On Wednesday I started as agreed,. taking with me a valise full of simpl_ecessities and scientific data, including the hideous phonograph record, th_odak prints, and the entire file of Akeley’s correspondence. As requested, _ad told no one where I was going; for I could see that the matter demande_tmost privacy, even allowing for its most favourable turns. The thought o_ctual mental contact with alien, outside entities was stupefying enough to m_rained and somewhat prepared mind; and this being so, what might one think o_ts effect on the vast masses of uninformed laymen? I do not know whethe_read or adventurous expectancy was uppermost in me as I changed trains a_oston and began the long westward run out of familiar regions into those _new less thoroughly. Waltham - Concord - Ayer - Fitchburg - Gardner - Athol -
My train reached Greenfield seven minutes late, but the northbound connectin_xpress had been held. Transferring in haste, I felt a curious breathlessnes_s the cars rumbled on through the early afternoon sunlight into territories _ad always read of but had never before visited. I knew I was entering a_ltogether older-fashioned and more primitive New England than the mechanised,
urbanised coastal and southern areas where all my life had been spent; a_nspoiled, ancestral New England without the foreigners and factory-smoke,
bill-boards and concrete roads, of the sections which modernity has touched.
There would be odd survivals of that continuous native life whose deep root_ake it the one authentic outgrowth of the landscape - the continuous nativ_ife which keeps alive strange ancient memories, and fertilises the soil fo_hadowy, marvellous, and seldom-mentioned beliefs.
Now and then I saw the blue Connecticut River gleaming in the sun, and afte_eaving Northfield we crossed it. Ahead loomed green and cryptical hills, an_hen the conductor came around I learned that I was at last in Vermont. H_old me to set my watch back an hour, since the northern hill country wil_ave no dealings with new-fangled daylight time schemes. As I did so it seeme_o me that I was likewise turning the calendar back a century.
The train kept close to the river, and across in New Hampshire I could see th_pproaching slope of steep Wantastiquet, about which singular old legend_luster. Then streets appeared on my left, and a green island showed in th_tream on my right. People rose and filed to the door, and I followed them.
The car stopped, and I alighted beneath the long train-shed of the Brattlebor_tation.
Looking over the line of waiting motors I hesitated a moment to see which on_ight turn out to be the Akeley Ford, but my identity was divined before _ould take the initiative. And yet it was clearly not Akeley himself wh_dvanced to meet me with an outstretched hand and a mellowly phrased query a_o whether I was indeed Mr. Albert N. Wilmarth of Arkham. This man bore n_esemblance to the bearded, grizzled Akeley of the snapshot; but was a younge_nd more urbane person, fashionably dressed, and wearing only a small, dar_oustache. His cultivated voice held an odd and almost disturbing hint o_ague familiarity, though I could not definitely place it in my memory.
As I surveyed him I heard him explaining that he was a friend of m_rospective host’s who had come down from Townshend in his stead. Akeley, h_eclared, had suffered a sudden attack of some asthmatic trouble, and did no_eel equal to making a trip in the outdoor air. It was not serious, however,
and there was to be no change in plans regarding my visit. I could not mak_ut just how much this Mr. Noyes - as he announced himself - knew of Akeley’_esearches and discoveries, though it seemed to me that his casual manne_tamped him as a comparative outsider. Remembering what a hermit Akeley ha_een, I was a trifle surprised at the ready availability of such a friend; bu_id not let my puzzlement deter me from entering the motor to which h_estured me. It was not the small ancient car I had expected from Akeley’_escriptions, but a large and immaculate specimen of recent pattern -
apparently Noyes’s own, and bearing Massachusetts license plates with th_musing "sacred codfish" device of that year. My guide, I concluded, must be _ummer transient in the Townshend region.
Noyes climbed into the car beside me and started it at once. I was glad tha_e did not overflow with conversation, for some peculiar atmospheric tensit_ade me feel disinclined to talk. The town seemed very attractive in th_fternoon sunlight as we swept up an incline and turned to the right into th_ain street. It drowsed like the older New England cities which one remember_rom boyhood, and something in the collocation of roofs and steeples an_himneys and brick walls formed contours touching deep viol-strings o_ncestral emotion. I could tell that I was at the gateway of a region half-
bewitched through the piling-up of unbroken time-accumulations; a region wher_ld, strange things have had a chance to grow and linger because they hav_ever been stirred up.
As we passed out of Brattleboro my sense of constraint and forebodin_ncreased, for a vague quality in the hill-crowded countryside with it_owering, threatening, close-pressing green and granite slopes hinted a_bscure secrets and immemorial survivals which might or might not be hostil_o mankind. For a time our course followed a broad, shallow river which flowe_own from unknown hills in the north, and I shivered when my companion told m_t was the West River. It was in this stream, I recalled from newspaper items,
that one of the morbid crablike beings had been seen floating after th_loods.
Gradually the country around us grew wilder and more deserted. Archaic covere_ridges lingered fearsomely out of the past in pockets of the hills, and th_alf-abandoned railway track paralleling the river seemed to exhale _ebulously visible air of desolation. There were awesome sweeps of vivi_alley where great cliffs rose, New England’s virgin granite showing grey an_ustere through the verdure that scaled the crests. There were gorges wher_ntamed streams leaped, bearing down toward the river the unimagined secret_f a thousand pathless peaks. Branching away now and then were narrow, half-
concealed roads that bored their way through solid, luxuriant masses of fores_mong whose primal trees whole armies of elemental spirits might well lurk. A_ saw these I thought of how Akeley had been molested by unseen agencies o_is drives along this very route, and did not wonder that such things coul_e.
The quaint, sightly village of Newfane, reached in less than an hour, was ou_ast link with that world which man can definitely call his own by virtue o_onquest and complete occupancy. After that we cast off all allegiance t_mmediate, tangible, and time-touched things, and entered a fantastic world o_ushed unreality in which the narrow, ribbon-like road rose and fell an_urved with an almost sentient and purposeful caprice amidst the tenantles_reen peaks and half-deserted valleys. Except for the sound of the motor, an_he faint stir of the few lonely farms we passed at infrequent intervals, th_nly thing that reached my ears was the gurgling, insidious trickle of strang_aters from numberless hidden fountains in the shadowy woods.
The nearness and intimacy of the dwarfed, domed hills now became veritabl_reath-taking. Their steepness and abruptness were even greater than I ha_magined from hearsay, and suggested nothing in common with the prosai_bjective world we know. The dense, unvisited woods on those inaccessibl_lopes seemed to harbour alien and incredible things, and I felt that the ver_utline of the hills themselves held some strange and aeon-forgotten meaning,
as if they were vast hieroglyphs left by a rumoured titan race whose glorie_ive only in rare, deep dreams. All the legends of the past, and all th_tupefying imputations of Henry Akeley’s letters and exhibits, welled up in m_emory to heighten the atmosphere of tension and growing menace. The purpos_f my visit, and the frightful abnormalities it postulated struck at me all a_nce with a chill sensation that nearly over-balanced my ardour for strang_elvings.
My guide must have noticed my disturbed attitude; for as the road grew wilde_nd more irregular, and our motion slower and more jolting, his occasiona_leasant comments expanded into a steadier flow of discourse. He spoke of th_eauty and weirdness of the country, and revealed some acquaintance with th_olklore studies of my prospective host. From his polite questions it wa_bvious that he knew I had come for a scientific purpose, and that I wa_ringing data of some importance; but he gave no sign of appreciating th_epth and awfulness of the knowledge which Akeley had finally reached.
His manner was so cheerful, normal, and urbane that his remarks ought to hav_almed and reassured me; but oddly enough. I felt only the more disturbed a_e bumped and veered onward into the unknown wilderness of hills and woods. A_imes it seemed as if he were pumping me to see what I knew of the monstrou_ecrets of the place, and with every fresh utterance that vague, teasing,
baffling familiarity in his voice increased. It was not an ordinary or health_amiliarity despite the thoroughly wholesome and cultivated nature of th_oice. I somehow linked it with forgotten nightmares, and felt that I might g_ad if I recognised it. If any good excuse had existed, I think I would hav_urned back from my visit. As it was, I could not well do so - and it occurre_o me that a cool, scientific conversation with Akeley himself after m_rrival would help greatly to pull me together.
Besides, there was a strangely calming element of cosmic beauty in th_ypnotic landscape through which we climbed and plunged fantastically. Tim_ad lost itself in the labyrinths behind, and around us stretched only th_lowering waves of faery and the recaptured loveliness of vanished centuries -
the hoary groves, the untainted pastures edged with gay autumnal blossoms, an_t vast intervals the small brown farmsteads nestling amidst huge tree_eneath vertical precipices of fragrant brier and meadow-grass. Even th_unlight assumed a supernal glamour, as if some special atmosphere o_xhalation mantled the whole region. I had seen nothing like it before save i_he magic vistas that sometimes form the backgrounds of Italian primitives.
Sodoma and Leonardo conceived such expanses, but only in the distance, an_hrough the vaultings of Renaissance arcades. We were now burrowing bodil_hrough the midst of the picture, and I seemed to find in its necromancy _hing I had innately known or inherited and for which I had always been vainl_earching.
Suddenly, after rounding an obtuse angle at the top of a sharp ascent, the ca_ame to a standstill. On my left, across a well-kept lawn which stretched t_he road and flaunted a border of whitewashed stones, rose a white, two-and-a
-half-story house of unusual size and elegance for the region, with a congene_f contiguous or arcade-linked barns, sheds, and windmill behind and to th_ight. I recognised it at once from the snapshot I had received, and was no_urprised to see the name of Henry Akeley on the galvanised-iron mailbox nea_he road. For some distance back of the house a level stretch of marshy an_parsely-wooded land extended, beyond which soared a steep, thickly-foreste_illside ending in a jagged leafy crest. This latter, I knew, was the summi_f Dark Mountain, half way up which we must have climbed already.
Alighting from the car and taking my valise, Noyes asked me to wait while h_ent in and notified Akeley of my advent. He himself, he added, had importan_usiness elsewhere, and could not stop for more than a moment. As he briskl_alked up the path to the house I climbed out of the car myself, wishing t_tretch my legs a little before settling down to a sedentary conversation. M_eeling of nervousness and tension had risen to a maximum again now that I wa_n the actual scene of the morbid beleaguering described so hauntingly i_keley’s letters, and I honestly dreaded the coming discussions which were t_ink me with such alien and forbidden worlds.
Close contact with the utterly bizarre is often more terrifying tha_nspiring, and it did not cheer me to think that this very bit of dusty roa_as the place where those monstrous tracks and that foetid green ichor ha_een found after moonless nights of fear and death. Idly I noticed that non_f Akeley’s dogs seemed to be about. Had he sold them all as soon as the Oute_nes made peace with him? Try as I might, I could not have the same confidenc_n the depth and sincerity of that peace which appeared in Akeley’s final an_ueerly different letter. After all, he was a man of much simplicity and wit_ittle worldly experience. Was there not, perhaps, some deep and siniste_ndercurrent beneath the surface of the new alliance?
Led by my thoughts, my eyes turned downward to the powdery road surface whic_ad held such hideous testimonies. The last few days had been dry, and track_f all sorts cluttered the rutted, irregular highway despite the unfrequente_ature of the district. With a vague curiosity I began to trace the outline o_ome of the heterogeneous impressions, trying meanwhile to curb the flights o_acabre fancy which the place and its memories suggested. There was somethin_enacing and uncomfortable in the funereal stillness, in the muffled, subtl_rickle of distant brooks, and in the crowding green peaks and black-woode_recipices that choked the narrow horizon.
And then an image shot into my consciousness which made those vague menace_nd flights of fancy seem mild and insignificant indeed. I have said that _as scanning the miscellaneous prints in the road with a kind of idl_uriosity - but all at once that curiosity was shockingly snuffed out by _udden and paralysing gust of active terror. For though the dust tracks wer_n general confused and overlapping, and unlikely to arrest any casual gaze,
my restless vision had caught certain details near the spot where the path t_he house joined the highway; and had recognised beyond doubt or hope th_rightful significance of those details. It was not for nothing, alas, that _ad pored for hours over the Kodak views of the Outer Ones’ claw-prints whic_keley had sent. Too well did I know the marks of those loathsome nippers, an_hat hint of ambiguous direction which stamped the horrors as no creatures o_his planet. No chance had been left me for merciful mistake. Here, indeed, i_bjective form before my own eyes, and surely made not many hours ago, were a_east three marks which stood out blasphemously among the surprising plethor_f blurred footprints leading to and from the Akeley farmhouse. They were th_ellish tracks of the living fungi from Yuggoth.
I pulled myself together in time to stifle a scream. After all, what more wa_here than I might have expected, assuming that I had really believed Akeley’_etters? He had spoken of making peace with the things. Why, then, was i_trange that some of them had visited his house? But the terror was stronge_han the reassurance. Could any man be expected to look unmoved for the firs_ime upon the claw-marks of animate beings from outer depths of space? Jus_hen I saw Noyes emerge from the door and approach with a brisk step. I must,
I reflected, keep command of myself, for the chances were that this genia_riend knew nothing of Akeley’s profoundest and most stupendous probings int_he forbidden.
Akeley, Noyes hastened to inform me, was glad and ready to see me; althoug_is sudden attack of asthma would prevent him from being a very competent hos_or a day or two. These spells hit him hard when they came, and were alway_ccompanied by a debilitating fever and general weakness. He never was goo_or much while they lasted - had to talk in a whisper, and was very clumsy an_eeble in getting about. His feet and ankles swelled, too, so that he had t_andage them like a gouty old beef-eater. Today he was in rather bad shape, s_hat I would have to attend very largely to my own needs; but he was none th_ess eager for conversation. I would find him in the study at the left of th_ront hall - the room where the blinds were shut. He had to keep the sunligh_ut when he was ill, for his eyes were very sensitive.
As Noyes bade me adieu and rode off northward in his car I began to wal_lowly toward the house. The door had been left ajar for me; but befor_pproaching and entering I cast a searching glance around the whole place,
trying to decide what had struck me as so intangibly queer about it. The barn_nd sheds looked trimly prosaic enough, and I noticed Akeley’s battered For_n its capacious, unguarded shelter. Then the secret of the queerness reache_e. It was the total silence. Ordinarily a farm is at least moderatel_urmurous from its various kinds of livestock, but here all signs of life wer_issing. What of the hens and the dogs? The cows, of which Akeley had said h_ossessed several, might conceivably be out to pasture, and the dogs migh_ossibly have been sold; but the absence of any trace of cackling or gruntin_as truly singular.
I did not pause long on the path, but resolutely entered the open house doo_nd closed it behind me. It had cost me a distinct psychological effort to d_o, and now that I was shut inside I had a momentary longing for precipitat_etreat. Not that the place was in the least sinister in visual suggestion; o_he contrary, I thought the graceful late-colonial hallway very tasteful an_holesome, and admired the evident breeding of the man who had furnished it.
What made me wish to flee was something very attenuated and indefinable.
Perhaps it was a certain odd odour which I thought I noticed - though I wel_new how common musty odours are in even the best of ancient farmhouses.