Part 4 out of 4
Was not that Mr. Adam Wilson who left you this moment?" His manner was
subdued, but his questioning eyes and compressed lips told of a deeper
and more furious jealousy than that of his rival.
"Yes. It was Mr. Adam Wilson." There was something about Mason, a
certain concentration of manner, which made it impossible for the girl
to treat him lightly as she had done the other.
"I have noticed him here several times lately."
"Yes. He is head foreman, you know, at the big quarry."
"Oh, indeed. He is fond of your society, Miss Foster. I can't blame
him for that, can I, since I am equally so myself. But I should like to
come to some understanding with you. You cannot have misunderstood what
my feelings are to you? I am in a position to offer you a comfortable
home. Will you be my wife, Miss Foster?"
Dolly would have liked to make some jesting reply, but it was hard to be
funny with those two eager, fiery eyes fixed so intently upon her own.
She began to walk slowly towards the house, while he paced along beside
her, still waiting for his answer.
"You must give me a little time, Mr. Mason," she said at last.
"'Marry in haste,' they say, 'and repent at leisure.'"
"But you shall never have cause to repent."
"I don't know. One hears such things."
"You shall be the happiest woman in England."
"That sounds very nice. You are a poet, Mr. Mason, are you not?"
"I am a lover of poetry."
"And poets are fond of flowers?"
"I am very fond of flowers."
"Then perhaps you know something of these?" She took out the humble
little sprig, and held it out to him with an arch questioning glance.
He took it and pressed it to his lips.
"I know that it has been near you, where I should wish to be," said he.
"Good evening, Mr. Mason!" It was Mrs. Foster who had come out to meet
them. "Where's Mr.----? Oh--ah! Yes, of course. The teapot's on the
table, and you'd best come in afore it's over-drawn."
When Elias Mason left the farmhouse that evening, he drew Dolly aside at
"I won't be able to come before Saturday," said he.
"We shall be glad to see you, Mr. Mason."
"I shall want my answer then."
"Oh, I cannot give any promise, you know."
"But I shall live in hope."
"Well, no one can prevent you from doing that." As she came to realize
her power over him she had lost something of her fear, and could answer
him now nearly as freely as if he were simple Adam Wilson.
She stood at the door, leaning against the wooden porch, with the long
trailers of the honeysuckle framing her tall, slight figure. The great
red sun was low in the west, its upper rim peeping over the low hills,
shooting long, dark shadows from the beech-tree in the field, from the
little group of tawny cows, and from the man who walked away from her.
She smiled to see how immense the legs were, and how tiny the body in
the great flat giant which kept pace beside him. In front of her in the
little garden the bees droned, a belated butterfly or an early moth
fluttered slowly over the flower-beds, a thousand little creatures
buzzed and hummed, all busy working out their tiny destinies, as she,
too, was working out hers, and each doubtless looking upon their own
as the central point of the universe. A few months for the gnat, a few
years for the girl, but each was happy now in the heavy summer air.
A beetle scuttled out upon the gravel path and bored onwards, its six
legs all working hard, butting up against stones, upsetting itself on
ridges, but still gathering itself up and rushing onwards to some
all-important appointment somewhere in the grass plot. A bat fluttered
up from behind the beech-tree. A breath of night air sighed softly over
the hillside with a little tinge of the chill sea spray in its coolness.
Dolly Foster shivered, and had turned to go in when her mother came out
from the passage.
"Whatever is that Bill doing there?" she cried.
Dolly looked, and saw for the first time that the nameless farm-labourer
was crouching under the beech, his browns and yellows blending with the
bark behind him.
"You go out o' that, Bill!" screamed the farmer's wife.
"What be I to do?" he asked humbly, slouching forward.
"Go, cut chaff in the barn." He nodded and strolled away, a comical
figure in his mud-crusted boots, his strap-tied corduroys and his
"Well, then, you've taken Elias," said the mother, passing her hand
round her daughter's waist. "I seed him a-kissing your flower.
Well, I'm sorry for Adam, for he is a well-grown young man, a proper
young man, blue ribbon, with money in the Post Office. Still some one
must suffer, else how could we be purified. If the milk's left alone it
won't ever turn into butter. It wants troubling and stirring and
churning. That's what we want, too, before we can turn angels. It's
just the same as butter."
Dolly laughed. "I have not taken Elias yet," said she.
"No? What about Adam then?"
"Nor him either."
"Oh, Dolly girl, can you not take advice from them that is older.
I tell you again that you'll lose them both."
"No, no, mother. Don't you fret yourself. It's all right. But you can
see how hard it is. I like Elias, for he can speak so well, and is so
sure and masterful. And I like Adam because--well, because I know very
well that Adam loves me."
"Well, bless my heart, you can't marry them both. You'd like all the
pears in the basket."
"No, mother, but I know how to choose. You see this bit of a flower,
"It's a common dog-rose."
"Well, where d'you think I found it?"
"In the hedge likely."
"No, but on my window-ledge."
"Oh, but when?"
"This morning. It was six when I got up, and there it lay fresh and
sweet, and new-plucked. 'Twas the same yesterday and the day before.
Every morning there it lies. It's a common flower, as you say, mother,
but it is not so common to find a man who'll break short his sleep day
after day just to show a girl that the thought of her is in his heart."
"And which was it?"
"Ah, if I knew! I think it's Elias. He's a poet, you know, and poets
do nice things like that."
"And how will you be sure?"
"I'll know before morning. He will come again, whichever it is.
And whichever it is he's the man for me. Did father ever do that for
you before you married?"
"I can't say he did, dear. But father was always a powerful heavy
"Well then, mother, you needn't fret any more about me, for as sure as I
stand here, I'll tell you to-morrow which of them it is to be."
That evening the farmer's daughter set herself to clearing off all those
odd jobs which accumulate in a large household. She polished the dark,
old-fashioned furniture in the sitting-room. She cleared out the
cellar, re-arranged the bins, counted up the cider, made a great
cauldron full of raspberry jam, potted, papered, and labelled it.
Long after the whole household was in bed she pushed on with her
self-imposed tasks until the night was far gone and she very spent and
weary. Then she stirred up the smouldering kitchen fire and made
herself a cup of tea, and, carrying it up to her own room, she sat
sipping it and glancing over an old bound volume of the _Leisure Hour_.
Her seat was behind the little dimity window curtains, whence she could
see without being seen.
The morning had broken, and a brisk wind had sprung up with the dawn.
The sky was of the lightest, palest blue, with a scud of flying white
clouds shredded out over the face of it, dividing, coalescing,
overtaking one another, but sweeping ever from the pink of the east to
the still shadowy west. The high, eager voice of the wind whistled and
sang outside, rising from moan to shriek, and then sinking again to a
dull mutter and grumble. Dolly rose to wrap her shawl around her, and
as she sat down again in an instant her doubts were resolved, and she
had seen that for which she had waited.
Her window faced the inner yard, and was some eight feet from the
ground. A man standing beneath it could not be seen from above.
But she saw enough to tell her all that she wished to know. Silently,
suddenly, a hand had appeared from below, had laid a sprig of flower
upon her ledge, and had disappeared. It did not take two seconds; she
saw no face, she heard no sound, but she had seen the hand and she
wanted nothing more. With a smile she threw herself upon the bed, drew
a rug over her, and dropped into a heavy slumber.
She was awakened by her mother plucking at her shoulder.
"It's breakfast time, Dolly, but I thought you would be weary, so I
brought you lip some bread and coffee. Sit up, like a dearie, and take
"All right, mother. Thank you. I'm all dressed, so I'll be ready to
come down soon."
"Bless the gal, she's never had her things off! And, dearie me, here's
the flower outside the window, sure enough! Well, and did you see who
put it there?"
"Yes, I did."
"Who was it then?"
"It was Adam."
"Was it now? Well, I shouldn't have thought that he had it in him.
Then Adam it's to be. Well, he's steady, and that's better than being
clever, yea, seven-and-seventy fold. Did he come across the yard?"
"No, along by the wall."
"How did you see him then?"
"I didn't see him."
"Then how can you tell?"
"I saw his hand."
"But d'you tell me you know Adam's hand?"
"It would be a blind man that couldn't tell it from Elias' hand.
Why, the one is as brown as that coffee, and the other as white as the
cup, with great blue veins all over it."
"Well, now I shouldn't have thought of it, but so it is. Well, it'll be
a busy day, Dolly. Just hark to the wind!"
It had, indeed, increased during the few hours since dawn to a very
violent tempest. The panes of the window rattled and shook. Glancing
out, Dolly saw cabbage leaves and straw whirling up past the casement.
"The great hayrick is giving. They're all out trying to prop it up.
My, but it do blow!"
It did indeed! When Dolly came downstairs it was all that she could do
to push her way through the porch. All along the horizon the sky was
brassy-yellow, but above the wind screamed and stormed, and the torn,
hurrying clouds were now huddled together, and now frayed off into
countless tattered streamers. In the field near the house her father
and three or four labourers were working with poles and ropes, hatless,
their hair and beards flying, staving up a great bulging hayrick.
Dolly watched them for a moment, and then, stooping her head and
rounding her shoulders, with one hand up to her little black straw hat,
she staggered off across the fields.
Adam Wilson was at work always on a particular part of the hillside, and
hither it was that she bent her steps. He saw the trim, dapper figure,
with its flying skirts and hat-ribbons, and he came forward to meet her
with a great white crowbar in his hand. He walked slowly, however, and
his eyes were downcast, with the air of a man who still treasures a
"Good mornin', Miss Foster."
"Good morning, Mr. Wilson. Oh, if you are going to be cross with me,
I'd best go home again."
"I'm not cross, Miss Foster. I take it very kindly that you should come
out this way on such a day."
"I wanted to say to you--I wanted to say that I was sorry if I made you
angry yesterday. I didn't mean to make fun. I didn't, indeed. It is
only my way of talking. It was so good of you, so noble of you, to let
it make no difference."
"None at all, Dolly." He was quite radiant again. "If I didn't love
you so, I wouldn't mind what that other chap said or did. And if I
could only think that you cared more for me than for him--"
"I do, Adam."
"God bless you for saying so! You've lightened my heart, Dolly. I have
to go to Portsmouth for the firm today. To-morrow night I'll come and
"Very well, Adam, I--Oh, my God, what's that!"
A rending breaking noise in the distance, a dull rumble, and a burst of
shouts and cries.
"The rick's down! There's been an accident!" They both started running
down the hill.
"Father!" panted the girl, "father!"
"He's all right!" shouted her companion, "I can see him. But there's
some one down. They're lifting him now. And here's one running like
mad for the doctor."
A farm-labourer came rushing wildly up the lane. "Don't you go,
Missey," he cried. "A man's hurt."
"It's Bill. The rick came down and the ridge-pole caught him across the
back. He's dead, I think. Leastwise, there's not much life in him.
I'm off for Doctor Strong!" He bent his shoulder to the wind, and
lumbered off down the road.
"Poor Bill! Thank God it wasn't father!" They were at the edge of the
field now in which the accident had taken place. The rick lay, a
shapeless mound upon the earth, with a long thick pole protruding from
it, which had formerly supported the tarpaulin drawn across it in case
of rain. Four men were walking slowly away, one shoulder humped, one
hanging, and betwixt them they bore a formless clay-coloured bundle.
He might have been a clod of the earth that he tilled, so passive, so
silent, still brown, for death itself could not have taken the burn from
his skin, but with patient, bovine eyes looking out heavily from under
half-closed lids. He breathed jerkily, but he neither cried out nor
groaned. There was something almost brutal and inhuman in his absolute
stolidity. He asked no sympathy, for his life had been without it.
It was a broken tool rather than an injured man.
"Can I do anything, father?"
"No, lass, no. This is no place for you. I've sent for the doctor.
He'll be here soon."
"But where are they taking him?"
"To the loft where be sleeps."
"I'm sure he's welcome to my room, father."
"No, no, lass. Better leave it alone."
But the little group were passing as they spoke, and the injured lad had
heard the girl's words.
"Thank ye kindly, Missey," he murmured, with a little flicker of life,
and then sank back again into his stolidity and his silence.
Well, a farm hand is a useful thing, but what is a man to do with one
who has an injured spine and half his ribs smashed. Farmer Foster shook
his head and scratched his chin as he listened to the doctor's report.
"He can't get better?"
"Then we had better move him."
"To the work'us hospital. He came from there just this time eleven
years. It'll be like going home to him."
"I fear that he is going home," said the doctor gravely. "But it's out
of the question to move him now. He must lie where he is for better or
And it certainly looked for worse rather than for better. In a little
loft above the stable he was stretched upon a tiny blue pallet which lay
upon the planks. Above were the gaunt rafters, hung with saddles,
harness, old scythe blades--the hundred things which droop, like bats,
from inside such buildings. Beneath them upon two pegs hung his own
pitiable wardrobe, the blue shirt and the grey, the stained trousers,
and the muddy coat. A gaunt chaff-cutting machine stood at his head,
and a great bin of the chaff behind it. He lay very quiet, still dumb,
still uncomplaining, his eyes fixed upon the small square window looking
out at the drifting sky, and at this strange world which God has made so
queerly--so very queerly.
An old woman, the wife of a labourer, had been set to nurse him, for the
doctor had said that he was not to be left. She moved about the room,
arranging and ordering, grumbling to herself from time to time at this
lonely task which had been assigned to her. There were some flowers in
broken jars upon a cross-beam, and these, with a touch of tenderness,
she carried over and arranged upon a deal packing-case beside the
patient's head. He lay motionless, and as he breathed there came a
gritty rubbing sound from somewhere in his side, but he followed his
companion about with his eyes and even smiled once as she grouped the
flowers round him.
He smiled again when he heard that Mrs. Foster and her daughter had been
to ask after him that evening. They had been down to the Post Office
together, where Dolly had sent off a letter which she had very carefully
drawn up, addressed to Elias Mason, Esq., and explaining to that
gentleman that she had formed her plans for life, and that he need
spare himself the pain of coming for his answer on the Saturday.
As they came back they stopped in the stable and inquired through the
loft door as to the sufferer. From where they stood they could hear
that horrible grating sound in his breathing. Dolly hurried away with
her face quite pale under her freckles. She was too young to face the
horrid details of suffering, and yet she was a year older than this poor
waif, who lay in silence, facing death itself.
All night he lay very quiet--so quiet that were it not for that one
sinister sound his nurse might have doubted whether life was still in
him. She had watched him and tended him as well as she might, but she
was herself feeble and old, and just as the morning light began to steal
palely through the small loft window, she sank back in her chair in a
dreamless sleep. Two hours passed, and the first voices of the men as
they gathered for their work aroused her. She sprang to her feet.
Great heaven! the pallet was empty. She rushed down into the stables,
distracted, wringing her hands. There was no sign of him. But the
stable door was open. He must have walked-but how could he walk?--he
must have crawled--have writhed that way. Out she rushed, and as they
heard her tale, the newly risen labourers ran with her, until the farmer
with his wife and daughter were called from their breakfast by the
bustle, and joined also in this strange chase. A whoop, a cry, and they
were drawn round to the corner of the yard on which Miss Dolly's window
opened. There he lay within a few yards of the window, his face upon
the stones, his feet thrusting out from his tattered night-gown, and
his track marked by the blood from his wounded knees. One hand was
thrown out before him, and in it he held a little sprig of the pink
They carried him back, cold and stiff, to the pallet in the loft, and
the old nurse drew the sheet over him and left him, for there was no
need to watch him now. The girl had gone to her room, and her mother
followed her thither, all unnerved by this glimpse of death.
"And to think," said she, "that it was only _him_, after all."
But Dolly sat at the side of her bed, and sobbed bitterly in her apron.
So long as the oceans are the ligaments which bind together the great
broad-cast British Empire, so long will there be a dash of romance in
our minds. For the soul is swayed by the waters, as the waters are
by the moon, and when the great highways of an empire are along such
roads as these, so full of strange sights and sounds, with danger ever
running like a hedge on either side of the course, it is a dull mind
indeed which does not bear away with it some trace of such a passage.
And now, Britain lies far beyond herself, for the three-mile limit of
every seaboard is her frontier, which has been won by hammer and loom
and pick rather than by arts of war. For it is written in history that
neither king nor army can bar the path to the man who having twopence in
his strong box, and knowing well where he can turn it to threepence,
sets his mind to that one end. And as the frontier has broadened, the
mind of Britain has broadened too, spreading out until all men can see
that the ways of the island are continental, even as those of the
Continent are insular.
But for this a price must be paid, and the price is a grievous one.
As the beast of old must have one young human life as a tribute every
year, so to our Empire we throw from day to day the pick and flower of
our youth. The engine is world-wide and strong, but the only fuel that
will drive it is the lives of British men. Thus it is that in the grey
old cathedrals, as we look round upon the brasses on the walls, we see
strange names, such names as they who reared those walls had never
heard, for it is in Peshawar, and Umballah, and Korti and Fort Pearson
that the youngsters die, leaving only a precedent and a brass behind
them. But if every man had his obelisk, even where he lay, then no
frontier line need be drawn, for a cordon of British graves would ever
show how high the Anglo-Celtic tide had lapped.
This, then, as well as the waters which join us to the world, has done
something to tinge us with romance. For when so many have their loved
ones over the seas, walking amid hillmen's bullets, or swamp malaria,
where death is sudden and distance great, then mind communes with mind,
and strange stories arise of dream, presentiment or vision, where
the mother sees her dying son, and is past the first bitterness of her
grief ere the message comes which should have broken the news.
The learned have of late looked into the matter and have even labelled
it with a name; but what can we know more of it save that a poor
stricken soul, when hard-pressed and driven, can shoot across the earth
some ten-thousand-mile-distant picture of its trouble to the mind which
is most akin to it. Far be it from me to say that there lies no such
power within us, for of all things which the brain will grasp the last
will be itself; but yet it is well to be very cautious over such
matters, for once at least I have known that which was within the laws
of nature seem to be far upon the further side of them.
John Vansittart was the younger partner of the firm of Hudson and
Vansittart, coffee exporters of the Island of Ceylon, three-quarters
Dutchman by descent, but wholly English in his sympathies. For years I
had been his agent in London, and when in '72 he came over to England
for a three months' holiday, he turned to me for the introductions which
would enable him to see something of town and country life. Armed with
seven letters he left my offices, and for many weeks scrappy notes from
different parts of the country let me know that he had found favour in
the eyes of my friends. Then came word of his engagement to Emily
Lawson, of a cadet branch of the Hereford Lawsons, and at the very tail
of the first flying rumour the news of his absolute marriage, for the
wooing of a wanderer must be short, and the days were already crowding
on towards the date when he must be upon his homeward journey. They
were to return together to Colombo in one of the firm's own thousand-ton
barque-rigged sailing ships, and this was to be their princely
honeymoon, at once a necessity and a delight.
Those were the royal days of coffee-planting in Ceylon, before a single
season and a rotten fungus drove a whole community through years of
despair to one of the greatest commercial victories which pluck and
ingenuity ever won. Not often is it that men have the heart when their
one great industry is withered to rear up in a few years another as rich
to take its place, and the tea-fields of Ceylon are as true a monument
to courage as is the lion at Waterloo. But in '72 there was no cloud
yet above the skyline, and the hopes of the planters were as high and as
bright as the hillsides on which they reared their crops. Vansittart
came down to London with his young and beautiful wife. I was
introduced, dined with them, and it was finally arranged that I, since
business called me also to Ceylon, should be a fellow-passenger with
them on the _Eastern Star_, which was timed to sail on the following
It was on the Sunday evening that I saw him again. He was shown up into
my rooms about nine o'clock at night, with the air of a man who is
bothered and out of sorts. His hand, as I shook it, was hot and dry.
"I wish, Atkinson," said he, "that you could give me a little lime juice
and water. I have a beastly thirst upon me, and the more I take the
more I seem to want."
I rang and ordered a carafe and glasses. "You are flushed," said I.
"You don't look the thing."
"No, I'm clean off colour. Got a touch of rheumatism in my back, and
don't seem to taste my food. It is this vile London that is choking me.
I'm not used to breathing air which has been used up by four million
lungs all sucking away on every side of you." He flapped his crooked
hands before his face, like a man who really struggles for his breath.
"A touch of the sea will soon set you right."
"Yes, I'm of one mind with you there. That's the thing for me. I want
no other doctor. If I don't get to sea to-morrow I'll have an illness.
There are no two ways about it." He drank off a tumbler of lime juice,
and clapped his two hands with his knuckles doubled up into the small of
"That seems to ease me," said he, looking at me with a filmy eye.
"Now I want your help, Atkinson, for I am rather awkwardly placed."
"This way. My wife's mother got ill and wired for her. I couldn't
go--you know best yourself how tied I have been--so she had to go alone.
Now I've had another wire to say that she can't come to-morrow, but that
she will pick up the ship at Falmouth on Wednesday. We put in there,
you know, and in, though I count it hard, Atkinson, that a man should be
asked to believe in a mystery, and cursed if he can't do it. Cursed,
mind you, no less." He leaned forward and began to draw a catchy breath
like a man who is poised on the very edge of a sob.
Then first it came to my mind that I had heard much of the hard-drinking
life of the island, and that from brandy came those wild words and
fevered hands. The flushed cheek and the glazing eye were those of one
whose drink is strong upon him. Sad it was to see so noble a young man
in the grip of that most bestial of all the devils.
"You should lie down," I said, with some severity.
He screwed up his eyes like a man who is striving to wake himself, and
looked up with an air of surprise.
"So I shall presently," said he, quite rationally. "I felt quite swimmy
just now, but I am my own man again now. Let me see, what was I talking
about? Oh ah, of course, about the wife. She joins the ship at
Falmouth. Now I want to go round by water. I believe my health depends
upon it. I just want a little clean first-lung air to set me on my feet
again. I ask you, like a good fellow, to go to Falmouth by rail, so
that in case we should be late you may be there to look after the wife.
Put up at the Royal Hotel, and I will wire her that you are there.
Her sister will bring her down, so that it will be all plain sailing."
"I'll do it with pleasure," said I. "In fact, I would rather go by
rail, for we shall have enough and to spare of the sea before we reach
Colombo. I believe too that you badly need a change. Now, I should go
and turn in, if I were you."
"Yes, I will. I sleep aboard tonight. You know," he continued, as the
film settled down again over his eyes, "I've not slept well the last few
nights. I've been troubled with theolololog--that is to say,
theolological--hang it," with a desperate effort, "with the doubts of
theolologicians. Wondering why the Almighty made us, you know, and why
He made our heads swimmy, and fixed little pains into the small of our
backs. Maybe I'll do better tonight." He rose and steadied himself with
an effort against the corner of the chair back.
"Look here, Vansittart," said I, gravely, stepping up to him, and laying
my hand upon his sleeve, "I can give you a shakedown here. You are not
fit to go out. You are all over the place. You've been mixing your
"Drinks!" He stared at me stupidly.
"You used to carry your liquor better than this."
"I give you my word, Atkinson, that I have not had a drain for two days.
It's not drink. I don't know what it is. I suppose you think this is
drink." He took up my hand in his burning grasp, and passed it over his
"Great Lord!" said I.
His skin felt like a thin sheet of velvet beneath which lies a
close-packed layer of small shot. It was smooth to the touch at any one
place, but to a finger passed along it, rough as a nutmeg grater.
"It's all right," said he, smiling at my startled face. "I've had the
prickly heat nearly as bad."
"But this is never prickly heat."
"No, it's London. It's breathing bad air. But tomorrow it'll be all
right. There's a surgeon aboard, so I shall be in safe hands. I must
be off now."
"Not you," said I, pushing him back into a chair. "This is past a joke.
You don't move from here until a doctor sees you. Just stay where you
I caught up my hat, and rushing round to the house of a neighbouring
physician, I brought him back with me. The room was empty and
Vansittart gone. I rang the bell. The servant said that the gentleman
had ordered a cab the instant that I had left, and had gone off in it.
He had told the cabman to drive to the docks.
"Did the gentleman seem ill?" I asked.
"Ill!" The man smiled. "No, sir, he was singin' his 'ardest all the
The information was not as reassuring as my servant seemed to think, but
I reflected that he was going straight back to the _Eastern Star_, and
that there was a doctor aboard of her, so that there was nothing which I
could do in the matter. None the less, when I thought of his thirst,
his burning hands, his heavy eye, his tripping speech, and lastly, of
that leprous forehead, I carried with me to bed an unpleasant memory of
my visitor and his visit.
At eleven o'clock next day I was at the docks, but the _Eastern Star_
had already moved down the river, and was nearly at Gravesend.
To Gravesend I went by train, but only to see her topmasts far off,
with a plume of smoke from a tug in front of her. I would hear no more
of my friend until I rejoined him at Falmouth. When I got back to my
offices, a telegram was awaiting me from Mrs. Vansittart, asking me to
meet her; and next evening found us both at the Royal Hotel, Falmouth,
where we were to wait for the _Eastern Star_. Ten days passed, and
there came no news of her.
They were ten days which I am not likely to forget. On the very day
that the _Eastern Star_ had cleared from the Thames, a furious easterly
gale had sprung up, and blew on from day to day for the greater part
of a week without the sign of a lull. Such a screaming, raving,
long-drawn storm has never been known on the southern coast. From our
hotel windows the sea view was all banked in haze, with a little
rain-swept half-circle under our very eyes, churned and lashed into one
tossing stretch of foam. So heavy was the wind upon the waves that
little sea could rise, for the crest of each billow was torn shrieking
from it, and lashed broadcast over the bay. Clouds, wind, sea, all were
rushing to the west, and there, looking down at this mad jumble of
elements, I waited on day after day, my sole companion a white, silent
woman, with terror in her eyes, her forehead pressed ever against the
window, her gaze from early morning to the fall of night fixed upon
that wall of grey haze through which the loom of a vessel might come.
She said nothing, but that face of hers was one long wail of fear.
On the fifth day I took counsel with an old seaman. I should have
preferred to have done so alone, but she saw me speak with him, and was
at our side in an instant, with parted lips and a prayer in her eyes.
"Seven days out from London," said he, "and five in the gale. Well, the
Channel's swept clear by this wind. There's three things for it.
She may have popped into port on the French side. That's like enough."
"No, no; he knew we were here. He would have telegraphed."
"Ah, yes, so he would. Well, then, he might have run for it, and if he
did that he won't be very far from Madeira by now. That'll be it, marm,
you may depend."
"Or else? You said there was a third chance."
"Did I, marm? No, only two, I think. I don't think I said anything of
a third. Your ship's out there, depend upon it, away out in the
Atlantic, and you'll hear of it time enough, for the weather is
breaking. Now don't you fret, marm, and wait quiet, and you'll find a
real blue Cornish sky tomorrow."
The old seaman was right in his surmise, for the next day broke calm and
bright, with only a low dwindling cloud in the west to mark the last
trailing wreaths of the storm-wrack. But still there came no word from
the sea, and no sign of the ship. Three more weary days had passed, the
weariest that I have ever spent, when there came a seafaring man to the
hotel with a letter. I gave a shout of joy. It was from the captain of
the _Eastern Star_. As I read the first lines of it I whisked my hand
over it, but she laid her own upon it and drew it away. "I have seen
it," said she, in a cold, quiet voice. "I may as well see the rest,
"DEAR SIR," said the letter,
"Mr. Vansittart is down with the small-pox, and we are blown so far on
our course that we don't know what to do, he being off his head and
unfit to tell us. By dead reckoning we are but three hundred miles from
Funchal, so I take it that it is best that we should push on there, get
Mr. V. into hospital, and wait in the Bay until you come. There's a
sailing-ship due from Falmouth to Funchal in a few days' time, as I
understand. This goes by the brig _Marian_ of Falmouth, and five pounds
is due to the master,
She was a wonderful woman that, only a chit of a girl fresh from school,
but as quiet and strong as a man. She said nothing--only pressed her
lips together tight, and put on her bonnet.
"You are going out?" I asked.
"Can I be of use?"
"No; I am going to the doctor's."
"To the doctor's?"
"Yes. To learn how to nurse a small-pox case."
She was busy at that all the evening, and next morning we were off with
a fine ten-knot breeze in the barque _Rose of Sharon_ for Madeira.
For five days we made good time, and were no great way from the island;
but on the sixth there fell a calm, and we lay without motion on a sea
of oil, heaving slowly, but making not a foot of way.
At ten o'clock that night Emily Vansittart and I stood leaning on the
starboard railing of the poop, with a full moon shining at our backs,
and casting a black shadow of the barque, and of our own two heads upon
the shining water. From the shadow a broadening path of moonshine
stretched away to the lonely sky-line, flickering and shimmering in the
gentle heave of the swell. We were talking with bent heads, chatting of
the calm, of the chances of wind, of the look of the sky, when there
came a sudden plop, like a rising salmon, and there, in the clear light,
John Vansittart sprang out of the water and looked up at us.
I never saw anything clearer in my life than I saw that man. The moon
shone full upon him, and he was but three oars' lengths away. His face
was more puffed than when I had seen him last, mottled here and there
with dark scabs, his mouth and eyes open as one who is struck with some
overpowering surprise. He had some white stuff streaming from his
shoulders, and one hand was raised to his ear, the other crooked across
his breast. I saw him leap from the water into the air, and in the
dead calm the waves of his coming lapped up against the sides of the
vessel. Then his figure sank back into the water again, and I heard a
rending, crackling sound like a bundle of brushwood snapping in the fire
on a frosty night. There were no signs of him when I looked again, but
a swift swirl and eddy on the still sea still marked the spot where he
had been. How long I stood there, tingling to my finger-tips, holding
up an unconscious woman with one hand, clutching at the rail of the
vessel with the other, was more than I could afterwards tell. I had
been noted as a man of-slow and unresponsive emotions, but this time at
least I was shaken to the core. Once and twice I struck my foot upon
the deck to be certain that I was indeed the master of my own senses,
and that this was not some mad prank of an unruly brain. As I stood,
still marvelling, the woman shivered, opened her eyes, gasped, and then
standing erect with her hands upon the rail, looked out over the moonlit
sea with a face which had aged ten years in a summer night.
"You saw his vision?" she murmured.
"I saw something."
"It was he! It was John! He is dead!"
I muttered some lame words of doubt.
"Doubtless he died at this hour," she whispered. "In hospital at
Madeira. I have read of such things. His thoughts were with me.
His vision came to me. Oh, my John, my dear, dear, lost John!"
She broke out suddenly into a storm of weeping, and I led her down into
her cabin, where I left her with her sorrow. That night a brisk breeze
blew up from the east, and in the evening of the next day we passed the
two islets of Los Desertos, and dropped anchor at sundown in the Bay of
Funchal. The _Eastern Star_ lay no great distance from us, with the
quarantine flag flying from her main, and her Jack half-way up her peak.
"You see," said Mrs. Vansittart, quickly. She was dry-eyed now, for she
had known how it would be.
That night we received permission from the authorities to move on board
the _Eastern Star_. The captain, Hines, was waiting upon deck with
confusion and grief contending upon his bluff face as he sought for
words with which to break this heavy tidings, but she took the story
from his lips.
"I know that my husband is dead," she said. "He died yesterday night,
about ten o'clock, in hospital at Madeira, did he not?"
The seaman stared aghast. "No, marm, he died eight days ago at sea, and
we had to bury him out there, for we lay in a belt of calm, and could
not say when we might make the land."
Well, those are the main facts about the death of John Vansittart, and
his appearance to his wife somewhere about lat. 35 N. and long. 15 W.
A clearer case of a wraith has seldom been made out, and since then it
has been told as such, and put into print as such, and endorsed by a
learned society as such, and so floated off with many others to support
the recent theory of telepathy. For myself, I hold telepathy to be
proved, but I would snatch this one case from amid the evidence, and say
that I do not think that it was the wraith of John Vansittart, but
John Vansittart himself whom we saw that night leaping into the
moonlight out of the depths of the Atlantic. It has ever been my belief
that some strange chance--one of those chances which seem so improbable
and yet so constantly occur--had becalmed us over the very spot where
the man had been buried a week before. For the rest, the surgeon
tells me that the leaden weight was not too firmly fixed, and that seven
days bring about changes which fetch a body to the surface. Coming from
the depth to which the weight would have sunk it, he explains that it
might well attain such a velocity as to carry it clear of the water.
Such is my own explanation of the matter, and if you ask me what then
became of the body, I must recall to you that snapping, crackling sound,
with the swirl in the water. The shark is a surface feeder and is
plentiful in those parts.
THE GREAT BROWN-PERICORD MOTOR
It was a cold, foggy, dreary evening in May. Along the Strand blurred
patches of light marked the position of the lamps. The flaring shop
windows flickered vaguely with steamy brightness through the thick and
The high lines of houses which lead down to the Embankment were all dark
and deserted, or illuminated only by the glimmering lamp of the
caretaker. At one point, however, there shone out from three windows
upon the second floor a rich flood of light, which broke the sombre
monotony of the terrace. Passers-by glanced up curiously, and drew each
other's attention to the ruddy glare, for it marked the chambers of
Francis Pericord, the inventor and electrical engineer. Long into the
watches of the night the gleam of his lamps bore witness to the untiring
energy and restless industry which was rapidly carrying him to the first
rank in his profession.
Within the chamber sat two men. The one was Pericord himself--
hawk-faced and angular, with the black hair and brisk bearing which
spoke of his Celtic origin. The other--thick, sturdy, and blue-eyed--
was Jeremy Brown, the well-known mechanician. They had been partners in
many an invention, in which the creative genius of the one had been
aided by the practical abilities of the other. It was a question among
their friends as to which was the better man.
It was no chance visit which had brought Brown into Pericord's workshop
at so late an hour. Business was to be done--business which was to
decide the failure or success of months of work, and which might affect
their whole careers. Between them lay a long brown table, stained and
corroded by strong acids, and littered with giant carboys, Faure's
accumulators, voltaic piles, coils of wire, and great blocks of
non-conducting porcelain. In the midst of all this lumber there stood a
singular whizzing, whirring machine, upon which the eyes of both
partners were riveted.
A small square metal receptacle was connected by numerous wires to a
broad steel girdle, furnished on either side with two powerful
projecting joints. The girdle was motionless, but the joints with the
short arms attached to them flashed round every few seconds, with a
pause between each rhythmic turn. The power which moved them came
evidently from the metal box. A subtle odour of ozone was in the air.
"How about the flanges, Brown?" asked the inventor.
"They were too large to bring. They are seven foot by three. There is
power enough there to work them, however. I will answer for that."
"Aluminium with an alloy of copper?"
"See how beautifully it works." Pericord stretched out a thin, nervous
hand, and pressed a button upon the machine. The joints revolved more
slowly, and came presently to a dead stop. Again he touched a spring
and the arms shivered and woke up again into their crisp metallic life.
"The experimenter need not exert his muscular powers," he remarked.
"He has only to be passive, and use his intelligence."
"Thanks to my motor," said Brown.
"_Our_ motor," the other broke in sharply.
"Oh, of course," said his colleague impatiently.
"The motor which you thought of, and which I reduced to practice--call
it what you like."
"I call it the Brown-Pericord Motor," cried the inventor with an angry
flash of his dark eyes. "You worked out the details, but the abstract
thought is mine, and mine alone."
"An abstract thought won't turn an engine," said Brown, doggedly.
"That was why I took you into partnership," the other retorted, drumming
nervously with his fingers upon the table. "I invent, you build. It is
a fair division of labour."
Brown pursed up his lips, as though by no means satisfied upon the
point. Seeing, however, that further argument was useless, he turned
his attention to the machine, which was shivering and rocking with each
swing of its arms, as though a very little more would send it skimming
from the table.
"Is it not splendid?" cried Pericord.
"It is satisfactory," said the more phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon.
"There's immortality in it!"
"There's money in it!"
"Our names will go down with Montgolfier's."
"With Rothschild's, I hope."
"No, no, Brown; you take too material a view," cried the inventor,
raising his gleaming eyes from the machine to his companion.
"Our fortunes are a mere detail. Money is a thing which every
heavy-witted plutocrat in the country shares with us. My hopes rise to
something higher than that. Our true reward will come in the gratitude
and goodwill of the human race."
Brown shrugged his shoulders. "You may have my share of that," he said.
"I am a practical man. We must test our invention."
"Where can we do it?"
"That is what I wanted to speak about. It must be absolutely secret.
If we had private grounds of our own it would be an easy matter, but
there is no privacy in London."
"We must take it into the country."
"I have a suggestion to offer," said Brown. "My brother has a place in
Sussex on the high land near Beachy Head. There is, I remember, a large
and lofty barn near the house. Will is in Scotland, but the key is
always at my disposal. Why not take the machine down tomorrow and test
it in the barn?"
"Nothing could be better."
"There is a train to Eastbourne at one."
"I shall be at the station."
"Bring the gear with you, and I will bring the flanges," said the
mechanician, rising. "Tomorrow will prove whether we have been
following a shadow, or whether fortune is at our feet. One o'clock at
Victoria." He walked swiftly down the stair and was quickly reabsorbed
into the flood of comfortless clammy humanity which ebbed and flowed
along the Strand.
The morning was bright and spring-like. A pale blue sky arched over
London, with a few gauzy white clouds drifting lazily across it.
At eleven o'clock Brown might have been seen entering the Patent Office
with a great roll of parchment, diagrams, and plans under his arm.
At twelve he emerged again smiling, and, opening his pocket-book, he
packed away very carefully a small slip of official blue paper. At five
minutes to one his cab rolled into Victoria Station. Two giant
canvas-covered parcels, like enormous kites, were handed down by the
cabman from the top, and consigned to the care of a guard. On the
platform Pericord was pacing up and down, with long eager step and
swinging arms, a tinge of pink upon his sunken and sallow cheeks.
"All right?" he asked.
Brown pointed in answer to his baggage.
"I have the motor and the girdle already packed away in the guard's van.
Be careful, guard, for it is delicate machinery of great value.
So! Now we can start with an easy conscience."
At Eastbourne the precious motor was carried to a four-wheeler, and the
great flanges hoisted on the top. A long drive took them to the house
where the keys were kept, whence they set off across the barren Downs.
The building which was their destination was a commonplace white-washed
structure, with straggling stables and out-houses, standing in a grassy
hollow which sloped down from the edge of the chalk cliffs. It was a
cheerless house even when in use, but now with its smokeless chimneys
and shuttered windows it looked doubly dreary. The owner had planted a
grove of young larches and firs around it, but the sweeping spray had
blighted them, and they hung their withered heads in melancholy groups.
It was a gloomy and forbidding spot.
But the inventors were in no mood to be moved by such trifles.
The lonelier the place, the more fitted for their purpose. With the
help of the cabman they carried their packages down the footpath, and
laid them in the darkened dining-room. The sun was setting as the
distant murmur of wheels told them that they were finally alone.
Pericord had thrown open the shutters and the mellow evening light
streamed in through the discoloured windows. Brown drew a knife from
his pocket and cut the pack-thread with which the canvas was secured.
As the brown covering fell away it disclosed two great yellow metal
fans. These he leaned carefully against the wall. The girdle, the
connecting-bands, and the motor were then in turn unpacked. It was dark
before all was set out in order. A lamp was lit, and by its light the
two men continued to tighten screws, clinch rivets, and make the last
preparations for their experiment.
"That finishes it," said Brown at last, stepping back and surveying the
Pericord said nothing, but his face glowed with pride and expectation.
"We must have something to eat," Brown remarked, laying out some
provisions which he had brought with him.
"No, now," said the stolid mechanician. "I am half starved." He pulled
up to the table and made a hearty meal, while his Celtic companion
strode impatiently up and down, with twitching fingers and restless
"Now then," said Brown, facing round, and brushing the crumbs from his
lap, "who is to put it on?"
"I shall," cried his companion eagerly. "What we do to-night is likely
to be historic."
"But there is some danger," suggested Brown. "We cannot quite tell how
it may act."
"That is nothing," said Pericord, with a wave of his hand.
"But there is no use our going out of our way to incur danger."
"What then? One of us must do it."
"Not at all. The motor would act equally well if attached to any
"That is true," said Pericord, thoughtfully.
"There are bricks by the barn. I have a sack here. Why should not a
bagful of them take your place?"
"It is a good idea. I see no objection."
"Come on then," and the two sallied out, bearing with them the various
sections of their machine. The moon was shining cold and clear though
an occasional ragged cloud drifted across her face. All was still and
silent upon the Downs. They stood and listened before they entered the
barn, but not a sound came to their ears, save the dull murmur of the
sea and the distant barking of a dog. Pericord journeyed backwards and
forwards with all that they might need, while Brown filled a long narrow
sack with bricks.
When all was ready, the door of the barn was closed, and the lamp
balanced upon an empty packing-case. The bag of bricks was laid upon
two trestles, and the broad steel girdle was buckled round it. Then the
great flanges, the wires, and the metal box containing the motor were in
turn attached to the girdle. Last of all a flat steel rudder, shaped
like a fish's tail, was secured to the bottom of the sack.
"We must make it travel in a small circle," said Pericord, glancing
round at the bare high walls.
"Tie the rudder down at one side," suggested Brown. "Now it is ready.
Press the connection and off she goes!"
Pericord leaned forward, his long sallow face quivering with excitement.
His white nervous hands darted here and there among the wires.
Brown stood impassive with critical eyes. There was a sharp burr from
the machine. The huge yellow wings gave a convulsive flap. Then
another. Then a third, slower and stronger, with a fuller sweep.
Then a fourth which filled the barn with a blast of driven air. At the
fifth the bag of bricks began to dance upon the trestles. At the sixth
it sprang into the air, and would have fallen to the ground, but the
seventh came to save it, and fluttered it forward through the air.
Slowly rising, it flapped heavily round in a circle, like some great
clumsy bird, filling the barn with its buzzing and whirring. In the
uncertain yellow light of the single lamp it was strange to see the loom
of the ungainly thing, flapping off into the shadows, and then circling
back into the narrow zone of light.
The two men stood for a while in silence. Then Pericord threw his long
arms up into the air.
"It acts!" he cried. "The Brown-Pericord Motor acts!" He danced about
like a madman in his delight. Brown's eyes twinkled, and he began
"See how smoothly it goes, Brown!" cried the inventor. "And the
rudder--how well it acts! We must register it tomorrow."
His comrade's face darkened and set. "It _is_ registered," he said,
with a forced laugh.
"Registered?" said Pericord. "Registered?" He repeated the word first
in a whisper, and then in a kind of scream. "Who has dared to register
"I did it this morning. There is nothing to be excited about. It is
"You registered the motor! Under whose name?"
"Under my own," said Brown, sullenly. "I consider that I have the best
right to it."
"And my name does not appear?"
"You villain!" screamed Pericord. "You thief and villain! You would
steal my work! You would filch my credit! I will have that patent back
if I have to tear your throat out!" A sombre fire burned in his black
eyes, and his hands writhed themselves together with passion. Brown was
no coward, but he shrank back as the other advanced upon him.
"Keep your hands off!" he said, drawing a knife from his pocket.
"I will defend myself if you attack me."
"You threaten me?" cried Pericord, whose face was livid with anger.
"You are a bully as well as a cheat. Will you give up the patent?"
"No, I will not."
"Brown, I say, give it up!"
"I will not. I did the work."
Pericord sprang madly forward with blazing eyes and clutching fingers.
His companion writhed out of his grasp, but was dashed against the
packing-case, over which he fell. The lamp was extinguished, and the
whole barn plunged into darkness. A single ray of moonlight shining
through a narrow chink flickered over the great waving fans as they
came and went.
"Will you give up the patent, Brown?"
There was no answer.
"Will you give it up?"
Again no answer. Not a sound save the humming and creaking overhead.
A cold pang of fear and doubt struck through Pericord's heart. He felt
aimlessly about in the dark and his fingers closed upon a hand. It was
cold and unresponsive. With all his anger turned to icy horror he
struck a match, set the lamp up, and lit it.
Brown lay huddled up on the other side of the packing-case. Pericord
seized him in his arms, and with convulsive strength lifted him across.
Then the mystery of his silence was explained. He had fallen with his
right arms doubled up under him, and his own weight had driven the knife
deeply into his body. He had died without a groan. The tragedy had
been sudden, horrible, and complete.
Pericord sat silently on the edge of the case, staring blankly down, and
shivering like one with the ague, while the great Brown-Pericord Motor
boomed and hurtled above him. How long he sat there can never be known.
It might have been minutes or it might have been hours. A thousand mad
schemes flashed through his dazed brain. It was true that he had been
only the indirect cause. But who would believe that? He glanced down
at his blood-spattered clothing. Everything was against him. It would
be better to fly than to give himself up, relying upon his innocence.
No one in London knew where they were. If he could dispose of the body
he might have a few days clear before any suspicion would be aroused.
Suddenly a loud crash recalled him to himself. The flying sack had
gradually risen with each successive circle until it had struck against
the rafters. The blow displaced the connecting-gear, and the machine
fell heavily to the ground. Pericord undid the girdle. The motor was
uninjured. A sudden strange thought flashed upon him as he looked at
it. The machine had become hateful to him. He might dispose both of it
and the body in a way that would baffle all human search.
He threw open the barn door, and carried his companion out into the
moonlight. There was a hillock outside, and on the summit of this he
laid him reverently down. Then he brought from the barn the motor, the
girdle and the flanges. With trembling fingers he fastened the broad
steel belt round the dead man's waist. Then he screwed the wings into
the sockets. Beneath he slung the motor-box, fastened the wires, and
switched on the connection. For a minute or two the huge yellow fans
flapped and flickered. Then the body began to move in little jumps down
the side of the hillock, gathering a gradual momentum, until at last it
heaved up into the air and soared off in the moonlight. He had not used
the rudder, but had turned the head for the south. Gradually the weird
thing rose higher, and sped faster, until it had passed over the line of
cliff, and was sweeping over the silent sea. Pericord watched it with a
white drawn face, until it looked like a black bird with golden wings
half shrouded in the mist which lay over the waters.
In the New York State Lunatic Asylum there is a wild-eyed man whose name
and birth-place are alike unknown. His reason has been unseated by some
sudden shock, the doctors say, though of what nature they are unable to
determine. "It is the most delicate machine which is most readily put
out of gear," they remark, and point, in proof of their axiom, to the
complicated electric engines, and remarkable aeronautic machines which
the patient is fond of devising in his more lucid moments.
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
that 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 over.
So ended the strange narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.