Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 4

  • On Wednesday, June 25, 1919, after a proper notification of Carring ton Harri_hich did not include surmises as to what we expected to find, my uncle and _onveyed to the shunned house two camp chairs and a folding camp cot, togethe_ith some scientific mechanism of greater weight and intricacy. These w_laced in the cellar during the day, screening the windows with paper an_lanning to return in the evening for our first vigil. We had locked the doo_rom the cellar to the ground floor; and having a key to the outside cella_oor, we were prepared to leave our expensive and delicate apparatus - whic_e had obtained secretly and at great cost - as many days as our vigil migh_eed to be protracted. It was our design to sit up together till very late,
  • and then watch singly till dawn in two- hour stretches, myself first and the_y companion; the inactive member resting on the cot.
  • The natural leadership with which my uncle procured the instruments from th_aboratories of Brown University and the Cranston Street Armory, an_nstinctively assumed direction of our venture, was a marvellous commentary o_he potential vitality and resilience of a man of eighty-one. Elihu Whippl_ad lived according to the hygienic laws he had preached as a physician, an_ut for what happened later would be here in full vigour today. Only tw_ersons suspect what did happen - Carrington Harris and myself. I had to tel_arris because he owned the house and deserved to know what had gone out o_t. Then, too, we had spoken to him in advance of our quest; and I felt afte_y uncle's going that he would understand and assist me in some vitall_ecessary public explanations. He turned very pale, but agreed to help me, an_ecided that it would now be safe to rent the house.
  • To declare that we were not nervous on that rainy night of watching would b_n exaggeration both gross and ridiculous. We were not, as I have said, in an_ense childishly superstitious, but scientific study and reflection had taugh_s that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction o_he whole cosmos of substance and energy. In this case an overwhelmin_reponderance of evidence from numerous authentic sources pointed to th_enacious existence of certain forces of great power and, so far as the huma_oint of view is concerned, exceptional malignancy. To say that we actuall_elieved in vampires or werewolves would be a carelessly inclusive statement.
  • Rather must it be said that we were not prepared to deny the possibility o_ertain unfamiliar and unclassified modifications of vital force an_ttenuated matter; existing very infrequently in three-dimensional spac_ecause of its more intimate connection with other spatial units, yet clos_nough to the boundary of our own to furnish us occasional manifestation_hich we, for lack of a proper vantage-point, may never hope to understand.
  • In short, it seemed to my uncle and me that an incontrovertible array of fact_ointed to some lingering influence in the shunned house; traceable to one o_nother of the ill-favoured French settlers of two centuries before, and stil_perative through rare and un known laws of atomic and electronic motion. Tha_he family of Roulet had possessed an abnormal affinity for outer circles o_ntity - dark spheres which for normal folk hold only repulsion and terror -
  • their recorded history seemed to prove. Had not, then, the riots of thos_ygone seventeen-thirties set moving certain kinetic patterns in the morbi_rain of one or more of them - notably the sinister Paul Roulet - whic_bscurely survived the bodies murdered, and continued to function in som_ultiple-dimensioned space along the original lines of force determined by _rantic hatred of the encroaching community?
  • Such a thing was surely not a physical or biochemical impossibility in th_ight of a newer science which includes the theories of relativity and intra-
  • atomic action. One might easily imagine an alien nucleus of substance o_nergy, formless or otherwise, kept alive by imperceptible or immateria_ubtractions from the life-force or bodily tissue and fluids of other and mor_alpably living things into which it penetrates and with whose fabric i_ometimes completely merges itself. It might be actively hostile, or it migh_e dictated merely by blind motives of self-preservation. In any case such _onster must of necessity be in our scheme of things an anomaly and a_ntruder, whose extirpation forms a primary duty with every man not an enem_o the world's life, health, and sanity.
  • What baffled us was our utter ignorance of the aspect in which we migh_ncounter the thing. No sane person had even seen it, and few had ever felt i_efinitely. It might be pure energy - a form ethereal and outside the realm o_ubstance-or it might be partly material; some unknown and equivocal mass o_lasticity, capable of changing at will to nebulous approximations of th_olid, liquid, gaseous, or tenuously unparticled states. The anthropomorphi_atch of mould on the floor, the form of the yellowish vapour, and th_urvature of the tree-roots in some of the old tales, all argued at least _emote and reminiscent connection with the human shape; but how representativ_r permanent that similarity might be, none could say with any kind o_ertainty.
  • We had devised two weapons to fight it; a large and specially fitted Crooke_ube operated by powerful storage batteries and pro vided with peculia_creens and reflectors, in case it proved intangible and opposable only b_igorously destructive ether radiations, and a pair of military flame-thrower_f the sort used in the World War, in case it proved partly material an_usceptible of mechanical destruction - for like the superstitious Exete_ustics, we were prepared to burn the thing's heart out if heart existed t_urn. All this aggressive mechanism we set in the cellar in positions car_ully arranged with reference to the cot and chairs, and to the spot befor_he fireplace where the mould had taken strange shapes. That suggestive patch,
  • by the way, was only faintly visible when we placed our furniture an_nstruments, and when we returned that evening for the actual vigil. For _oment I half-doubted that I had ever seen it in the more definitely limne_orm - but then I thought of the legends.
  • Our cellar vigil began at 10 P.M., daylight saving time, and as it continue_e found no promise of pertinent developments. A weak, filtered glow from th_ain-harassed street lamps outside, and a feeble phosphorescence from th_etestable fungi within, showed the drip ping stone of the walls, from whic_ll traces of whitewash had vanished; the dank, foetid and mildew-tainted har_arth floor with its obscene fungi; the rotting remains of what had bee_tools, chairs and tables, and other more shapeless furniture; the heav_lanks and massive beams of the ground floor overhead; the decrepit plank doo_eading to bins and chambers beneath other parts of the house; the crumblin_tone staircase with ruined wooden hand-rail; and the crude and cavernou_ireplace of blackened brick where rusted iron fragments revealed the pas_resence of hooks, andirons, spit, crane, and a door to the Dutch oven - thes_hings, and our austere cot and camp chairs, and the heavy and intricat_estructive machinery we had brought.
  • We had, as in my own former explorations, left the door to the stree_nlocked; so that a direct and practical path of escape might lie open in cas_f manifestations beyond our power to deal with. It was our idea that ou_ontinued nocturnal presence would call forth whatever malign entity lurke_here; and that being prepared, we could dispose of the thing with one or th_ther of our provided means as soon as we had recognised and observed i_ufficiently. How long it might require to evoke and extinguish the thing, w_ad no notion. It occurred to us, too, that our venture was far from safe, fo_n what strength the thing might appear no one could tell. But we deemed th_ame worth the hazard, and embarked on it alone and unhesitatingly; consciou_hat the seeking of outside aid would only expose us to ridicule and perhap_efeat our entire purpose. Such was our frame of mind as we talked - far int_he night, till my uncle's growing drowsiness made me remind him to lie dow_or his two-hour sleep.
  • Something like fear chilled me as I sat there in the small hours alone - I sa_lone, for one who sits by a sleeper is indeed alone; perhaps more alone tha_e can realise. My uncle breathed heavily, his deep inhalations an_xhalations accompanied by the rain outside, and punctuated by another nerve-
  • racking sound of distant dripping water within - for the house was repulsivel_amp even in dry weather, and in this storm positively swamp-like. I studie_he loose, antique-masonry of the walls in the fungous-light and the feebl_ays which stole in from the street through the screened windows; and once,
  • when the noisome atmosphere of the place seemed about to sicken me, I opene_he door and looked up and down the street, feasting my eyes on familia_ights and my nostrils on whole some air. Still nothing occurred to reward m_atching; and I yawned repeatedly, fatigue getting the better of apprehension.
  • Then the stirring of my uncle in his sleep attracted my notice. He had turne_estlessly on the cot several times during the latter half of the first hour,
  • but now he was breathing with unusual irregularity, occasionally heaving _igh which held more than a few of the qualities of a choking moan. I turne_y electric flashlight on him and found his face averted, so rising an_rossing to the other side of the cot, I again flashed the light to see if h_eemed in any pain. What I saw unnerved me most surprisingly, considering it_elative triviality. It must have been merely the association of an od_ircumstance with the sinister nature of our location and mission, for surel_he circumstance was not in itself frightful or unnatural. It was merely tha_y uncle's facial expression, disturbed no doubt by the strange dreams whic_ur situation prompted, betrayed consider able agitation, and seemed not a_ll characteristic of him. His habitual expression was one of kindly and well-
  • bred calm, whereas now a variety of emotions seemed struggling within him. _hink, on the whole, that it was this variety which chiefly disturbed me. M_ncle, as he gasped and tossed in increasing perturbation and with eyes tha_ad now started open, seemed not one man but many men, and suggested a curiou_uality of alienage from himself.
  • All at once he commenced to mutter, and I did not like the look of his mout_nd teeth as he spoke. The words were at first indistinguishable, and then -
  • with a tremendous start - I recognised some thing about them which filled m_ith icy fear till I recalled the breadth of my uncle's education and th_nterminable translations he had made from anthropological and antiquaria_rticles in the Revue des Deux Mondes. For the venerable Elihu Whipple wa_uttering in French, and the few phrases I could distinguish seemed connecte_ith the darkest myths he had ever adapted from the famous Paris magazine.
  • Suddenly a perspiration broke out on the sleeper's forehead, and he leape_bruptly up, half awake. The jumble of French changed to a cry in English, an_he hoarse voice shouted excitedly, "My breath, my breath!" Then the awakenin_ecame complete, and with a subsidence of facial expression to the norma_tate my uncle seized my hand and began to relate a dream whose nucleus o_ignificance I could only surmise with a kind of awe.
  • He had, he said, floated off from a very ordinary series of dream- picture_nto a scene whose strangeness was related to nothing he had ever read. It wa_f this world, and yet not of it - a shadowy geometrical confusion in whic_ould be seen elements of familiar things in most unfamiliar and perturbin_ombinations. There was a suggestion of queerly disordered picture_uperimposed one upon an other; an arrangement in which the essentials of tim_s well as of space seemed dissolved and mixed in the most illogical fashion.
  • In this kaleidoscopic vortex of phantasmal images were occasional snap-shots,
  • if one might use the term, of singular clearness but un accountabl_eterogeneity.
  • Once my uncle thought he lay in a carelessly dug open pit, with a crowd o_ngry faces framed by straggling locks and three-cornered hats frowning dow_t him. Again he seemed to be in the interior of a house - an old house,
  • apparently - but the details and inhabitants were constantly changing, and h_ould never be certain of the faces or the furniture, or even of the roo_tself, since doors and windows seemed in just as great a state of flux as th_ore presumably mobile objects. It was queer - damnably queer - and my uncl_poke almost sheepishly, as if half expecting not to be believed, when h_eclared that of the strange faces many had unmistakably borne the features o_he Harris family. And all the while there was a personal sensation o_hoking, as if some pervasive presence had spread itself through his body an_ought to possess itself of his vital processes. I shuddered at the thought o_hose vital processes, worn as they were by eighty-one years of continuou_unctioning, in conflict with unknown forces of which the youngest an_trongest system might well be afraid; but in another moment reflected tha_reams are only dreams, and that these uncomfortable visions could be, a_ost, no more than my uncle's reaction to the investigations and expectation_hich had lately filled our minds to the exclusion of all else.
  • Conversation, also, soon tended to dispel my sense of strangeness; and in tim_ yielded to my yawns and took my turn at slumber. My uncle seemed now ver_akeful, and welcomed his period of watching even though the nightmare ha_roused him far ahead of his al lotted two hours. Sleep seized me quickly, an_ was at once haunted with dreams of the most disturbing kind. I felt, in m_isions, a cosmic and abysmal loneness; with hostility surging from all side_pon some prison where I lay confined. I seemed bound and gagged, and taunte_y the echoing yells of distant multitudes who thirsted for my blood. M_ncle's face came to me with less pleasant associations than in waking hours,
  • and I recall many futile struggles and at tempts to scream. It was not _leasant sleep, and for a second I was not sorry for the echoing shriek whic_love through the barriers of dream and flung me to a sharp and startle_wakeness in which every actual object before my eyes stood out with more tha_atural clearness and reality.