and little information has been given to the
Press, there are still indications that the statement of this
arch-criminal is corroborated by the facts, and that we have at
last found a solution for a most astounding business. As the
matter is eight years old, and as its importance was somewhat
obscured by a political crisis which was engaging the public
attention at the time, it may be as well to state the facts as
far as we have been able to ascertain them. They are collated
from the Liverpool papers of that date, from the proceedings at
the inquest upon John Slater, the engine-driver, and from the
records of the London and West Coast Railway Company, which
have been courteously put at my disposal. Briefly, they are as
On the 3rd of June, 1890, a gentleman, who gave his name as
Monsieur Louis Caratal, desired an interview with Mr. James Bland,
the superintendent of the London and West Coast Central Station in
Liverpool. He was a small man, middle-aged and dark, with a stoop
which was so marked that it suggested some deformity of the spine.
He was accompanied by a friend, a man of imposing physique, whose
deferential manner and constant attention showed that his position
was one of dependence. This friend or companion, whose name did
not transpire, was certainly a foreigner, and probably from his
swarthy complexion, either a Spaniard or a South American. One
peculiarity was observed in him. He carried in his left hand a
small black, leather dispatch box, and it was noticed by a sharp-
eyed clerk in the Central office that this box was fastened to
his wrist by a strap. No importance was attached to the fact at
the time, but subsequent events endowed it with some significance.
Monsieur Caratal was shown up to Mr. Bland's office, while his
companion remained outside.
Monsieur Caratal's business was quickly dispatched. He had
arrived that afternoon from Central America. Affairs of the utmost
importance demanded that he should be in Paris without the loss of
an unnecessary hour. He had missed the London express. A special
must be provided. Money was of no importance. Time was
everything. If the company would speed him on his way, they might
make their own terms.
Mr. Bland struck the electric bell, summoned Mr. Potter Hood,
the traffic manager, and had the matter arranged in five minutes.
The train would start in three-quarters of an hour. It would take
that time to insure that the line should be clear. The powerful
engine called Rochdale (No. 247 on the company's register) was
attached to two carriages, with a guard's van behind. The first
carriage was solely for the purpose of decreasing the inconvenience
arising from the oscillation. The second was divided, as usual,
into four compartments, a first-class, a first-class smoking, a
second-class, and a second-class smoking. The first compartment,
which was nearest to the engine, was the one allotted to the
travellers. The other three were empty. The guard of the special
train was James McPherson, who had been some years in the service
of the company. The stoker, William Smith, was a new hand.
Monsieur Caratal, upon leaving the superintendent's office,
rejoined his companion, and both of them manifested extreme
impatience to be off. Having paid the money asked, which amounted
to fifty pounds five shillings, at the usual special rate of five
shillings a mile, they demanded to be shown the carriage, and at
once took their seats in it, although they were assured that the
better part of an hour must elapse before the line could be
cleared. In the meantime a singular coincidence had occurred in
the office which Monsieur Caratal had just quitted.
A request for a special is not a very uncommon circumstance in
a rich commercial centre, but that two should be required upon the
same afternoon was most unusual. It so happened, however,
that Mr. Bland had hardly dismissed the first traveller before a
second entered with a similar request. This was a Mr. Horace
Moore, a gentlemanly man of military appearance, who alleged that
the sudden serious illness of his wife in London made it absolutely
imperative that he should not lose an instant in starting upon the
journey. His distress and anxiety were so evident that Mr. Bland
did all that was possible to meet his wishes. A second special was
out of the question, as the ordinary local service was already
somewhat deranged by the first. There was the alternative,
however, that Mr. Moore should share the expense of Monsieur
Caratal's train, and should travel in the other empty first-class
compartment, if Monsieur Caratal objected to having him in the one
which he occupied. It was difficult to see any objection to such
an arrangement, and yet Monsieur Caratal, upon the suggestion being
made to him by Mr. Potter Hood, absolutely refused to consider it
for an instant. The train was his, he said, and he would insist
upon the exclusive use of it. All argument failed to overcome his
ungracious objections, and finally the plan had to be abandoned.
Mr. Horace Moore left the station in great distress, after learning
that his only course was to take the ordinary slow train which
leaves Liverpool at six o'clock. At four thirty-one exactly by the
station clock the special train, containing the crippled Monsieur
Caratal and his gigantic companion, steamed out of the Liverpool
station. The line was at that time clear, and there should have
been no stoppage before Manchester.
The trains of the London and West Coast Railway run over the
lines of another company as far as this town, which should have
been reached by the special rather before six o'clock. At a
quarter after six considerable surprise and some consternation were
caused amongst the officials at Liverpool by the receipt of a
telegram from Manchester to say that it had not yet arrived. An
inquiry directed to St. Helens, which is a third of the way between
the two cities, elicited the following reply--
"To James Bland, Superintendent, Central L. & W. C.,
Liverpool.--Special passed here at 4:52, well up to time.--Dowster,
This telegram was received at six-forty. At six-fifty a second
message was received from Manchester--
"No sign of special as advised by you."
And then ten minutes later a third, more bewildering--
"Presume some mistake as to proposed running of special. Local
train from St. Helens timed to follow it has just arrived and has
seen nothing of it. Kindly wire advices.--Manchester."
The matter was assuming a most amazing aspect, although in some
respects the last telegram was a relief to the authorities at
Liverpool. If an accident had occurred to the special, it seemed
hardly possible that the local train could have passed down the