Negotium Perambulans by E. F. Benson
The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have
noticed, as he bowled along over the bare high plateau between
Penzance and the Land's End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a
steep lane and bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription
"Polearn 2 miles," but probably very few have had the curiosity to
traverse those two miles in order to see a place to which their
guide-books award so cursory a notice. It is described there, in a
couple of unattractive lines, as a small fishing village with a
church of no particular interest except for certain carved and
painted wooden panels (originally belonging to an earlier edifice)
which form an altar-rail. But the church at St. Creed (the tourist is
reminded) has a similar decoration far superior in point of
preservation and interest, and thus even the ecclesiastically
disposed are not lured to Polearn. So meagre a bait is scarce worth
swallowing, and a glance at the very steep lane which in dry weather
presents a carpet of sharp-pointed stones, and after rain a muddy
watercourse, will almost certainly decide him not to expose his motor
or his bicycle to risks like these in so sparsely populated a
district. Hardly a house has met his eye since he left Penzance, and
the possible trundling of a punctured bicycle for half a dozen weary
miles seems a high price to pay for the sight of a few painted
Polearn, therefore, even in the high noon of the tourist season,
is little liable to invasion, and for the rest of the year I do not
suppose that a couple of folk a day traverse those two miles (long
ones at that) of steep and stony gradient. I am not forgetting the
postman in this exiguous estimate, for the days are few when, leaving
his pony and cart at the top of the hill, he goes as far as the
village, since but a few hundred yards down the lane there stands a
large white box, like a sea-trunk, by the side of the road, with a
slit for letters and a locked door. Should he have in his wallet a
registered letter or be the bearer of a parcel too large for
insertion in the square lips of the sea-trunk, he must needs trudge
down the hill and deliver the troublesome missive, leaving it in
person on the owner, and receiving some small reward of coin or
refreshment for his kindness.
But such occasions are rare, and his general routine is to take
out of the box such letters as may have been deposited there, and
insert in their place such letters as he has brought. These will be
called for, perhaps that day or perhaps the next, by an emissary from
the Polearn post-office.
As for the fishermen of the place, who, in their export trade,
constitute the chief link of movement between Polearn and the outside
world, they would not dream of taking their catch up the steep lane
and so, with six miles farther of travel, to the market at Penzance.
The sea route is shorter and easier, and they deliver their wares to
the pier-head. Thus, though the sole industry of Polearn is
sea-fishing, you will get no fish there unless you have bespoken your
requirements to one of the fishermen. Back come the trawlers as empty
as a haunted house, while their spoils are in the fish-train that is
speeding to London.
Such isolation of a little community, continued, as it has been,
for centuries, produces isolation in the individual as well, and
nowhere will you find greater independence of character than among
the people of Polearn. But they are linked together, so it has always
seemed to me, by some mysterious comprehension: it is as if they had
all been initiated into some ancient rite, inspired and framed by
forces visible and invisible. The winter storms that batter the
coast, the vernal spell of the spring, the hot, still summers, the
season of rains and autumnal decay, have made a spell which, line by
line, has been communicated to them, concerning the powers, evil and
good, that rule the world, and manifest themselves in ways benignant
I came to Polearn first at the age of ten, a small boy, weak and
sickly, and threatened with pulmonary trouble. My father's business
kept him in London, while for me abundance of fresh air and a mild
climate were considered essential conditions if I was to grow to
manhood. His sister had married the vicar of Polearn, Richard
Bolitho, himself native to the place, and so it came about that I
spent three years, as a paying guest, with my relations. Richard
Bolitho owned a fine house in the place, which he inhabited in
preference to the vicarage, which he let to a young artist, John
Evans, on whom the spell of Polearn had fallen for from year's
beginning to year's end he never lfet it. There was a solid roofed
shelter, open on one side to the air, built for me in the garden, and
here I lived and slept, passing scarcely one hour out of the
twenty-four behind walls and windows. I was out on the bay with the
fisher-folk, or wandering along the gorse-clad cliffs that climbed
steeply to right and left of the deep combe where the village lay, or
pottering about on the pier-head, or bird's-nesting in the bushes
with the boys of the village.
Except on Sunday and for the few daily hours of my lessons, I
might do what I pleased so long as I remained in the open air. About
the lessons there was nothing formidable; my uncle conducted me
through flowering bypaths among the thickets of arithmetic, and made
pleasant excursions into the elements of Latin grammar, and above
all, he made me daily give him an account, in clear and grammatical
sentences, of what had been occupying my mind or my movements. Should
I select to tell him about a walk along the cliffs, my speech must be
orderly, not vague, slip-shod notes of what I had observed. In this
way, too, he trained my observation, for he would bid me tell him
what flowers were in bloom, and what birds hovered fishing over the
sea or were building in the bushes. For that I owe him a perennial
gratitude, for to observe and to express my thoughts in the clear
spoken word became my life's profession.
But far more formidable than my weekday tasks was the prescribed
routine for Sunday.
Some dark embers compounded of Calvinism and mysticism smouldered
in my uncle's soul, and made it a day of terror. His sermon in the
morning scorched us with a foretaste of the eternal fires reserved
for unrepentant sinners, and he was hardly less terrifying at the
children's service in the afternoon. Well do I remember his
exposition of the doctrine of guardian angels. A child, he said,
might think himself secure in such angelic care, but let him beware
of committing any of those numerous offences which would cause his
guardian to turn his face from him, for as sure as there were angels
to protect us, there were also evil and awful presences which were
ready to pounce; and on them he dwelt with peculiar gusto. Well, too,
do I remember in the morning sermon his commentary on the carved
panels of the altar-rails to which I have already alluded.
There was the angel of the Annunciation there, and the angel of
the Resurrection, but not less was there the witch of Endor, and, on
the fourth panel, a scene that concerned me most of all.
This fourth panel (he came down from his pulpit to trace its
time-worn features) represented the lych-gate of the church-yard at
Polearn itself, and indeed the resemblance when thus pointed out was
remarkable. In the entry stood the figure of a robed priest holding
up a Cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic
slug, that reared itself up in front of him. That, so ran my uncle's
interpretation, was some evil agency, such as he had spoken about to
us children, of almost infinite malignity and power, which could
alone be combated by firm faith and a pure heart. Below ran the
legend "Negotium perambulans in tenebris" from the ninety-first
Psalm. We should find it translated there, "the pestilence that
walketh in darkness," which but feebly rendered the Latin. It was
more deadly to the soul than any pestilence that can only kill the
body: it was the Thing, the Creature, the Business that trafficked in
the outer Darkness, a minister of God's wrath on the unrighteous...I
could see, as he spoke, the looks which the congregation exchanged
with each other, and knew that his words were evoking a surmise, a
remembrance. Nods and whispers passed between them, they understood
to what he alluded, and with the inquisitiveness of boyhood I could
not rest till I had wormed the story out of my friends among the
fisher-boys, as, next morning, we sat basking and naked in the sun
after our bathe. One knew one bit of it, one another, but it pieced
together into a truly alarming legend. In bald outline it was as
A church far more ancient than that in which my uncle terrified us
every Sunday had once stood not three hundred yards away, on the
shelf of level ground below the quarry from which its stones were
hewn. The owner of the land had pulled this down, and erected for
himself a house on the same site out of these materials, keeping, in
a very ecstasy of wickedness, the altar, and on this he dined and
played dice afterwards. But as he grew old some black melancholy
seized him, and he would have lights burning there all night, for he
had deadly fear of the darkness. On one winter evening there sprang
up such a gale as was never before known, which broke in the windows
of the room where he had supped, and extinguished the lamps. Yells of
terror brought in his servants, who found him lying on the floor with
the blood streaming from his throat. As they entered some huge black
shadow seemed to move away from him, crawled across the floor and up
the wall and out of the broken window.
"There he lay a-dying," said the last of my informants, "and him
that had been a great burly man was withered to a bag o' skin, for
the critter had drained all the blood from him. His last breath was a
scream, and he hollered out the same words as passon read off the
"Negotium perambulans in tenebris," I suggested eagerly.
"Thereabouts. Latin anyhow."
"And after that?" I asked.
"Nobody would go near the place, and the old house rotted and fell
in ruins till three years ago, when along comes Mr. Dooliss from
Penzance, and built the half of it up again. But he don't care much
about such critters, nor about Latin neither. He takes his bottle of
whisky a day and gets drunk's a lord in the evening. Eh, I'm gwine
home to my dinner."
Whatever the authenticity of the legend, I had certainly heard the
truth about Mr. Dooliss from Penzance, who from that day became an
object of keen curiosity on my part, the more so because the
quarry-house adjoined my uncle's garden. The Thing that walked in the
dark failed to stir my imagination, and already I was so used to
sleeping alone in my shelter that the night had no terrors for me.
But it would be intensely exciting to wake at some timeless hour and
hear Mr. Dooliss yelling, and conjecture that the Thing had got
But by degrees the whole story faded from my mind, overscored by
the more vivid interests of the day, and, for the last two years of
my out-door life in the vicarage garden, I seldom thought about Mr.
Dooliss and the possible fate that might await him for his temerity
in living in the place where that Thing of darkness had done
business. Occasionally I saw him over the garden fence, a great
yellow lump of a man, with slow and staggering gait, but never did I
set eyes on him outside his gate, either in the village street or
down on the beach. He interfered with none, and no one interfered
with him. If he wanted to run the risk of being the prey of the
legendary nocturnal monster, or quietly drink himself to death, it
was his affair. My uncle, so I gathered, had made several attempts to
see him when first he came to live at Polearn, but Mr. Dooliss
appeared to have no use for parsons, but said he was not
at home and never returned the call.
After three years of sun, wind, and rain, I had completely
outgrown my early symptoms and had become a tough, strapping
youngster of thirteen. I was sent to Eton and Cambridge, and in due
course ate my dinners and became a barrister. In twenty years from
that time I was earning a yearly income of five figures, and had
already laid by in sound securities a sum that brought me dividends
which would, for one of my simple tastes and frugal habits, supply me
with all the material comforts I needed on this side of the grave.
The great prizes of my profession were already within my reach, but I
had no ambition beckoning me on, nor did I want a wife and children,
being, I must suppose, a natural celibate. In fact there was only one
ambition which through these busy years had held the lure of blue and
far-off hills to me, and that was to get back to Polearn, and live
once more isolated from the world with the sea and the gorse-clad
hills for play-fellows, and the secrets that lurked there for
exploration. The spell of it had been woven about my heart, and I can
truly say that there had hardly passed a day in all those years in
which the thought of it and the desire for it had been wholly absent
from my mind. Though I had been in frequent communication with my
uncle there during his lifetime, and, after his death, with his widow
who still lived there, I had never been back to it since I embarked
on my profession, for I knew that if I went there, it would be a
wrench beyond my power to tear myself away again. But I had made up
my mind that when once I had provided for my own independence, I
would go back there not to leave it again. And yet I did leave it
again, and now nothing in the world would induce me to turn down the
lane from the road that leads from Penzance to the Land's End, and
see the sides of the combe rise steep above the roofs of the village
and hear the gulls chiding as they fish in the bay. One of the things
invisible, of the dark powers, leaped into light, and I saw it with
The house where I had spent those three years of boyhood had been
left for life to my aunt, and when I made known to her my intention
of coming back to Polearn, she suggested that, till I found a
suitable house or found her proposal unsuitable, I should come to
live with her.
"The house is too big for a lone old woman," she wrote, "and I
have often thought of quitting and taking a little cottage sufficient
for me and my requirements. But come and share it, my dear, and if
you find me troublesome, you or I can go. You may want solitude--most
people in Polearn do--and will leave me. Or else I will leave you:
one of the main reasons of my stopping here all these years was a
feeling that I must not let the old house starve. Houses starve, you
know, if they are not lived in. They die a lingering death; the
spirit in them grows weaker and weaker, and at last fades out of
them. Isn't this nonsense to your London notions?..."
Naturally I accepted with warmth this tentative arrangement, and
on an evening in June found myself at the head of the lane leading
down to Polearn, and once more I descended into the steep valley
between the hills. Time had stood still apparently for the combe, the
dilapidated signpost (or its successor) pointed a rickety finger down
the lane, and a few hundred yards farther on was the white box for
the exchange of letters. Point after remembered point met my eye, and
what I saw was not shrunk, as is often the case with the revisited
scenes of childhood, into a smaller scale. There stood the
post-office, and there the church and close beside it the vicarage,
and beyond, the tall shrubberies which separated the house for which
I was bound from the road, and beyond that again the grey roofs of
the quarry-house damp and shining with the moist evening wind from
the sea. All was exactly as I remembered it, and, above all, that
sense of seclusion and isolation. Somewhere above the tree-tops
climbed the lane which joined the main road to Penzance, but all that
had become immeasurably distant. The years that had passed since last
I turned in at the well-known gate faded like a frosty breath, and
vanished in this warm, soft air. There were law-courts somewhere in
memory's dull book which, if I cared to turn the pages, would tell me
that I had made a name and a great income there. But the dull book
was closed now, for I was back in Polearn, and the spell was woven
around me again.
And if Polearn was unchanged, so too was Aunt Hester, who met me
at the door. Dainty and china-white she had always been, and the
years had not aged but only refined her. As we sat and talked after
dinner she spoke of all that had happened in Polearn in that score of
years, and yet somehow the changes of which she spoke seemed but to
confirm the immutability of it all. As the recollection of names came
back to me, I asked her about the quarry-house and Mr. Dooliss, and
her face gloomed a little as with the shadow of a cloud on a spring
"Yes, Mr. Dooliss," she said, "poor Mr. Dooliss, how well I
remember him, though it must be ten years and more since he died. I
never wrote to you about it, for it was all very dreadful, my dear,
and I did not want to darken your memories of Polearn. Your uncle
always thought that something of the sort might happen if he went on
in his wicked, drunken ways, and worse than that, and though nobody
knew exactly what took place, it was the sort of thing that might
have been anticipated."
"But what more or less happened, Aunt Hester?" I asked.
"Well, of course I can't tell you everything, for no one knew it.
But he was a very sinful man, and the scandal about him at Newlyn was
shocking. And then he lived, too, in the quarry-house...
"I wonder if by any chance you remember a sermon of your uncle's
when he got out of the pulpit and explained that panel in the
altar-rails, the one, I mean, with the horrible creature rearing
itself up outside the lych-gate?"
"Yes, I remember perfectly," said I.
"Ah. It made an impression on you, I suppose, and so it did on all
who heard him, and that impression got stamped and branded on us all
when the catastrophe occurred. Somehow Mr. Dooliss got to hear about
your uncle's sermon, and in some drunken fit he broke into the church
and smashed the panel to atoms. He seems to have thought that there
was some magic in it, and that if he destroyed that he would get rid
of the terrible fate that was threatening him. For I must tell you
that before he committed that dreadful sacrilege he had been a
haunted man: he hated and feared darkness, for he thought that the
creature on the panel was on his track, but that as long as he kept
lights burning it could not touch him. But the panel, to his
disordered mind, was the root of his terror, and so, as I said, he
broke into the church and attempted--you will see why I said
'attempted'--to destroy it. It certainly was found in splinters next
morning, when your uncle went into church for matins, and knowing Mr.
Dooliss's fear of the panel, he went across to the quarry-house
afterwards and taxed him with its destruction. The man never denied
it; he boasted of what he had done. There he sat, though it was early
morning, drinking his whisky.
"'I've settled your Thing for you,' he said, 'and your sermon too.
A fig for such superstitions.'
"Your uncle left him without answering his blasphemy, meaning to
go straight into Penzance and give information to the police about
this outrage to the church, but on his way back from the quarry-house
he went into the church again, in order to be able to give details
about the damage, and there in the screen was the panel, untouched
and uninjured. And yet he had himself seen it smashed, and Mr.
Dooliss had confessed that the destruction of it was his work. But
there it was, and whether the power of God had mended it or some
other power, who knows?"
This was Polearn indeed, and it was the spirit of Polearn that
made me accept all Aunt Hester was telling me as attested fact. It
had happened like that. She went on in her quiet voice.
"Your uncle recognised that some power beyond police was at work,
and he did not go to Penzance or give informations about the outrage,
for the evidence of it had vanished." A sudden spate of scepticism
swept over me.
"There must have been some mistake," I said. "It hadn't been
"Yes, my dear, but you have been in London so long," she said.
"Let me, anyhow, tell you the rest of my story. That night, for some
reason, I could not sleep. It was very hot and airless; I dare say
you will think that the sultry conditions accounted for my
wakefulness. Once and again, as I went to the window to see if I
could not admit more air, I could see from it the quarry-house, and I
noticed the first time that I left my bed that it was blazing with
lights. But the second time I saw that it was all in darkness, and as
I wondered at that, I heard a terrible scream, and the moment
afterwards the steps of someone coming at full speed down the road
outside the gate. He yelled as he ran; 'Light, light!' he called out.
'Give me light, or it will catch me!' It was very terrible to hear
that, and I went to rouse my husband, who was sleeping in the
dressing-room across the passage. He wasted no time, but by now the
whole village was aroused by the screams, and when he got down to the
pier he found that all was over. The tide was low, and on the rocks
at its foot was lying the body of Mr. Dooliss. He must have cut some
artery when he fell on those sharp edges of stone, for he had bled to
death, they thought, and though he was a big burly man, his corpse
was but skin and bones. Yet there was no pool of blood round him,
such as you would have expected. Just skin and bones as if every drop
of blood in his body had been sucked out of him!"
She leaned forward.
"You and I, my dear, know what happened," she said, "or at least
can guess. God has His instruments of vengeance on those who bring
wickedness into places that have been holy. Dark and mysterious are
Now what I should have thought of such a story if it had been told
me in London I can easily imagine. There was such an obvious
explanation: the man in question had been a drunkard, what wonder if
the demons of delirium pursued him? But here in Polearn it was
"And who is in the quarry-house now?" I asked. "Years ago the
fisher-boys told me the story of the man who first built it and of
his horrible end. And now again it has happened. Surely no one has
ventured to inhabit it once more?"
I saw in her face, even before I asked that question, that
somebody had done so.
"Yes, it is lived in again," said she, "for there is no end to the
blindness...I don't know if you remember him. He was tenant of the
vicarage many years ago."
"John Evans," said I.
"Yes. Such a nice fellow he was too. Your uncle was pleased to get
so good a tenant. And now--" She rose.
"Aunt Hester, you shouldn't leave your sentences unfinished," I
She shook her head.
"My dear, that sentence will finish itself," she said. "But what a
time of night! I must go to bed, and you too, or they will think we
have to keep lights burning here through the dark hours."
Before getting into bed I drew my curtains wide and opened all the
windows to the warm tide of the sea air that flowed softly in.
Looking out into the garden I could see in the moonlight the roof of
the shelter, in which for three years I had lived, gleaming with dew.
That, as much as anything, brought back the old days to which I had
now returned, and they seemed of one piece with the present, as if no
gap of more than twenty years sundered them. The two flowed into one,
like globules of mercury uniting into a softly shining globe, of
mysterious lights and reflections.
Then, raising my eyes a little, I saw against the black hill-side
the windows of the quarry-house still alight.
Morning, as is so often the case, brought no shattering of my
illusion. As I began to regain consciousness, I fancied that I was a
boy again waking up in the shelter in the garden, and though, as I
grew more widely awake, I smiled at the impression, that on which it
was based I found to be indeed true. It was sufficient now as then to
be here, to wander again on the cliffs, and hear the popping of the
ripened seed-pods on the gorse-bushes; to stray along the shore to
the bathing-cove, to float and drift and swim in the warm tide, and
bask on the sand, and watch the gulls fishing, to lounge on the
pier-head with the fisher-folk, to see in their eyes and hear in
their quiet speech the evidence of secret things not so much known to
them as part of their instincts and their very being. There were
powers and presences about me; the white poplars that stood by the
stream that babbled down the valley knew of them, and showed a
glimpse of their knowledge sometimes, like the gleam of their white
underleaves; the very cobbles that paved the street were soaked in it
All that I wanted was to lie there and grow soaked in it too;
unconsciously, as a boy, I had done that, but now the process must be
conscious. I must know what stir of forces, fruitful and mysterious,
seethed along the hill-side at noon, and sparkled at night on the
sea. They could be known, they could even be controlled by those who
were masters of the spell, but never could they be spoken of, for
they were dwellers in the innermost, grafted into the eternal life of
the world. There were dark secrets as well as these clear, kindly
powers, and to these no doubt belonged the negotium perambulans in
tenebris which, though of deadly malignity, might be regarded not
only as evil, but as the avenger of sacrilegious and impious deeds...
All this was part of the spell of Polearn, of which the seeds had
long lain dormant in me. But now they were sprouting, and who knew
what strange flower would unfold on their stems?
It was not long before I came across John Evans. One morning, as I
lay on the beach, there came shambling across the sand a man stout
and middle-aged with the face of Silenus. He paused as he drew near
and regarded me from narrow eyes.
"Why, you're the little chap that used to live in the parson's
garden," he said. "Don't you recognise me?"
I saw who it was when he spoke: his voice, I think, instructed me,
and recognising it, I could see the features of the strong, alert
young man in this gross caricature.
"Yes, you're John Evans," I said. "You used to be very kind to me:
you used to draw pictures for me."
"So I did, and I'll draw you some more. Been bathing? That's a
risky performance. You never know what lives in the sea, nor what
lives on the land for that matter. Not that I heed them.
"I stick to work and whisky. God! I've learned to paint since I
saw you, and drink too for that matter. I live in the quarry-house,
you know, and it's a powerful thirsty place. Come and have a look at
my things if you're passing. Staying with your aunt, are you? I could
do a wonderful portrait of her. Interesting face; she knows a lot.
People who live at Polearn get to know a lot, though I don't take
much stock in that sort of knowledge myself."
I do not know when I have been at once so repelled and interested.
Behind the mere grossness of his face there lurked something which,
while it appalled, yet fascinated me. His thick lisping speech had
the same quality. And his paintings, what would they be like?...
"I was just going home," I said. "I'll gladly come in, if you'll
He took me through the untended and overgrown garden into the
house which I had never yet entered. A great grey cat was sunning
itself in the window, and an old woman was laying lunch in a corner
of the cool hall into which the door opened. It was built of stone,
and the carved mouldings let into the walls, the fragments of
gargoyles and sculptured images, bore testimony to the truth of its
having been built out of the demolished church. In one corner was an
oblong and carved wooden table littered with a painter's apparatus
and stacks of canvases leaned against the walls.
He jerked his thumb towards a head of an angel that was built into
the mantelpiece and giggled.
"Quite a sanctified air," he said, "so we tone it down for the
purposes of ordinary life by a different sort of art. Have a drink?
No? Well, turn over some of my pictures while I put myself to
He was justified in his own estimate of his skill: he could paint
(and apparently he could paint anything), but never have I seen
pictures so inexplicably hellish. There were exquisite studies of
trees, and you knew that something lurked in the flickering shadows.
There was a drawing of his cat sunning itself in the window, even as
I had just now seen it, and yet it was no cat but some beast of awful
malignity. There was a boy stretched naked on the sands, not human,
but some evil thing which had come out of the sea. Above all there
were pictures of his garden overgrown and jungle-like, and you knew
that in the bushes were presences ready to spring out on you...
"Well, do you like my style?" he said as he came up, glass in
hand. (The tumbler of spirits that he held had not been diluted.) "I
try to paint the essence of what I see, not the mere husk and skin of
it, but its nature, where it comes from and what gave it birth.
There's much in common between a cat and a fuchsia-bush if you look
at them closely enough. Everything came out of the slime of the pit,
and it's all going back there. I should like to do a picture of you
some day. I'd hold the mirror up to Nature, as that old lunatic
After this first meeting I saw him occasionally throughout the
months of that wonderful summer. Often he kept to his house and to
his painting for days together, and then perhaps some evening I would
find him lounging on the pier, always alone, and every time we met
thus the repulsion and interest grew, for every time he seemed to
have gone farther along a path of secret knowledge towards some evil
shrine where complete initiation awaited him...And then suddenly the
I had met him thus one evening on the cliffs while the October
sunset still burned in the sky, but over it with amazing rapidity
there spread from the west a great blackness of cloud such as I have
never seen for denseness. The light was sucked from the sky, the dusk
fell in ever thicker layers. He suddenly became conscious of
"I must get back as quick as I can," he said. "It will be dark in
a few minutes, and my servant is out. The lamps will not be lit."
He stepped out with extraordinary briskness for one who shambled
and could scarcely lift his feet, and soon broke out into a stumbling
run. In the gathering darkness I could see that his face was moist
with the dew of some unspoken terror.
"You must come with me," he panted, "for so we shall get the
lights burning the sooner. I cannot do without light."
I had to exert myself to the full to keep up with him, for terror
winged him, and even so I fell behind, so that when I came to the
garden gate, he was already half-way up the path to the house.
I saw him enter, leaving the door wide, and found him fumbling
with matches. But his hand so trembled that he could not transfer the
light to the wick of the lamp..."But what's the hurry about?" I
Suddenly his eyes focused themselves on the open door behind me,
and he jumped from his seat beside the table which had once been the
altar of God, with a gasp and a scream.
"No, no!" he cried. "Keep it off!..."
I turned and saw what he had seen. The Thing had entered and now
was swiftly sliding across the floor towards him, like some gigantic
caterpillar. A stale phosphorescent light came from it, for though
the dusk had grown to blackness outside, I could see it quite
distinctly in the awful light of its own presence. From it too there
came an odour of corruption and decay, as from slime that has long
lain below water. It seemed to have no head, but on the front of it
was an orifice of puckered skin which opened and shut and slavered at
the edges. It was hairless, and slug-like in shape and in texture. As
it advanced its fore-part reared itself from the ground, like a snake
about to strike, and it fastened on him...
At that sight, and with the yells of his agony in my ears, the
panic which had struck me relaxed into a hopeless courage, and with
palsied, impotent hands I tried to lay hold of the Thing.
But I could not: though something material was there, it was
impossible to grasp it; my hands sunk in it as in thick mud. It was
like wrestling with a nightmare.
I think that but a few seconds elapsed before all was over. The
screams of the wretched man sank to moans and mutterings as the Thing
fell on him: he panted once or twice and was still. For a moment
longer there came gurglings and sucking noises, and then it slid out
even as it had entered. I lit the lamp which he had fumbled with, and
there on the floor he lay, no more than a rind of skin in loose folds
over projecting bones.