Derby had been married more than three years on that August day when I go_hat telegram from Maine. I had not seen him for two months, but had heard h_as away "on business." Asenath was supposed to be with him, though watchfu_ossip declared there was someone upstairs in the house behind the doubl_urtained windows. They had watched the purchases made by the servants. An_ow the town marshal of Chesuncook had wired of the draggled madman wh_tumbled out of the woods with delirious ravings and screamed to me fo_rotection. It was Edward - and he had been just able to recall his own nam_nd address.
Chesuncook is close to the wildest, deepest, and least explored forest belt i_aine, and it took a whole day of feverish jolting through fantastic an_orbidding scenery to get there in a car. I found Derby in a cell at the tow_arm, vacillating between frenzy and apathy. He knew me at once, and bega_ouring out a meaningless, half-incoherent torrent of words in my direction.
"Dan, for God's sake! The pit of the shoggoths! Down the six thousand steps… the abomination of abominations… I never would let her take me, and then _ound myself there - Ia! Shub-Niggurath! - The shape rose up from the altar, and there were five hundred that howled - The Hooded Thing bleated 'Kamog!
Kamog!' - that was old Ephraim's secret name in the coven - I was there, wher_he promised she wouldn't take me - A minute before I was locked in th_ibrary, and then I was there where she had gone with my body - in the plac_f utter blasphemy, the unholy pit where the black realm begins and th_atcher guards the gate - I saw a shoggoth - it changed shape - I can't stan_t - I'll kill her if she ever sends me there again - I'll kill that entity - her, him, it - I'll kill it! I'll kill it with my own hands!"
It took me an hour to quiet him, but he subsided at last. The next day I go_im decent clothes in the village, and set out with him for Arkham. His fur_f hysteria was spent, and he was inclined to be silent, though he bega_uttering darkly to himself when the car passed through Augusta - as if th_ight of a city aroused unpleasant memories. It was clear that he did not wis_o go home; and considering the fantastic delusions he seemed to have abou_is wife - delusions undoubtedly springing from some actual hypnotic ordeal t_hich he had been subjected - I thought it would be better if he did not. _ould, I resolved, put him up myself for a time; no matter what unpleasantnes_t would make with Asenath. Later I would help him get a divorce, for mos_ssuredly there were mental factors which made this marriage suicidal for him.
When we struck open country again Derby's muttering faded away, and I let hi_od and drowse on the seat beside me as I drove.
During our sunset dash through Portland the muttering commenced again, mor_istinctly than before, and as I listened I caught a stream of utterly insan_rivel about Asenath. The extent to which she had preyed on Edward's nerve_as plain, for he had woven a whole set of hallucinations around her. Hi_resent predicament, he mumbled furtively, was only one of a long series. Sh_as getting hold of him, and he knew that some day she would never let go.
Even now she probably let him go only when she had to, because she couldn'_old on long at a time. She constantly took his body and went to nameles_laces for nameless rites, leaving him in her body and locking him upstairs - but sometimes she couldn't hold on, and he would find himself suddenly in hi_wn body again in some far-off, horrible, and perhaps unknown place. Sometime_he'd get hold of him again and sometimes she couldn't. Often he was lef_tranded somewhere as I had found him - time and again he had to find his wa_ome from frightful distances, getting somebody to drive the car after h_ound it.
The worst thing was that she was holding on to him longer and longer at _ime. She wanted to be a man - to be fully human - that was why she got hol_f him. She had sensed the mixture of fine-wrought brain and weak will in him.
Some day she would crowd him out and disappear with his body - disappear t_ecome a great magician like her father and leave him marooned in that femal_hell that wasn't even quite human. Yes, he knew about the Innsmouth bloo_ow. There had been traffick with things from the sea - it was horrible… An_ld Ephraim - he had known the secret, and when he grew old did a hideou_hing to keep alive - he wanted to live forever - Asenath would succeed - on_uccessful demonstration had taken place already.
As Derby muttered on I turned to look at him closely, verifying the impressio_f change which an earlier scrutiny had given me. Paradoxically, he seemed i_etter shape than usual - harder, more normally developed, and without th_race of sickly flabbiness caused by his indolent habits. It was as if he ha_een really active and properly exercised for the first time in his coddle_ife, and I judged that Asenath's force must have pushed him into unwonte_hannels of motion and alertness. But just now his mind was in a pitiabl_tate; for he was mumbling wild extravagances about his wife, about blac_agic, about old Ephraim, and about some revelation which would convince eve_e. He repeated names which I recognized from bygone browsings in forbidde_olumes, and at times made me shudder with a certain thread of mythologica_onsistency - or convincing coherence - which ran through his maundering.
Again and again he would pause, as if to gather courage for some final an_errible disclosure.
"Dan, Dan, don't you remember him - wild eyes and the unkempt beard that neve_urned white? He glared at me once, and I never forgot it. Now she glares tha_ay. And I know why! He found it in the Necronomicon - the formula. I don'_are tell you the page yet, but when I do you can read and understand. The_ou will know what has engulfed me. On, on, on, on - body to body to body - h_eans never to die. The life-glow - he knows how to break the link… it ca_licker on a while even when the body is dead. I'll give you hints and mayb_ou'll guess. Listen, Dan - do you know why my wife always takes such pain_ith that silly backhand writing? Have you ever seen a manuscript of ol_phraim's? Do you want to know why I shivered when I saw some hasty note_senath had jotted down?
"Asenath - is there such a person? Why did they half-think there was poison i_ld Ephraim's stomach? Why do the Gilmans whisper about the way he shrieked - like a frightened child - when he went mad and Asenath locked him up in th_added attic room where - the other - had been? Was it old Ephraim's soul tha_as locked in? Who locked in whom? Why had he been looking for months fo_omeone with a fine mind and a weak will? - Why did he curse that his daughte_asn't a son? Tell me? Daniel Upton - what devilish exchange was perpetrate_n the house of horror where that blasphemous monster had his trusting, weak- willed half-human child at his mercy? Didn't he make it permanent - as she'l_o in the end with me? Tell me why that thing that calls itself Asenath write_ifferently off guard, so that you can't tell its script from - "
Then the thing happened. Derby's voice was rising to a thin treble scream a_e raved, when suddenly it was shut off with an almost mechanical click. _hought of those other occasions at my home when his confidences had abruptl_eased - when I had half-fancied that some obscure telepathic wave o_senath's mental force was intervening to keep him silent. This, though, wa_omething altogether different - and, I felt, infinitely more horrible. Th_ace beside me was twisted almost unrecognizably for a moment, while throug_he whole body there passed a shivering motion - as if all the bones, organs, muscles, nerves, and glands were adjusting themselves to a radically differen_osture, set of stresses, and general personality.
Just where the supreme horror lay, I could not for my life tell; yet ther_wept over me such a swamping wave of sickness and repulsion - such _reezing, petrifying sense of utter alienage and abnormality - that my gras_f the wheel grew feeble and uncertain. The figure beside me seemed less lik_ lifelong friend than like some monstrous intrusion from outer space - som_amnable, utterly accursed focus of unknown and malign cosmic forces.
I had faltered only a moment, but before another moment was over my companio_ad seized the wheel and forced me to change places with him. The dusk was no_ery thick, and the lights of Portland far behind, so I could not see much o_is face. The blaze of his eyes, though, was phenomenal; and I knew that h_ust now be in that queerly energized state - so unlike his usual self - whic_o many people had noticed. It seemed odd and incredible that listless Edwar_erby - he who could never assert himself, and who had never learned to drive - should be ordering me about and taking the wheel of my own car, yet that wa_recisely what had happened. He did not speak for some time, and in m_nexplicable horror I was glad he did not.
In the lights of Biddeford and Saco I saw his firmly set mouth, and shivere_t the blaze of his eyes. The people were right - he did look damnably lik_is wife and like old Ephraim when in these moods. I did not wonder that th_oods were disliked - there was certainly something unnatural in them, and _elt the sinister element all the more because of the wild ravings I had bee_earing. This man, for all my lifelong knowledge of Edward Pickman Derby, wa_ stranger - an intrusion of some sort from the black abyss.
He did not speak until we were on a dark stretch of road, and when he did hi_oice seemed utterly unfamiliar. It was deeper, firmer, and more decisive tha_ had ever known it to be; while its accent and pronunciation were altogethe_hanged - though vaguely, remotely, and rather disturbingly recallin_omething I could not quite place. There was, I thought, a trace of ver_rofound and very genuine irony in the timbre - not the flashy, meaninglessl_aunty pseudo-irony of the callow "sophisticate," which Derby had habituall_ffected, but something grim, basic, pervasive, and potentially evil. _arvelled at the self-possession so soon following the spell of panic-struc_uttering.
"I hope you'll forget my attack back there, Upton," he was saying. "You kno_hat my nerves are, and I guess you can excuse such things. I'm enormousl_rateful, of course, for this lift home.
"And you must forget, too, any crazy things I may have been saying about m_ife - and about things in general. That's what comes from overstudy in _ield like mine. My philosophy is full of bizarre concepts, and when the min_ets worn out it cooks up all sorts of imaginary concrete applications. _hall take a rest from now on - you probably won't see me for some time, an_ou needn't blame Asenath for it.
"This trip was a bit queer, but it's really very simple. There are certai_ndian relics in the north wood - standing stones, and all that - which mean _ood deal in folklore, and Asenath and I are following that stuff up. It was _ard search, so I seem to have gone off my head. I must send somebody for th_ar when I get home. A month's relaxation will put me on my feet."
I do not recall just what my own part of the conversation was, for th_affling alienage of my seatmate filled all my consciousness. With ever_oment my feeling of elusive cosmic horror increased, till at length I was i_ virtual delirium of longing for the end of the drive. Derby did not offer t_elinquish the wheel, and I was glad of the speed with which Portsmouth an_ewburyport flashed by.
At the junction where the main highway runs inland and avoids Innsmouth, I wa_alf-afraid my driver would take the bleak shore road that goes through tha_amnable place. He did not, however, but darted rapidly past Rowley an_pswich toward our destination. We reached Arkham before midnight, and foun_he lights still on at the old Crowninshield house. Derby left the car with _asty repetition of his thanks, and I drove home alone with a curious feelin_f relief. It had been a terrible drive - all the more terrible because _ould not quite tell why - and I did not regret Derby's forecast of a lon_bsence from my company.
The next two months were full of rumours. People spoke of seeing Derby mor_nd more in his new energized state, and Asenath was scarcely ever in to he_allers. I had only one visit from Edward, when he called briefly in Asenath'_ar - duly reclaimed from wherever he had left it in Maine - to get some book_e had lent me. He was in his new state, and paused only long enough for som_vasively polite remarks. It was plain that he had nothing to discuss with m_hen in this condition - and I noticed that he did not even trouble to giv_he old three-and-two signal when ringing the doorbell. As on that evening i_he car, I felt a faint, infinitely deep horror which I could not explain; s_hat his swift departure was a prodigious relief.
In mid-September Derby was away for a week, and some of the decadent colleg_et talked knowingly of the matter - hinting at a meeting with a notoriou_ult-leader, lately expelled from England, who had established headquarters i_ew York. For my part I could not get that strange ride from Maine out of m_ead. The transformation I had witnessed had affected me profoundly, and _aught myself again and again trying to account for the thing - and for th_xtreme horror it had inspired in me.
But the oddest rumours were those about the sobbing in the old Crowninshiel_ouse. The voice seemed to be a woman's, and some of the younger peopl_hought it sounded like Asenath's. It was heard only at rare intervals, an_ould sometimes be choked off as if by force. There was talk of a_nvestigation, but this was dispelled one day when Asenath appeared in th_treets and chatted in a sprightly way with a large number of acquaintances - apologizing for her recent absence and speaking incidentally about the nervou_reakdown and hysteria of a guest from Boston. The guest was never seen, bu_senath's appearance left nothing to be said. And then someone complicate_atters by whispering that the sobs had once or twice been in a man's voice.
One evening in mid-October, I heard the familiar three-and-two ring at th_ront door. Answering it myself, I found Edward on the steps, and saw in _oment that his personality was the old one which I had not encountered sinc_he day of his ravings on that terrible ride from Chesuncook. His face wa_witching with a mixture of odd emotions in which fear and triumph seemed t_hare dominion, and he looked furtively over his shoulder as I closed the doo_ehind him.
Following me clumsily to the study, he asked for some whiskey to steady hi_erves. I forbore to question him, but waited till he felt like beginnin_hatever he wanted to say. At length he ventured some information in a chokin_oice.
"Asenath has gone, Dan. We had a long talk last night while the servants wer_ut, and I made her promise to stop preying on me. Of course I had certain - certain occult defences I never told you about. She had to give in, but go_rightfully angry. Just packed up and started for New York - walked right ou_o catch the eight-twenty in to Boston. I suppose people will talk, but _an't help that. You needn't mention that there was any trouble - just sa_he's gone on a long research trip.
"She's probably going to stay with one of her horrible groups of devotees. _ope she'll go west and get a divorce - anyhow, I've made her promise to kee_way and let me alone. It was horrible, Dan - she was stealing my body - crowding me out - making a prisoner of me. I lay low and pretended to let he_o it, but I had to be on the watch. I could plan if I was careful, for sh_an't read my mind literally, or in detail. All she could read of my plannin_as a sort of general mood of rebellion - and she always thought I wa_elpless. Never thought I could get the best of her… but I had a spell or tw_hat worked."
Derby looked over his shoulder and took some more whiskey.
"I paid off those damned servants this morning when they got back. They wer_gly about it, and asked questions, but they went. They're her kin - Innsmout_eople - and were hand and glove with her. I hope they'll let me alone - _idn't like the way they laughed when they walked away. I must get as many o_ad's old servants again as I can. I'll move back home now.
"I suppose you think I'm crazy, Dan - but Arkham history ought to hint a_hings that back up what I've told you - and what I'm going to tell you.
You've seen one of the changes, too - in your car after I told you abou_senath that day coming home from Maine. That was when she got me - drove m_ut of my body. The last thing I remember was when I was all worked up tryin_o tell you what that she-devil is. Then she got me, and in a flash I was bac_t the house - in the library where those damned servants had me locked up - and in that cursed fiend's body that isn't even human… You know it was she yo_ust have ridden home with - that preying wolf in my body - You ought to hav_nown the difference!"
I shuddered as Derby paused. Surely, I had known the difference \- yet could _ccept an explanation as insane as this? But my distracted caller was growin_ven wilder.
"I had to save myself - I had to, Dan! She'd have got me for good a_allowmass - they hold a Sabbat up there beyond Chesuncook, and the sacrific_ould have clinched things. She'd have got me for good - she'd have been I, and I'd have been she - forever - too late - My body'd have been hers for good - She'd have been a man, and fully human, just as she wanted to be - I suppos_he'd have put me out of the way - killed her own ex-body with me in it, dam_er, just as she did before - just as she did, or it did before - " Edward'_ace was now atrociously distorted, and he bent it uncomfortably close to min_s his voice fell to a whisper.
"You must know what I hinted in the car - that she isn't Asenath at all, bu_eally old Ephraim himself. I suspected it a year and a half ago, and I kno_t now. Her handwriting shows it when she goes off guard - sometimes she jot_own a note in writing that's just like her father's manuscripts, stroke fo_troke - and sometimes she says things that nobody but an old man like Ephrai_ould say. He changed forms with her when he felt death coming - she was th_nly one he could find with the right kind of brain and a weak enough will - he got her body permanently, just as she almost got mine, and then poisone_he old body he'd put her into. Haven't you seen old Ephraim's soul glarin_ut of that she-devil's eyes dozens of times - and out of mine when she ha_ontrol of my body?"
The whisperer was panting, and paused for breath. I said nothing; and when h_esumed his voice was nearer normal. This, I reflected, was a case for th_sylum, but I would not be the one to send him there. Perhaps time and freedo_rom Asenath would do its work. I could see that he would never wish to dabbl_n morbid occultism again.
"I'll tell you more later - I must have a long rest now. I'll tell yo_omething of the forbidden horrors she led me into - something of the age-ol_orrors that even now are festering in out-of-the-way corners with a fe_onstrous priests to keep them alive. Some people know things about th_niverse that nobody ought to know, and can do things that nobody ought to b_ble to do. I've been in it up to my neck, but that's the end. Today I'd bur_hat damned Necronomicon and all the rest if I were librarian at Miskatonic.
"But she can't get me now. I must get out of that accursed house as soon as _an, and settle down at home. You'll help me, I know, if I need help. Thos_evilish servants, you know - and if people should get too inquisitive abou_senath. You see, I can't give them her address… Then there are certain group_f searchers - certain cults, you know - that might misunderstand our breakin_p… some of them have damnably curious ideas and methods. I know you'll stan_y me if anything happens - even if I have to tell you a lot that will shoc_ou… "
I had Edward stay and sleep in one of the guest-chambers that night, and i_he morning he seemed calmer. We discussed certain possible arrangements fo_is moving back into the Derby mansion, and I hoped he would lose no time i_aking the change. He did not call the next evening, but I saw him frequentl_uring the ensuing weeks. We talked as little as possible about strange an_npleasant things, but discussed the renovation of the old Derby house, an_he travels which Edward promised to take with my son and me the followin_ummer.
Of Asenath we said almost nothing, for I saw that the subject was a peculiarl_isturbing one. Gossip, of course, was rife; but that was no novelty i_onnection with the strange menage at the old Crowninshield house. One thing _id not like was what Derby's banker let fall in an over-expansive mood at th_iskatonic Club - about the cheques Edward was sending regularly to a Mose_nd Abigail Sargent and a Eunice Babson in Innsmouth. That looked as if thos_vil-faced servants were extorting some kind of tribute from him - yet he ha_ot mentioned the matter to me.
I wished that the summer - and my son's Harvard vacation - would come, so tha_e could get Edward to Europe. He was not, I soon saw, mending as rapidly as _ad hoped he would; for there was something a bit hysterical in his occasiona_xhilaration, while his moods of fright and depression were altogether to_requent. The old Derby house was ready by December, yet Edward constantly pu_ff moving. Though he hated and seemed to fear the Crowninshield place, he wa_t the same time queerly enslaved by it. He could not seem to begi_ismantling things, and invented every kind of excuse to postpone action. Whe_ pointed this out to him he appeared unaccountably frightened. His father'_ld butler - who was there with other reacquired servants - told me one da_hat Edward's occasional prowlings about the house, and especially dow_ellar, looked odd and unwholesome to him. I wondered if Asenath had bee_riting disturbing letters, but the butler said there was no mail which coul_ave come from her.
It was about Christmas that Derby broke down one evening while calling on me.
I was steering the conversation toward next summer's travels when he suddenl_hrieked and leaped up from his chair with a look of shocking, uncontrollabl_right - a cosmic panic and loathing such as only the nether gulfs o_ightmare could bring to any sane mind.
"My brain! My brain! God, Dan - it's tugging - from beyond - knocking - clawing - that she-devil - even now - Ephraim - Kamog! Kamog! - The pit of th_hoggoths - Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!…
"The flame - the flame - beyond body, beyond life - in the earth \- oh, God!"
I pulled him back to his chair and poured some wine down his throat as hi_renzy sank to a dull apathy. He did not resist, but kept his lips moving a_f talking to himself. Presently I realized that he was trying to talk to me, and bent my ear to his mouth to catch the feeble words.
"Again, again - she's trying - I might have known - nothing can stop tha_orce; not distance nor magic, nor death - it comes and comes, mostly in th_ight - I can't leave - it's horrible - oh, God, Dan, if you only knew as I d_ust how horrible it is… "
When he had slumped down into a stupor I propped him with pillows and le_ormal sleep overtake him. I did not call a doctor, for I knew what would b_aid of his sanity, and wished to give nature a chance if I possibly could. H_aked at midnight, and I put him to bed upstairs, but he was gone by morning.
He had let himself quietly out of the house - and his butler, when called o_he wire, said he was at home pacing about the library.
Edward went to pieces rapidly after that. He did not call again, but I wen_aily to see him. He would always be sitting in his library, staring a_othing and having an air of abnormal listening. Sometimes he talke_ationally, but always on trivial topics. Any mention of his trouble, o_uture plans, or of Asenath would send him into a frenzy. His butler said h_ad frightful seizures at night, during which he might eventually do himsel_arm.
I had a long talk with his doctor, banker, and lawyer, and finally took th_hysician with two specialist colleagues to visit him. The spasms tha_esulted from the first questions were violent and pitiable - and that evenin_ closed car took his poor struggling body to the Arkham Sanitarium. I wa_ade his guardian and called on him twice weekly - almost weeping to hear hi_ild shrieks, awesome whispers, and dreadful, droning repetitions of suc_hrases as "I had to do it - I had to do it - it'll get me - it'll get me - down there - down there in the dark - Mother! Mother! Dan! Save me - save me -"
How much hope of recovery there was, no one could say, but I tried my best t_e optimistic. Edward must have a home if he emerged, so I transferred hi_ervants to the Derby mansion, which would surely be his sane choice. What t_o about the Crowninshield place with its complex arrangements and collection_f utterly inexplicable objects I could not decide, so left it momentaril_ntouched - telling the Derby household to go over and dust the chief room_nce a week, and ordering the furnace man to have a fire on those days.
The final nightmare came before Candlemas - heralded, in cruel irony, by _alse gleam of hope. One morning late in January the sanitarium telephoned t_eport that Edward's reason had suddenly come back. His continuous memory, they said, was badly impaired; but sanity itself was certain. Of course h_ust remain some time for observation, but there could be little doubt of th_utcome. All going well, he would surely be free in a week.
I hastened over in a flood of delight, but stood bewildered when a nurse too_e to Edward's room. The patient rose to greet me, extending his hand with _olite smile; but I saw in an instant that he bore the strangely energize_ersonality which had seemed so foreign to his own nature - the competen_ersonality I had found so vaguely horrible, and which Edward himself had onc_owed was the intruding soul of his wife. There was the same blazing vision - so like Asenath's and old Ephraim's - and the same firm mouth; and when h_poke I could sense the same grim, pervasive irony in his voice - the dee_rony so redolent of potential evil. This was the person who had driven my ca_hrough the night five months before - the person I had not seen since tha_rief call when he had forgotten the oldtime doorbell signal and stirred suc_ebulous fears in me - and now he filled me with the same dim feeling o_lasphemous alienage and ineffable cosmic hideousness.
He spoke affably of arrangements for release - and there was nothing for me t_o but assent, despite some remarkable gaps in his recent memories. Yet I fel_hat something was terribly, inexplicably wrong and abnormal. There wer_orrors in this thing that I could not reach. This was a sane person - but wa_t indeed the Edward Derby I had known? If not, who or what was it - and wher_as Edward? Ought it to be free or confined - or ought it to be extirpate_rom the face of the earth? There was a hint of the abysmally sardonic i_verything the creature said - the Asenath-like eyes lent a special an_affling mockery to certain words about the early liberty earned by a_specially close confinement! I must have behaved very awkwardly, and was gla_o beat a retreat.
All that day and the next I racked my brain over the problem. What ha_appened? What sort of mind looked out through those alien eyes in Edward'_ace? I could think of nothing but this dimly terrible enigma, and gave up al_fforts to perform my usual work. The second morning the hospital called up t_ay that the recovered patient was unchanged, and by evening I was close to _ervous collapse-a state I admit, though others will vow it coloured m_ubsequent vision. I have nothing to say on this point except that no madnes_f mine could account for all the evidence.