No Man's land by John Buchan
I - The Shieling of Farawa
It was with a light heart and a pleasing consciousness of holiday
that I set out from the inn at Allermuir to tramp my fifteen miles into
the unknown. I walked slowly, for I carried my equipment on my back--my
basket, fly-books and rods, my plaid of Grant tartan (for I boast
myself a distant kinsman of that house), and my great staff, which had
tried ere then the front of the steeper Alps. A small valise with books
and some changes of linen clothing had been sent on ahead in the
shepherd's own hands. It was yet early April, and before me lay four
weeks of freedom--twenty-eight blessed days in which to take fish and
smoke the pipe of idleness. The Lent term had pulled me down, a week of
modest enjoyment thereafter in town had finished the work; and I drank
in the sharp moorish air like a thirsty man who has been forwandered
I am a man of varied tastes and a score of interests. As an
undergraduate I had been filled with the old mania for the complete
life. I distinguished myself in the Schools, rowed in my college eight,
and reached the distinction of practising for three weeks in the
Trials. I had dabbled in a score of learned activities, and when the
time came that I won the inevitable St. Chad's fellowship on my chaotic
acquirements, and I found myself compelled to select if I would pursue
a scholar's life, I had some toil in finding my vocation. In the end I
resolved that the ancient life of the North, of the Celts and the
Northmen and the unknown Pictish tribes, held for me the chief
fascination. I had acquired a smattering of Gaelic, having been brought
up as a boy in Lochaber, and now I set myself to increase my store of
languages. I mastered Erse and Icelandic, and my first book--a
monograph on the probable Celtic elements in the Eddie songs--brought
me the praise of scholars and the deputy-professor's chair of Northern
Antiquities. So much for Oxford. My vacations had been spent mainly in
the North--in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isles, in Scandinavia and
Iceland, once even in the far limits of Finland. I was a keen sportsman
of a sort, an old-experienced fisher, a fair shot with gun and rifle,
and in my hillcraft I might well stand comparison with most men. April
has ever seemed to me the finest season of the year even in our cold
northern altitudes, and the memory of many bright Aprils had brought me
up from the South on the night before to Allerfoot, whence a dogcart
had taken me up Glen Aller to the inn at Allermuir; and now the same
desire had set me on the heather with my face to the cold brown
You are to picture a sort of plateau, benty and rock-strewn, running
ridge-wise above a chain of little peaty lochs and a vast tract of
inexorable bog. In a mile the ridge ceased in a shoulder of hill, and
over this lay the head of another glen, with the same doleful
accompaniment of sunless lochs, mosses, and a shining and resolute
water. East and west and north, in every direction save the south, rose
walls of gashed and serrated hills. It was a grey day with blinks of
sun, and when a ray chanced to fall on one of the great dark faces,
lines of light and colour sprang into being which told of mica and
granite. I was in high spirits, as on the eve of holiday; I had
breakfasted excellently on eggs and salmon-steaks; I had no cares to
speak of, and my prospects were not uninviting. But in spite of myself
the landscape began to take me in thrall and crush me. The silent
vanished peoples of the hills seemed to be stirring; dark primeval
faces seemed to stare at me from behind boulders and jags of rock. The
place was so still, so free from the cheerful clamour of nesting birds,
that it seemed a temenos sacred to some old-world god. At my feet the
lochs lapped ceaselessly; but the waters were so dark that one could
not see bottom a foot from the edge. On my right the links of green
told of snakelike mires waiting to crush the unwary wanderer. It seemed
to me for the moment a land of death, where the tongues of the dead
cried aloud for recognition.
My whole morning's walk was full of such fancies. I lit a pipe to
cheer me, but the things would not be got rid of. I thought of the
Gaels who had held those fastnesses; I thought of the Britons before
them, who yielded to their advent. They were all strong peoples in
their day, and now they had gone the way of the earth. They had left
their mark on the levels of the glens and on the more habitable
uplands, both in names and in actual forts, and graves where men might
still dig curios. But the hills--that black stony amphitheatre before
me--it seemed strange that the hills bore no traces of them. And then
with some uneasiness I reflected on that older and stranger race who
were said to have held the hill-tops. The Picts, the Picti--what in the
name of goodness were they? They had troubled me in all my studies, a
sort of blank wall to put an end to speculation. We knew nothing of
them save certain strange names which men called Pictish, the names of
those hills in front of me--the Muneraw, the Yirnie, the Calmarton.
They were the corpus vile for learned experiment; but Heaven alone knew
what dark abyss of savagery once yawned in the midst of the desert.
And then I remembered the crazy theories of a pupil of mine at St.
Chad's, the son of a small landowner on the Aller, a young gentleman
who had spent his substance too freely at Oxford, and was now dreeing
his weird in the Backwoods. He had been no scholar; but a certain
imagination marked all his doings, and of a Sunday night he would come
and talk to me of the North. The Picts were his special subject, and
his ideas were mad. 'Listen to me,' he would say, when I had mixed him
toddy and given him one of my cigars; 'I believe there are traces--ay,
and more than traces--of an old culture lurking in those hills and
waiting to be discovered. We never hear of the Picts being driven from
the hills. The Britons drove them from the lowlands, the Gaels from
Ireland did the same for the Britons; but the hills were left
unmolested. We hear of no one going near them except outlaws and
tinklers. And in that very place you have the strangest mythology. Take
the story of the Brownie. What is that but the story of a little swart
man of uncommon strength and cleverness, who does good and ill
indiscriminately, and then disappears. There are many scholars, as you
yourself confess, who think that the origin of the Brownie was in some
mad belief in the old race of the Picts, which still survived somewhere
in the hills. And do we not hear of the Brownie in authentic records
right down to the year 1756? After that, when people grew more
incredulous, it is natural that the belief should have begun to die
out; but I do not see why stray traces should not have survived till
'Do you not see what that means?' I had said in mock gravity. 'Those
same hills are, if anything, less known now than they were a hundred
years ago. Why should not your Picts or Brownies be living to this
'Why not, indeed?' he had rejoined, in all seriousness.
I laughed, and he went to his rooms and returned with a large
leather-bound book. It was lettered, in the rococo style of a young
man's taste, 'Glimpses of the Unknown,' and some of the said glimpses
he proceeded to impart to me. It was not pleasant reading; indeed, I
had rarely heard anything so well fitted to shatter sensitive nerves.
The early part consisted of folk-tales and folk-sayings, some of them
wholly obscure, some of them with a glint of meaning, but all of them
with some hint of a mystery in the hills. I heard the Brownie story in
countless versions. Now the thing was a friendly little man, who wore
grey breeches and lived on brose; now he was a twisted being, the sight
of which made the ewes miscarry in the lambing-time. But the second
part was the stranger, for it was made up of actual tales, most of them
with date and place appended. It was a most Bedlamite catalogue of
horrors, which, if true, made the wholesome moors a place instinct with
tragedy. Some told of children carried away from villages, even from
towns, on the verge of the uplands. In almost every case they were
girls, and the strange fact was their utter disappearance. Two little
girls would be coming home from school, would be seen last by a
neighbour just where the road crossed a patch of heath or entered a
wood, and then--no human eye ever saw them again. Children's cries had
startled outlying shepherds in the night, and when they had rushed to
the door they could hear nothing but the night wind. The instances of
such disappearances were not very common--perhaps once in twenty
years--but they were confined to this one tract of country, and came in
a sort of fixed progression from the middle of last century, when the
record began. But this was only one side of the history. The latter
part was all devoted to a chronicle of crimes which had gone
unpunished, seeing that no hand had ever been traced. The list was
fuller in last century; in the earlier years of the present it had
dwindled; then came a revival about the 'fifties; and now again in our
own time it had sunk low. At the little cottage of Auchterbrean, on the
roadside in Glen Aller, a labourer's wife had been found pierced to the
heart. It was thought to be a case of a woman's jealousy, and her
neighbour was accused, convicted, and hanged. The woman, to be sure,
denied the charge with her last breath; but circumstantial evidence
seemed sufficiently strong against her. Yet some people in the glen
believed her guiltless. In particular, the carrier who had found the
dead woman declared that the way in which her neighbour received the
news was a sufficient proof of innocence; and the doctor who was first
summoned professed himself unable to tell with what instrument the
wound had been given. But this was all before the days of expert
evidence, so the woman had been hanged without scruple. Then there had
been another story of peculiar horror, telling of the death of an old
man at some little lonely shieling called Carrickfey. But at this point
I had risen in protest, and made to drive the young idiot from my
'It was my grandfather who collected most of them,' he said. 'He had
theories,[*] but people called him mad, so he was wise enough to hold
his tongue. My father declares the whole thing mania; but I rescued the
book had it bound, and added to the collection. It is a queer hobby;
but, as I say, I have theories, and there are more things in heaven and
earth--' But at this he heard a friend's voice in the Quad., and dived
out, leaving the banal quotation unfinished.
[* In the light of subsequent events I have jotted down the
materials to which I refer. The last authentic record of the Brownie is
in the narrative of the shepherd of Clachlands, taken down towards the
close of last century by the Reverend Mr. Gillespie, minister of
Allerkirk, and included by him in his 'Songs and Legends of Glen
The authorities on the strange carrying-away of children are to be
found in a series of articles in a local paper, the Allerfoot
Advertiser', September and October 1878, and a curious book published
anonymously at Edinburgh in 1848, entitled 'The Weathergaw'. The
records of the unexplained murders in the same neighbourhood are all
contained in Mr. Fordoun's 'Theory of Expert Evidence', and an attack
on the book in the 'Law Review' for June 1881. The Carrickfey case has
a pamphlet to itself--now extremely rare--a copy of which was recently
obtained in a bookseller's shop in Dumfries by a well-known antiquary,
and presented to the library of the Supreme Court in Edinburgh.]
Strange though it may seem, this madness kept coming back to me as I
crossed the last few miles of moor. I was now on a rough tableland, the
watershed between two lochs, and beyond and above me rose the stony
backs of the hills. The burns fell down in a chaos of granite boulders,
and huge slabs of grey stone lay flat and tumbled in the heather. The
full waters looked prosperously for my fishing, and I began to forget
all fancies in anticipation of sport.
Then suddenly in a hollow of land I came on a ruined cottage. It had
been a very small place, but the walls were still half-erect, and the
little moorland garden was outlined on the turf. A lonely apple-tree,
twisted and gnarled with winds, stood in the midst.
From higher up on the hill I heard a loud roar, and I knew my
excellent friend the shepherd of Farawa, who had come thus far to meet
me. He greeted me with the boisterous embarrassment which was his way
of prefacing hospitality. A grave reserved man at other times, on such
occasions he thought it proper to relapse into hilarity. I fell into
step with him, and we set off for his dwelling. But first I had the
curiosity to look back to the tumble-down cottage and ask him its
A queer look came into his eyes. 'They ca' the place Carrickfey,' he
said. Naebody has daured to bide there this twenty year sin'--but I see
ye ken the story.' And, as if glad to leave the subject, he hastened to
discourse on fishing.
II - Tells of an Evening's Talk
The shepherd was a masterful man; tall, save for the stoop which
belongs to all moorland folk, and active as a wild goat. He was not a
new importation, nor did he belong to the place; for his people had
lived in the remote Borders, and he had come as a boy to this shieling
of Farawa. He was unmarried, but an elderly sister lived with him and
cooked his meals. He was reputed to be extraordinarily skilful in his
trade; I know for a fact that he was in his way a keen sportsman; and
his few neighbours gave him credit for a sincere piety. Doubtless this
last report was due in part to his silence, for after his first
greeting he was wont to relapse into a singular taciturnity. As we
strode across the heather he gave me a short outline of his year's
lambing. 'Five pair o' twins yestreen, twae this morn; that makes
thirty-five yowes that hae lambed since the Sabbath. I'll dae weel if
God's willin'.' Then, as I looked towards the hill-tops whence the thin
mist of morn was trailing, he followed my gaze. 'See,' he said with
uplifted crook--'see that sicht. Is that no what is written of in the
Bible when it says, "The mountains do smoke".' And with this piece of
apologeties he finished his talk, and in a little we were at the
It was a small enough dwelling in truth, and yet large for a
moorland house, for it had a garret below the thatch, which was given
up to my sole enjoyment. Below was the wide kitchen with box-beds, and
next to it the inevitable second room, also with its cupboard
sleeping-places. The interior was very clean, and yet I remember to
have been struck with the faint musty smell which is inseparable from
moorland dwellings. The kitchen pleased me best, for there the great
rafters were black with peat-reek, and the uncovered stone floor, on
which the fire gleamed dully, gave an air of primeval simplicity. But
the walls spoiled all, for tawdry things of to-day had penetrated even
there. Some grocers' almanacs--years old--hung in places of honour, and
an extraordinary lithograph of the Royal Family in its youth. And this,
mind you, between crooks and fishing-rods and old guns, and horns of
sheep and deer.
The life for the first day or two was regular and placid. I was up
early, breakfasted on porridge (a dish which I detest), and then off to
the lochs and streams. At first my sport prospered mightily. With a
drake-wing I killed a salmon of seventeen pounds, and the next day had
a fine basket of trout from a hill-burn. Then for no earthly reason the
weather changed. A bitter wind came out of the north-east, bringing
showers of snow and stinging hail, and lashing the waters into storm.
It was now farewell to fly-fishing. For a day or two I tried trolling
with the minnow on the lochs, but it was poor sport, for I had no boat,
and the edges were soft and mossy. Then in disgust I gave up the
attempt, went back to the cottage, lit my biggest pipe, and sat down
with a book to await the turn of the weather.
The shepherd was out from morning till night at his work, and when
he came in at last, dog-tired, his face would be set and hard, and his
eyes heavy with sleep. The strangeness of the man grew upon me. He had
a shrewd brain beneath his thatch of hair, for I had tried him once or
twice, and found him abundantly intelligent. He had some smattering of
an education, like all Scottish peasants, and, as I have said, he was
deeply religious. I set him down as a fine type of his class, sober,
serious, keenly critical, free from the bondage of superstition. But I
rarely saw him, and our talk was chiefly in monosyllables--short
interjected accounts of the number of lambs dead or alive on the hill.
Then he would produce a pencil and notebook, and be immersed in some
calculation; and finally he would be revealed sleeping heavily in his
chair, till his sister wakened him, and he stumbled off to bed.
So much for the ordinary course of life; but one day--the second I
think of the bad weather--the extraordinary happened. The storm had
passed in the afternoon into a resolute and blinding snow, and the
shepherd, finding it hopeless on the hill, came home about three
o'clock. I could make out from his way of entering that he was in a
great temper. He kicked his feet savagely against the door-post. Then
he swore at his dogs, a thing I had never heard him do before. 'Hell!'
he cried, 'can ye no keep out o' my road, ye britts?' Then he came
sullenly into the kitchen, thawed his numbed hands at the fire, and sat
down to his meal.
I made some aimless remark about the weather.
'Death to man and beast,' he grunted. 'I hae got the sheep doun frae
the hill, but the lambs will never thole this. We maun pray that it
will no last.'
His sister came in with some dish. 'Margit,' he cried, 'three lambs
away this morning, and three deid wi' the hole in the throat.'
The woman's face visibly paled. 'Guid help us, Adam; that hasna
happened this three year.'
'It has happened noo,' he said, surlily. 'But, by God! if it happens
again I'll gang mysel' to the Scarts o' the Muneraw.'
'0 Adam!' the woman cried shrilly, 'haud your tongue. Ye kenna wha
hears ye.' And with a frightened glance at me she left the room.
I asked no questions, but waited till the shepherd's anger should
cool. But the cloud did not pass so lightly. When he had finished his
dinner he pulled his chair to the fire and sat staring moodily. He made
some sort of apology to me for his conduct. 'I'm sore troubled, sir;
but I'm vexed ye should see me like this. Maybe things will be better
the morn.' And then, lighting his short black pipe, he resigned himself
to his meditations.
But he could not keep quiet. Some nervous unrest seemed to have
possessed the man. He got up with a start and went to the window, where
the snow was drifting, unsteadily past. As he stared out into the storm
I heard him mutter to himself, 'Three away, God help me, and three wi'
the hole in the throat.'
Then he turned round to me abruptly. I was jotting down notes for an
article I contemplated in the 'Revue Celtique,' so my thoughts were far
away from the present. The man recalled me by demanding fiercely. 'Do
ye believe in God?'
I gave him some sort of answer in the affirmative.
'Then do ye believe in the Devil?' he asked.
The reply must have been less satisfactory, for he came forward, and
flung himself violently into the chair before me.
'What do ye ken about it?' he cried. 'You that bides in a southern
toun, what can ye ken o' the God that works in thae hills and the
Devil--ay, the manifold devils--that He suffers to bide here? I tell
ye, man, that if ye had seen what I have seen ye wad be on your knees
at this moment praying to God to pardon your unbelief. There are devils
at the back o' every stane and hidin' in every cleuch, and it's by the
grace o' God alone that a man is alive upon the earth.' His voice had
risen high and shrill, and then suddenly he cast a frightened glance
towards the window and was silent.
I began to think that the man's wits were unhinged, and the thought
did not give me satisfaction. I had no relish for the prospect of being
left alone in this moorland dwelling with the cheerful company of a
maniac. But his next movements reassured me. He was clearly only
dead-tired, for he fell sound asleep in his chair, and by the time his
sister brought tea and wakened him, he seemed to have got the better of
When the window was shuttered and the lamp lit, I set myself again
to the completion of my notes. The shepherd had got out his Bible, and
was solemnly reading with one great finger travelling down the lines.
He was smoking, and whenever some text came home to him with power he
would make pretence to underline it with the end of the stem. Soon I
had finished the work I desired, and, my mind being full of my pet
hobby, I fell into an inquisitive frame of mind, and began to question
the solemn man opposite on the antiquities of the place.
He stared stupidly at me when I asked him concerning monuments or
'I kenna,' said he. 'There's a heap o' queer things in the
'This place should be a centre for such relics. You know that the
name of the hill behind the house, as far as I can make it out, means
the "Place of the Little Men." It is a good Gaelic word, though there
is some doubt about its exact interpretation. But clearly the Gaelic
peoples did not speak of themselves when they gave the name; they must
have referred to some older and stranger population.'
The shepherd looked at me dully, as not understanding.
'It is partly this fact--besides the fishing, of course--which
interests me in this countryside,' said I, gaily.
Again he cast the same queer frightened glance towards the window.
'If tak the advice of an aulder man,' he said, slowly, 'yell let well
alane and no meddle wi' uncanny things.'
I laughed pleasantly, for at last I had found out my hard-headed
host in a piece of childishness. 'Why, I thought that you of all men
would be free from superstition.'
'What do ye call supersteetion?' he asked.
'A belief in old wives' tales,' said I, 'a trust in the crude
supernatural and the patently impossible.'
He looked at me beneath his shaggy brows. 'How do ye ken what is
impossible? Mind ye, sir, ye're no in the toun just now, but in the
thick of the wild hills.'
'But, hang it all, man,' I cried, 'you don't mean to say that you
believe in that sort of thing? I am prepared for many things up here,
but not for the Brownie,--though, to be sure, if one could meet him in
the flesh, it would be rather pleasant than otherwise, for he was a
companionable sort of fellow.'
'When a thing pits the fear o' death on a man he aye speaks well of
It was true--the Eumenides and the Good Folk over again; and I awoke
with interest to the fact that the conversation was getting into
The shepherd moved uneasily in his chair. 'I am a man that fears
God, and has nae time for daft stories; but I havena traivelled the
hills for twenty years wi' my een shut. If I say that I could tell ye
stories o' faces seen in the mist, and queer things that have knocked
against me in the snaw, wad ye believe me? I wager ye wadna. Ye wad say
I had been drunk, and yet I am a God-fearing temperate man.'
He rose and went to a cupboard, unlocked it, and brought out
something in his hand, which he held out to me. I took it with some
curiosity, and found that it was a flint arrow-head.
Clearly a flint arrow-head, and yet like none that I had ever seen
in any collection. For one thing it was larger, and the barb less
clumsily thick. More, the chipping was new, or comparatively so; this
thing had not stood the wear of fifteen hundred years among the stones
of the hillside. Now there are, I regret to say, institutions which
manufacture primitive relics; but it is not hard for a practised eye to
see the difference. The chipping has either a regularity and a balance
which is unknown in the real thing, or the rudeness has been overdone,
and the result is an implement incapable of harming a mortal creature.
But this was the real thing if it ever existed; and yet--I was prepared
to swear on my reputation that it was not half a century old.
'Where did you get this?' I asked with some nervousness.
'I hae a story about that,' said the shepherd. 'Outside the door
there ye can see a muckle flat stane aside the buchts. One simmer nicht
I was sitting there smoking till the dark, and I wager there was
naething on the stane then. But that same nicht I awoke wi' a queer
thocht, as if there were folk moving around the hoose--folk that didna
mak' muckle noise. I mind o' lookin' out o' the windy, and I could hae
sworn I saw something black movin' amang the heather and intil the
buchts. Now I had maybe threescore o' lambs there that nicht, for I had
to tak' them many miles off in the early morning. Weel, when I gets up
about four o'clock and gangs out, as I am passing the muckle stane I
finds this bit errow. "That's come here in the nicht," says I, and I
wunnered a wee and put it in my pouch. But when I came to my faulds
what did I see? Five o' my best hoggs were away, and three mair were
lying deid wi' a hole in their throat.'
'Who in the world--?' I began.
Dinna ask,' said he. 'If I aince sterted to speir about thae
maitters, I wadna keep my reason.'
'Then that was what happened on the hill this morning?'
'Even sae, and it has happened mair than aince sin' that time. It's
the most uncanny slaughter, for sheep-stealing I can understand, but no
this pricking o' the puir beasts' wizands. I kenna how they dae't
either, for it's no wi' a knife or ony common tool.'
'Have you never tried to follow the thieves?'
'Have I no?' he asked, grimly. 'Hit had been common sheep-stealers I
wad hae had them by the heels, though I had followed them a hundred
miles. But this is no common. I've tracked them, and it's ill they are
to track; but I never got beyond ae place, and that was the Scarts o'
the Muneraw that ye've heard me speak o'.'
'But who in Heaven's name are the people? Tinklers or poachers or
'Ay,' said he, drily. 'Even so. Tinklers and poachers whae wark wi'
stane errows and kill sheep by a hole in their throat. Lord, I kenna
what they are, unless the Muckle Deil himsel'.'
The conversation had passed beyond my comprehension. In this prosaic
hard-headed man I had come on the dead-rock of superstition and blind
'That is only the story of the Brownie over again, and he is an
exploded myth,' I said, laughing.
'Are ye the man that exploded it?' said the shepherd, rudely. 'I
trow no, neither you nor ony ither. My bonny man, if ye lived a
twalmonth in thae hills, ye wad sing safter about exploded myths, as ye
'I tell you what I would do,' said I. 'If I lost sheep as you lose
them, I would go up the Scarts of the Muneraw and never rest till I had
settled the question once and for all.' I spoke hotly, for I was vexed
by the man's childish fear.
'I daresay ye wad,' he said, slowly. 'But then I am no you, and
maybe I ken mair o' what is in the Scarts o' the Muneraw. Maybe I ken
that whilk, if ye kenned it, wad send ye back to the South Country wi'
your hert in your mouth. But, as I say, I am no sae brave as you, for I
saw something in the first year o' my herding here which put the terror
o' God on me, and makes me a fearfu' man to this day. Ye ken the story
o' the gudeman o' Carrickfey?'
Weel, I was the man that fand him. I had seen the deid afore and
I've seen them since. But never have I seen aucht like the look in that
man's een. What he saw at his death I may see the morn, so I walk
before the Lord in fear.'
Then he rose and stretched himself. 'It's bedding-time, for I maun
be up at three,' and with a short good night he left the room.
III - The Scarts of the Muneraw
The next morning was fine, for the snow had been intermittent, and
had soon melted except in the high corries. True, it was deceptive
weather, for the wind had gone to the rainy south-west, and the masses
of cloud on that horizon boded ill for the afternoon. But some days'
inaction had made me keen for a chance of sport, so I rose with the
shepherd and set out for the day.
He asked me where I proposed to begin.
I told him the tarn called the Loch o' the Threshes, which lies over
the back of the Muneraw on another watershed. It is on the ground of
the Rhynns Forest, and I had fished it of old from the Forest House. I
knew the merits of the trout, and I knew its virtues in a south-west
wind, so I had resolved to go thus far afield.
The shepherd heard the name in silence. 'Your best road will be ower
that rig, and syne on to the water o' Caulds. Keep abune the moss till
ye come to the place they ca' the Nick o' the Threshes. That will take
ye to the very lochside, but it's a lang road and a sair.'
The morning was breaking over the bleak hills. Little clouds drifted
athwart the corries, and wisps of haze fluttered from the peaks. A
great rosy flush lay over one side of the glen, which caught the edge
of the sluggish bog-pools and turned them to fire. Never before had I
seen the mountain-land so clear, for far back into the east and west I
saw mountain-tops set as close as flowers in a border, black crags
seamed with silver lines which I knew for mighty waterfalls, and below
at my feet the lower slopes fresh with the dewy green of spring. A name
stuck in my memory from the last night's talk.
'Where are the Scarts of the Muneraw?' I asked.
The shepherd pointed to the great hill which bears the name, and
which lies, a huge mass, above the watershed.
'D'ye see yon corrie at the east that runs straucht up the side? It
looks a bit scart, but it's sae deep that it's aye derk at the bottom
o't. Weel, at the tap o' the rig it meets anither corrie that runs doun
the ither side, and that one they ca' the Scarts. There is a sort o'
burn in it that flows intil the Dule and sae intil the Aller, and,
indeed, if ye were gaun there it wad be from Aller Glen that your best
road wad lie. But it's an ill bit, and ye'll be sair guidit if ye
There he left me and went across the glen, while I struck upwards
over the ridge. At the top I halted and looked down on the wide glen of
the Caulds, which there is little better than a bog, but lower down
grows into a green pastoral valley. The great Muneraw still dominated
the landscape, and the black scaur on its side seemed blacker than
before. The place fascinated me, for in that fresh morning air the
shepherd's fears seemed monstrous. 'Some day,' said I to myself, 'I
will go and explore the whole of that mighty hill.' Then I descended
and struggled over the moss, found the Nick, and in two hours' time was
on the loch's edge.
I have little in the way of good to report of the fishing. For
perhaps one hour the trout took well; after that they sulked steadily
for the day. The promise, too, of fine weather had been deceptive. By
midday the rain was falling in that soft soaking fashion which gives no
hope of clearing. The mist was down to the edge of the water, and I
cast my flies into a blind sea of white. It was hopeless work, and yet
from a sort of ill-temper I stuck to it long after my better judgment
had warned me of its folly. At last, about three in the afternoon, I
struck my camp, and prepared myself for a long and toilsome
And long and toilsome it was beyond anything I had ever encountered.
Had I had a vestige of sense I would have followed the burn from the
loch down to the Forest House. The place was shut up, but the keeper
would gladly have given me shelter for the night. But foolish pride was
too strong in me. I had found my road in mist before, and could do it
Before I got to the top of the hill I had repented my decision; when
I got there I repented it more. For below me was a dizzy chaos of grey;
there was no landmark visible; and before me I knew was the bog through
which the Caulds Water twined. I had crossed it with some trouble in
the morning, but then I had light to pick my steps. Now I could only
stumble on, and in five minutes I might be in a bog-hole, and in five
more in a better world.
But there was no help to be got from hesitation, so with a rueful
courage I set off. The place was if possible worse than I had feared.
Wading up to the knees with nothing before you but a blank wall of mist
and the cheerful consciousness that your next step may be your
last--such was my state for one weary mile. The stream itself was high,
and rose to my armpits, and once and again I only saved myself by a
violent leap backwards from a pitiless green slough. But at last it was
past, and I was once more on the solid ground of the hillside.
Now, in the thick weather I had crossed the glen much lower down
than in the morning, and the result was that the hill on which I stood
was one of the giants which, with the Muneraw for centre, guard the
watershed. Had I taken the proper way, the Nick o' the Threshes would
have led me to the Caulds, and then once over the bog a little ridge
was all that stood between me and the glen of Farawa. But instead I had
come a wild cross-country road, and was now, though I did not know it,
nearly as far from my destination as at the start.
Well for me that I did not know, for I was wet and dispirited, and
had I not fancied myself all but home, I should scarcely have had the
energy to make this last ascent. But soon I found it was not the little
ridge I had expected. I looked at my watch and saw that it was five
o'clock. When, after the weariest climb, I lay on a piece of level
ground which seemed the top, I was not surprised to find that it was
now seven. The darkening must be at hand, and sure enough the mist
seemed to be deepening into a greyish black. I began to grow desperate.
Here was I on the summit of some infernal mountain, without any
certainty where my road lay. I was lost with a vengeance, and at the
thought I began to be acutely afraid.
I took what seemed to me the way I had come, and began to descend
steeply. Then something made me halt, and the next instant I was lying
on my face trying painfully to retrace my steps. For I had found myself
slipping, and before I could stop, my feet were dangling over a
precipice with Heaven alone knows how many yards of sheer mist between
me and the bottom. Then I tried keeping the ridge, and took that to the
right, which I thought would bring me nearer home. It was no good
trying to think out a direction, for in the fog my brain was running
round, and I seemed to stand on a pin-point of space where the laws of
the compass had ceased to hold.
It was the roughest sort of walking, now stepping warily over acres
of loose stones, now crawling down the face of some battered rock, and
now wading in the long dripping heather. The soft rain had begun to
fall again, which completed my discomfort. I was now seriously tired,
and, like all men who in their day have bent too much over books, I
began to feel it in my back. My spine ached, and my breath came in
short broken pants. It was a pitiable state of affairs for an honest
man who had never encountered much grave discomfort. To ease myself I
was compelled to leave my basket behind me, trusting to return and find
it, if I should ever reach safety and discover on what pathless hill I
had been strayed. My rod I used as a staff, but it was of little use,
for my fingers were getting too numb to hold it.
Suddenly from the blankness I heard a sound as of human speech. At
first I thought it mere craziness--the cry of a weasel or a hill-bird
distorted by my ears. But again it came, thick and faint, as through
acres of mist, and yet clearly the sound of 'articulate-speaking men.'
In a moment I lost my despair and cried out in answer. This was some
forwandered traveller like myself, and between us we could surely find
some road to safety. So I yelled back at the pitch of my voice and
But the sound ceased, and there was utter silence again. Still I
waited, and then from some place much nearer came the same soft
mumbling speech. I could make nothing of it. Heard in that drear place
it made the nerves tense and the heart timorous. It was the strangest
jumble of vowels and consonants I had ever met.
A dozen solutions flashed through my brain. It was some maniac
talking Jabberwock to himself. It was some belated traveller whose wits
had given out in fear. Perhaps it was only some shepherd who was
amusing himself thus, and whiling the way with nonsense. Once again I
cried out and waited.
Then suddenly in the hollow trough of mist before me, where things
could still be half discerned, there appeared a figure. It was little
and squat and dark; naked, apparently, but so rough with hair that it
wore the appearance of a skin-covered being. It crossed my line of
vision, not staying for a moment, but in its face and eyes there seemed
to lurk an elder world of mystery and barbarism, a troll-like life
which was too horrible for words.
The shepherd's fear came back on me like a thunderclap. For one
awful instant my legs failed me, and I had almost fallen. The next I
had turned and ran shrieking up the hill.
If he who may read this narrative has never felt the force of an
overmastering terror, then let him thank his Maker and pray that he
never may. I am no weak child, but a strong grown man, accredited in
general with sound sense and little suspected of hysterics. And yet I
went up that brae-face with my heart fluttering like a bird and my
throat aching with fear. I screamed in short dry gasps; involuntarily,
for my mind was beyond any purpose. I felt that beast-like clutch at my
throat; those red eyes seemed to be staring at me from the mist; I
heard ever behind and before and on all sides the patter of those
Before I knew I was down, slipping over a rock and falling some
dozen feet into a soft marshy hollow. I was conscious of lying still
for a second and whimpering like a child. But as I lay there I awoke to
the silence of the place. There was no sound of pursuit; perhaps they
had lost my track and given up. My courage began to return, and from
this it was an easy step to hope. Perhaps after all it had been merely
an illusion, for folk do not see clearly in the mist, and I was already
done with weariness.
But even as I lay in the green moss and began to hope, the faces of
my pursuers grew up through the mist. I stumbled madly to my feet; but
I was hemmed in, the rock behind and my enemies before. With a cry I
rushed forward, and struck wildly with my rod at the first dark body.
It was as if I had struck an animal, and the next second the thing was
wrenched from my grasp. But still they came no nearer. I stood
trembling there in the centre of those malignant devils, my brain a
mere weathercock, and my heart crushed shapeless with horror. At last
the end came, for with the vigour of madness I flung myself on the
nearest, and we rolled on the ground. Then the monstrous things seemed
to close over me, and with a choking cry I passed into
IV The Darkness that is Under the Earth
There is an unconsciousness that is not wholly dead, where a man
feels numbly and the body lives without the brain. I was beyond speech
or thought, and yet I felt the upward or downward motion as 'the way
lay in hill or glen, and I most assuredly knew when the open air was
changed for the close underground. I could feel dimly that lights were
flared in my face, and that I was laid in some bed on the earth. Then
with the stopping of movement the real sleep of weakness seized me, and
for long I knew nothing of this mad world.
Morning came over the moors with bird-song and the glory of fine
weather. The streams were still rolling in spate, but the hill-pastures
were alight with dawn, and the little seams of snow glistened like
white fire. A ray from the sunrise cleft its path somehow into the
abyss, and danced on the wall above my couch. It caught my eye as I
wakened, and for long I lay crazily wondering what it meant. My head
was splitting with pain, and in my heart was the same fluttering
nameless fear. I did not wake to full consciousness; not till the
twinkle of sun from the clean bright out-of-doors caught my senses did
I realise that I lay in a great dark place with a glow of dull
firelight in the middle.
In time things rose and moved around me, a few ragged shapes of men,
without clothing, shambling with their huge feet and looking towards me
with curved beast-like glances. I tried to marshal my thoughts, and
slowly, bit by bit, I built up the present. There was no question to my
mind of dreaming; the past hours had scored reality upon my brain. Yet
I cannot say that fear was my chief feeling. The first crazy terror had
subsided, and now I felt mainly a sickened disgust with just a tinge of
curiosity. I found that my knife, watch, flask, and money had gone, but
they had left me a map of the countryside. It seemed strange to look at
the calico, with the name of a London printer stamped on the back, and
lines of railway and highroad running through every shire. Decent and
comfortable civilisation! And here was I a prisoner in this den of
nameless folk, and in the midst of a life which history knew not.
Courage is a virtue which grows with reflection and the absence of
the immediate peril. I thought myself into some sort of resolution, and
lo! when the Folk approached me and bound my feet I was back at once in
the most miserable terror. They tied me all but my hands with some
strong cord, and carried me to the centre,' where the fire was glowing.
Their soft touch was the acutest torture to my nerves, but I stifled my
cries lest some one should lay his hand on my mouth. Had that happened,
I am convinced my reason would have failed me.
So there I lay in the shine of the fire, with the circle of unknown
things around me. There seemed but three or four, but I took no note of
number. They talked huskily among themselves in a tongue which sounded
all gutturals. Slowly my fear became less an emotion than a habit, and
I had room for the smallest shade of curiosity. I strained my ear to
catch a word, but it was a mere chaos of sound. The thing ran and
thundered in my brain as I stared dumbly into the vacant air. Then I
thought that unless I spoke I should certainly go crazy, for my head
was beginning to swim at the strange cooing noise.
I spoke a word or two in my best Gaelic, and they closed round me
inquiringly. Then I was sorry I had spoken, for my words had brought
them nearer, and I shrank at the thought. But as the faint echoes of my
speech hummed in the rock-chamber, I was struck by a curious kinship of
sound. Mine was sharper, more distinct, and staccato; theirs was
blurred, formless, but still with a certain root-resemblance.
Then from the back there came an older being, who seemed to have
heard my words. He was like some foul grey badger, his red eyes
sightless, and his hands trembling on a stump of bog-oak. The others
made way for him with such deference as they were capable of, and the
thing squatted down by me and spoke.
To my amazement his words were familiar. It was some manner of
speech akin to the Gaelic, but broadened, lengthened, coarsened. I
remembered an old book-tongue, commonly supposed to be an impure
dialect once used in Brittany, which I had met in the course of my
researches. The words recalled it, and as far as I could remember the
thing, I asked him who he was and where the place might be.
He answered me in the same speech--still more broadened, lengthened,
coarsened. I lay back with sheer amazement. I had found the key to this
For a little an insatiable curiosity, the ardour of the scholar,
prevailed. I forgot the horror of the place, and thought only of the
fact that here before me was the greatest find that scholarship had
ever made. I was precipitated into the heart of the past. Here must be
the fountainhead of all legends, the chrysalis of all beliefs. I
actually grew light-hearted. This strange folk around me were now no
more shapeless things of terror, but objects of research and
experiment. I almost came to think them not unfriendly.
For an hour I enjoyed the highest of earthly pleasures. In that
strange conversation I heard--in fragments and suggestions--the history
of the craziest survival the world has ever seen. I heard of the
struggles with invaders, preserved as it were in a sort of shapeless
poetry. There were bitter words against the Gaelic oppressor, bitterer
words against the Saxon stranger, and for a moment ancient hatreds
flared into life. Then there came the tale of the hill-refuge, the
morbid hideous existence preserved for centuries amid a changing world.
I heard fragments of old religions, primeval names of god and goddess,
half-understood by the Folk, but to me the key to a hundred puzzles.
Tales which survive to us in broken disjointed riddles were intact here
in living form. I lay on my elbow and questioned feverishly. At any
moment they might become morose and refuse to speak. Clearly it was my
duty to make the most of a brief good fortune.
And then the tale they told me grew more hideous. I heard of the
circumstances of the life itself and their daily shifts for existence.
It was a murderous chronicle--a history of lust and rapine and
unmentionable deeds in the darkness. One thing they had early
recognised--that the race could not be maintained within itself; so
that ghoulish carrying away of little girls from the lowlands began,
which I had heard of but never credited. Shut up in those dismal holes,
the girls soon died, and when the new race had grown up the plunder had
been repeated. Then there were bestial murders in lonely cottages, done
for God knows what purpose. Sometimes the occupant had seen more than
was safe, sometimes the deed was the mere exuberance of a lust of
slaying. As they abbled their tales my heart's blood froze, and I lay
back in the agonie of fear. If they had used the others thus, what way
of escape was op n for myself? I had been brought to this place, and
not murdered on the spot. Clearly there was torture before death in
store for me, and I confess I quailed at the thought.
But none molested me. The elders continued to jabber out their
stories, while I lay tense and deaf. Then to my amazement food was
brought and placed beside me--almost with respect. Clearly my murder
was not a thing of the immediate future. The meal was some form of
mutton--perhaps the shepherd's lost ewes--and a little smoking was all
the cooking it had got. I strove to eat, but the tasteless morsels
choked me. Then they set drink before me in a curious cup, which I
seized on eagerly, for my mouth was dry with thirst. The vessel was of
gold, rudely formed, but of the pure metal, and a coarse design in
circles ran round the middle. This surprised me enough, but a greater
wonder awaited me. The liquor was not water, as I had guessed, but a
sort of sweet ale, a miracle of flavour. The taste was curious, but
somehow familiar; it was like no wine I had ever drunk, and yet I had
known that flavour all my life. I sniffed at the brim, and there rose a
faint fragrance of thyme and heather honey and the sweet things of the
moorland. I almost dropped the thing in my surprise; for here in this
rude place I had stumbled upon that lost delicacy of the North, the
For a second I was entranced with my discovery, and then the wonder
of the cup claimed my attention. Was it a mere relic of pillage, or had
this folk some hidden mine of the precious metal? Gold had once been
common in these hills. There were the traces of mines on Cairnsmore;
shepherds had found it in the gravel of the Gled Water; and the name of
a house at the head of the Clachlands meant the 'Home of Gold.'
Once more I began my questions, and they answered them willingly.
There and then I heard that secret for which many had died in old time,
the secret of the heather ale. They told of the gold in the hills, of
corries where the sand gleamed and abysses where the rocks were veined.
All this they told me, freely, without a scruple. And then, like a
clap, came the awful thought that this, too, spelled death. These were
secrets which this race aforetime had guarded with their lives; they
told them generously to me because there was no fear of betrayal. I
should go no more out from this place.
The thought put me into a new sweat of terror--not at death, mind
you, but at the unknown horrors which might precede the final
suffering. I lay silent, and after binding my hands they began to leave
me and go off to other parts of the cave. I dozed in the horrible
half-swoon of fear, conscious only of my shaking limbs, and the great
dull glow of the fire in the centre. Then I became calmer. After all,
they had treated me with tolerable kindness: I had spoken their
language, which few of their victims could have done for many a
century; it might be that I found favour in their eyes. For a little I
comforted myself with this delusion, till I caught sight of a wooden
box in a corner. It was of modern make, one such as grocers use to pack
provisions in. It had some address nailed on it, and an aimless
curiosity compelled me to creep thither and read it. A torn and
weather-stained scrap of paper, with the nails at the corner rusty with
age; but something of the address might still be made out. Amid the
stains my feverish eyes read, 'To Mr. M--Carrickfey, by Allerfoot
The ruined cottage in the hollow of the waste with the single
gnarled apple-tree was before me in a twinkling. I remembered the
shepherd's shrinking from the place and the name, and his wild eyes
when he told me of the thing that had happened there. I seemed to see
the old man in his moorland cottage, thinking no evil; the sudden entry
of the nameless things; and then the eyes glazed in unspeakable terror.
I felt my lips dry and burning. Above me was the vault of rock; in the
distance I saw the fire-glow and the shadows of shapes moving around
it. My fright was too great for inaction, so I crept from the couch,
and silently, stealthily, with tottering steps and bursting heart, I
began to reconnoitre.
But I was still bound, my arms tightly, my legs more loosely, but
yet firm enough to hinder flight. I could not get my hands at my
leg-straps, still less could I undo the manacles. I rolled on the
floor, seeking some sharp edge of rock, but all had been worn smooth by
the use of centuries. Then suddenly an idea came upon me like an
inspiration. The sounds from the fire seemed to have ceased, and I
could hear them repeated from another and more distant part of the
cave. The Folk had left their orgy round the blaze, and at the end of
the long tunnel I saw its glow fall unimpeded upon the floor. Once
there, I might burn off my fetters and be free to turn my thoughts to
I crawled a little way with much labour. Then suddenly I came
abreast an opening in the wall, through which a path went. It was a
long straight rock-cutting, and at the end I saw a gleam of pale light.
It must be the open air; the way of escape was prepared for me; and
with a prayer I made what speed I could towards the fire.
I rolled on the verge, but the fuel was peat, and the warm ashes
would not burn the cords. In desperation I went farther, and my clothes
began to singe, while my face ached beyond endurance. But yet I got no
nearer my object. The strips of hide warped and cracked, but did not
burn. Then in a last effort I thrust my wrists bodily into the glow and
held them there. In an instant I drew them out with a groan of pain,
scarred and sore, but to my joy with the band snapped in one place.
Weak as I was, it was now easy to free myself, and then came the
untying of my legs. My hands trembled, my eyes were dazed with hurry,
and I was longer over the job than need have been. But at length I had
loosed my cramped knees and stood on my feet, a free man once more.
I kicked off my boots, and fled noiselessly down the passage to the
tunnel mouth. Apparently it was close on evening, for the white light
had faded to a pale yellow. But it was daylight, and that was all I
sought, and I ran for it as eagerly as ever runner ran to a goal. I
came out on a rock-shelf, beneath which a moraine of boulders fell away
in a chasm to a dark loch. It was all but night, but I could see the
gnarled and fortressed rocks rise in ramparts above, and below the
unknown screes and cliffs which make the side of the Muneraw a place
only for foxes and the fowls of the air.
The first taste of liberty is an intoxication, and assuredly I was
mad when I leaped down among the boulders. Happily at the top of the
gully the stones were large and stable, else the noise would certainly
have discovered me. Down I went, slipping, praying, my charred wrists
aching, and my stockinged feet wet with blood. Soon I was in the jaws
of the cleft, and a pale star rose before me. I have always been timid
in the face of great rocks, and now, had not an awful terror been
dogging my footsteps, no power on earth could have driven me to that
descent. Soon I left the boulders behind, and came to long spouts of
little stones, which moved with me till the hillside seemed sinking
under my feet. Sometimes I was face downwards, once and again I must
have fallen for yards. Had there been a cliff at the foot, I should
have gone over it without resistance; but by the providence of God the
spout ended in a long curve into the heather of the bog.
When I found my feet once more on soft boggy earth, my strength was
renewed within me. A great hope of escape sprang up in my heart. For a
second I looked back. There was a great line of shingle with the cliffs
beyond, and above all the unknown blackness of the cleft. There lay my
terror, and I set off running across the bog for dear life. My mind was
clear enough to know my road. If I held round the loch in front I
should come to a burn which fed the Farawa stream, on whose banks stood
the shepherd's cottage. The loch could not be far; once at the Farawa I
would have the light of the shieling clear before me.
Suddenly I heard behind me, as if coming from the hillside, the
patter of feet. It was the sound which white hares make in the
winter-time on a noiseless frosty day as they patter over the snow. I
have heard the same soft noise from a herd of deer when they changed
their pastures. Strange that so kindly a sound should put the very fear
of death in my heart. I ran madly, blindly, yet thinking shrewdly. The
loch was before me. Somewhere I had read or heard, I do not know where,
that the brutish aboriginal races of the North could not swim. I myself
swam powerfully; could I but cross the loch I should save two miles of
a desperate country.
There was no time to lose, for the patter was coming nearer, and I
was almost at the loch's edge. I tore off my coat and rushed in. The
bottom was mossy, and I had to struggle far before I found any depth.
Something plashed in the water before me, and then something else a
little behind. The thought that I was a mark for unknown missiles made
me crazy with fright, and I struck fiercely out for the other shore. A
gleam of moonlight was on the water at the burn's exit, and thither I
guided myself. I found the thing difficult enough in itself, for my
hands ached, and I was numb with my bonds. But my fancy raised a
thousand phantoms to vex me. Swimming in that black bog water, pursued
by those nameless things, I seemed to be in a world of horror far
removed from the kindly world of men. My strength seemed inexhaustible
from my terror. Monsters at the bottom of the water seemed to bite at
my feet, and the pain of my wrists made me believe that the loch was
boiling hot, and that I was in some hellish place of torment.
I came out on a spit of gravel above the burn mouth, and set off
down the ravine of the burn. It was a strait place, strewn with rocks;
but now and then the hill turf came in stretches, and eased my wounded
feet. Soon the fall became more abrupt, and I was slippingdown a
hillside, with the water on my left making great cascades in the
granite. And then I was out in the wider vale where the Farawa water
flowed among links of moss.
Far in front, a speck in the blue darkness shone the light of the
cottage. I panted forward, my breath coming in gasps and my back shot
with fiery pains. Happily the land was easier for the feet as long as I
kept on the skirts of the bog. My ears were sharp as a wild beast's
with fear, as I listened for the noise of pursuit. Nothing came but the
rustle of the gentlest hill-wind and the chatter of the falling
Then suddenly the light began to waver and move athwart the window.
I knew what it meant. In a minute or two the household at the cottage
would retire to rest, and the lamp would be put out. True, I might find
the place in the dark, for there was a moon of sorts and the road was
not desperate. But somehow in that hour the lamplight gave a promise of
safety which I clung to despairingly.
And then the last straw was added to my misery. Behind me came the
pad of feet, the pat-patter, soft, eerie, incredibly swift. I choked
with fear, and flung myself forward in a last effort. I give my word it
was sheer mechanical shrinking that drove me on. God knows I would have
lain down to die in the heather, had the things behind me been a common
terror of life.
I ran as man never ran before, leaping hags, scrambling through
green well-heads, straining towards the fast-dying light. A quarter of
a mile and the patter sounded nearer. Soon I was not two hundred yards
off, and the noise seemed almost at my elbow. The light went out, and
the black mass of the cottage loomed in the dark.
Then, before I knew, I was at the door, battering it wearily and
yelling for help. I heard steps within and a hand on the bolt. Then
something shot past me with lightning force and buried itself in the
wood. The dreadful hands were almost at my throat, when the door was
opened and I stumbled in, hearing with a gulp of joy the key turn and
the bar fall behind me.
V The Troubles of a Conscience
My body and senses slept, for I was utterly tired, but my brain all
the night was on fire with horrid fancies. Again I was in that accursed
cave; I was torturing my hands in the fire; I was slipping barefoot
among jagged boulders; and then with bursting heart I was toiling the
last mile with the cottage light--now grown to a great fire in the
heavens--blazing before me.
It was broad daylight when I awoke, and I thanked God for the
comfortable rays of the sun. I had been laid in a box-bed off the inner
room, and my first sight was the shepherd sitting with folded arms in a
chair regarding me solemnly. I rose and began to dress, feeling my legs
and arms still tremble with weariness. The shepherd's sister bound up
my scarred wrists and put an ointment on my burns; and limping like an
old man, I went into the kitchen.
I could eat little breakfast, for my throat seemed dry and narrow;
but they gave me some brandy-and-milk, which put strength into my body.
All the time the brother and sister sat in silence, regarding me with
'Ye have been delivered from the jaws o' the Pit,' said the man at
length. 'See that,' and he held out to me a thin shaft of flint. 'I
fand that in the door this morning.'
I took it, let it drop, and stared vacantly at the window. My nerves
had been too much tried to be roused by any new terror. Out of doors it
was fair weather, flying gleams of April sunlight and the soft colours
of spring. I felt dazed, isolated, cut off from my easy past and
pleasing future, a companion of horrors and the sport of nameless
things. Then suddenly my eye fell on my books heaped on a table, and
the old distant civilisation seemed for the moment inexpressibly
'I must go--at once. And you must come too. You cannot stay here. I
tell you it is death. If you knew what I know you would be crying out
with fear. How far is it to Allermuir? Eight, fifteen miles; and then
ten down Glen Aller to Allerfoot, and then the railway. We must go
together while it is daylight, and perhaps we may be untouched. But
quick, there is not a moment to lose.' And I was on my shaky feet, and
bustling among my possessions.
'I'll gang wi' ye to the station,' said the shepherd, 'for ye're
clearly no fit to look after yourself. My sister will bide and keep the
house. If naething has touched us this ten year, naething will touch us
'But you cannot stay. You are mad,' I began; but he cut me short
with the words, 'I trust in God.'
'In any case let your sister come with us. I dare not think of a
woman alone in this place.'
'I'll bide,' said she. 'I'm no feared as lang as I'm indoors and
there's steeks on the windies.'
So I packed my few belongings as best I could, tumbled my books into
a haversack, and, gripping the shepherd's arm nervously, crossed the
threshold. The glen was full of sunlight. There lay the long shining
links of the Farawa burn, the rough hills tumbled beyond, and far over
all the scarred and distant forehead of the Muneraw. I had always
looked on moorland country as the freshest on earth--clean, wholesome,
and homely. But now the fresh uplands seemed like a horrible pit. When
I looked to the hills my breath choked in my throat, and the feel of
soft heather below my feet set my heart trembling.
It was a slow journey to the inn at Allermuir. For one thing, no
power on earth would draw me within sight of the shieling of
Carrickfey, so we had to cross a shoulder of hill and make our way down
a difficult glen, and then over a treacherous moss. The lochs were now
gleaming like fretted silver, but to me, in my dreadful knowledge, they
seemed more eerie than on that grey day when I came. At last my eyes
were cheered by the sight of a meadow and a fence; then we were on a
little byroad; and soon the fir-woods and cornlands of Allercleuch were
plain before us.
The shepherd came no farther, but with brief good-bye turned his
solemn face hillwards. I hired a trap and a man to drive, and down the
ten miles of Glen Aller I struggled to keep my thoughts from the past.
I thought of the kindly South Country, of Oxford, of anything
comfortable and civilised. My driver pointed out the objects of
interest as in duty bound, but his words fell on unheeding ears. At
last he said something which roused me indeed to interest--the interest
of the man who hears the word he fears most in the world. On the left
side of the river there suddenly sprang into view a long gloomy cleft
in the hills, with a vista of dark mountains behind, down which a
stream of considerable size poured its waters.
'That is the Water o' Dule,' said the man in a reverent voice. 'A
graund water to fish, but dangerous to life, for it's a' linns. Awa' at
the heid they say there's a terrible wild place called the Scarts o'
Muneraw,--that's a shouther o' the muckle hill itsel' that ye see,--but
I've never been there, and I never kent ony man that had either.'
At the station, which is a mile from the village of Allerfoot, I
found I had some hours to wait on my train for the south. I dared not
trust myself for one moment alone, so I hung about the goods-shed,
talked vacantly to the porters, and when one went to the village for
tea I accompanied him, and to his wonder entertained him at the inn.
When I returned I found on the platform a stray bagman who was that
evening going to London. If there is one class of men in the world
which I heartily detest it is this; but such was my state that I hailed
him as a brother, and besought his company. I paid the difference for a
first-class fare, and had him in the carriage with me. He must have
thought me an amiable maniac, for I talked in fits and starts, and when
he fell asleep I would wake him up and beseech him to speak to me. At
wayside stations I would pull down the blinds in case of recognition,
for to my unquiet mind the world seemed full of spies sent by that
terrible Folk of the Hills. When the train crossed a stretch of moor I
would lie down on the seat in case of shafts fired from the heather.
And then at last with utter weariness I fell asleep, and woke screaming
about midnight to find myself well down in the cheerful English
midlands, and red blast-furnaces blinking by the railway-side.
In the morning I breakfasted in my rooms at St. Chad's with a
dawning sense of safety. I was in a different and calmer world. The
lawn-like quadrangles, the great trees, the cawing of rooks, and the
homely twitter of sparrows--all seemed decent and settled and pleasing.
Indoors the oak-panelled walls, the shelves of books, the pictures, the
faint fragrance of tobacco, were very different from the gimcrack
adornments and the accursed smell of peat and heather in that
deplorable cottage. It was still vacation-time, so most of my friends
were down; but I spent the day hunting out the few cheerful pedants to
whom term and vacation were the same. It delighted me to hear again
their precise talk, to hear them make a boast of their work, and
narrate the childish little accidents of their life. I yearned for the
childish once more; I craved for women's drawing-rooms, and women's
chatter, and everything which makes life an elegant game. God knows I
had had enough of the other thing for a lifetime!
That night I shut myself in my rooms, barred my windows, drew my
curtains, and made a great destruction. All books or pictures which
recalled to me the moorlands were ruthlessly doomed. Novels, poems,
treatises I flung into an old box, for sale to the second-hand
bookseller. Some prints and water-colour sketches I tore to pieces with
my own hands. I ransacked my fishing-book, and condemned all tackle for
moorland waters to the flames. I wrote a letter to my solicitors,
bidding them to go no further in the purchase of a place in Lorne I had
long been thinking of. Then, and not till then, did I feel the bondage
of the past a little loosed from my shoulders. I made myself a
night-cap of rum-punch instead of my usual whisky-toddy, that all
associations with that dismal land might be forgotten, and to complete
the renunciation I returned to cigars and flung my pipe into a
But when I woke in the morning I found that it is hard to get rid of
memories. My feet were still sore and wounded, and when I felt my arms
cramped and reflected on the causes, there was that black memory always
near to vex me.
In a little, term began, and my duties--as deputy-professor of
Northern Antiquities--were once more clamorous. I can well believe that
my hearers found my lectures strange, for instead of dealing with my
favourite subjects and matters, which I might modestly say I had made
my own, I confined myself to recondite and distant themes, treating
even these cursorily and dully. For the truth is, my heart was no more
in my subject. I hated--or I thought that I hated--all things Northern
with the virulence of utter fear. My reading was confined to science of
the most recent kind, to abstruse philosophy, and to foreign classics.
Anything which savoured of romance or mystery was abhorrent; I pined
for sharp outlines and the tangibility of a high civilisation.
All the term I threw myself into the most frivolous life of the
place. My Harrow schooldays seemed to have come back to me. I had once
been a fair cricketer, so I played again for my college, and made
decent scores. I coached an indifferent crew on the river. I fell into
the slang of the place, which I had hitherto detested. My former
friends looked on me askance, as if some freakish changeling had
possessed me. Formerly I had been ready for pedantic discussion, I had
been absorbed in my work, men had spoken of me as a rising scholar. Now
I fled the very mention of things I had once delighted in. The
Professor of Northern Antiquities, a scholar of European reputation,
meeting me once in the parks, embarked on an account of certain novel
rings recently found in Scotland, and to his horror found that, when he
had got well under weigh, I had slipped off unnoticed. I heard
afterwards that the good old man was found by a friend walking
disconsolately with bowed head in the middle of the High Street. Being
rescued from among the horses' feet, he could only murmur, 'I am
thinking of Graves, poor man! And a year ago he was as sane as I
But a man may not long deceive himself. I kept up the illusion
valiantly for the term; but I felt instinctively that the fresh
schoolboy life, which seemed to me the extreme opposite to the ghoulish
North, and as such the most desirable of things, was eternally cut off
from me. No cunning affectation could ever dispel my real nature or
efface the memory of a week. I realised miserably that sooner or later
I must fight it out with my conscience. I began to call myself a
coward. The chief thoughts of my mind began to centre themselves more
and more round that unknown life waiting to be explored among the
One day I met a friend--an official in the British Museum--who was
full of some new theory about primitive habitations. To me it seemed
inconceivably absurd; but he was strong in his confidence, and without
flaw in his evidence. The man irritated me, and I burned to prove him
wrong, but I could think of no argument which was final against his.
Then it flashed upon me that my own experience held the disproof; and
without more words I left him, hot, angry with myself, and tantalised
by the unattainable.
I might relate my bona-fide experience, but would men believe me? I
must bring proofs, I must complete my researches, so as to make them
incapable of disbelief. And there in those deserts was waiting the key.
There lay the greatest discovery of the century--nay, of the
millennium. There, too, lay the road to wealth such as I had never
dreamed of. Could I succeed, I should be famous for ever. I would
revolutionise history and anthropology; I would systematise folk-lore;
I would show the world of men the pit whence they were digged and the
rock whence they were hewn.
And then began a game of battledore between myself and my
'You are a coward,' said my conscience.
'I am sufficiently brave,' I would answer. 'I have seen things and
yet lived. The terror is more than mortal, and I cannot face it.'
'You are a coward,' said my conscience.
'I am not bound to go there again. It would be purely for my own
aggrandisement if I went, and not for any matter of duty.'
'Nevertheless you are a coward,' said my conscience.
'In any case the matter can wait.'
'You are a coward.'
Then came one awful midsummer night, when I lay sleepless and fought
the thing out with myself. I knew that the strife was hopeless, that I
should have no peace in this world again unless I made the attempt. The
dawn was breaking when I came to the final resolution; and when I rose
and looked at my face in a mirror, lo! it was white and lined and drawn
like a man of sixty.
VI Summer on the Moors
The next morning I packed a bag with some changes of clothing and a
collection of notebooks, and went up to town. The first thing I did was
to pay a visit to my solicitors. 'I am about to travel,' said I, 'and I
wish to have all things settled in case any accident should happen to
me.' So I arranged for the disposal of my property in case of death,
and added a codicil which puzzled the lawyers. If I did not return
within six months, communications were to be entered into with the
shepherd at the shieling of Farawa--post-town Allerfoot. If he could
produce any papers, they were to be put into the hands of certain
friends, published, and the cost charged to my estate. From my
solicitors, I went to a gunmaker's in Regent Street and bought an
ordinary six-chambered revolver, feeling much as a man must feel who
proposed to cross the Atlantic in a skiff and purchased a small
life-belt as a precaution.
I took the night express to the North, and, for a marvel, I slept.
When I woke about four we were on the verge of Westmoreland, and stony
hills blocked the horizon. At first I hailed the mountain-land gladly;
sleep for the moment had caused forgetfulness of my terrors. But soon a
turn of the line brought me in full view of a heathery moor, running
far to a confusion of distant peaks. I remembered my mission and my
fate, and if ever condemned criminal felt a more bitter regret I pity
his case. Why should I alone among the millions of this happy isle be
singled out as the repository of a ghastly secret, and be cursed by a
conscience which would not let it rest?
I came to Allerfoot early in the forenoon, and got a trap to drive
me up the valley. It was a lowering grey day, hot and yet sunless. A
sort of heathaze cloaked the hills, and every now and then a smurr of
rain would meet us on the road, and in a minute be over. I felt
wretchedly dispirited; and when at last the whitewashed kirk of
Allermuir came into sight and the broken-backed bridge of Aller, man's
eyes seemed to have looked on no drearier scene since time began.
I ate what meal I could get, for, fears or no, I was voraciously
hungry. Then I asked the landlord to find me some man who would show me
the road to Farawa. I demanded company, not for protection--for what
could two men do against such brutish strength?--but to keep my mind
from its own thoughts.
The man looked at me anxiously.
'Are ye acquaint wi' the folks, then?' he asked.
I said I was, that I had often stayed in the cottage.
'Ye ken that they've a name for being queer. The man never comes
here forbye once or twice a-year, and he has few dealings wi' other
herds. He's got an ill name, too, for losing sheep. I dinna like the
country ava. Up by yon Muneraw--no that I've ever been there, but I've
seen it afar off--is enough to put a man daft for the rest o' his days.
What's taking ye thereaways? It's no the time for the fishing?'
I told him that I was a botanist going to explore certain
hill-crevices for rare ferns. He shook his head, and then after some
delay found me an ostler who would accompany me to the cottage.
The man was a shock-headed, long-limbed fellow, with fierce red hair
and a humorous eye. He talked sociably about his life, answered my
hasty questions with deftness, and beguiled me for the moment out of
myself. I passed the melancholy lochs, and came in sight of the great
stony hills without the trepidation I had expected. Here at my side was
one who found some humour even in those uplands. But one thing I noted
which brought back the old uneasiness. He took the road which led us
farthest from Carrickfey, and when to try him I proposed the other, he
vetoed it with emphasis.
After this his good spirits departed, and he grew distrustful.
'What mak's ye a freend o' the herd at Farawa?' he demanded a dozen
Finally, I asked him if he knew the man, and had seen him
'I dinna ken him, and I hadna seen him for years till a fortnicht
syne, when a' Allermuir saw him. He cam doun one afternoon to the
public-hoose, and begood to drink. He had aye been kenned for a
terrible godly kind o' a man, so ye may believe folk wondered at this.
But when he had stuck to the drink for twae days, and filled himsel'
blind-fou half-a-dozen o' times, he took a fit o' repentance, and raved
and blethered about siccan a life as he led in the muirs. There was
some said he was speakin' serious, but maist thocht it was juist
'And what did he speak about?' I asked sharply.
'I canna verra weel tell ye. It was about some kind o' bogle that
lived in the Muneraw--that's the shouthers o't ye see yonder--and it
seems that the bogle killed his sheep and frichted himsel'. He was aye
bletherin', too, about something or somebody ca'd Grave; but oh! The
man wasna wise.' And my companion shook a contemptuous head.
And then below us in the valley we saw the shieling, with a thin
shaft of smoke rising into the rainy grey weather. The man left me,
sturdily refusing any fee. 'I wantit my legs stretched as weel as you.
A walk in the hills is neither here nor there to a stoot man. When will
ye be back, sir?'
The question was well-timed. 'To-morrow fortnight,' I said, 'and I
want somebody from Allermuir to come out here in the morning and carry
some baggage. Will you see to that?'
He said 'Ay,' and went off, while I scrambled down the hill to the
cottage. Nervousness possessed me, and though it was broad daylight and
the whole place lay plain before me, I ran pell-mell, and did not stop
till I reached the door.
The place was utterly empty. Unmade beds, unwashed dishes, a hearth
strewn with the ashes of peat, and dust thick on everything, proclaimed
the absence of inmates. I began to be horribly frightened. Had the
shepherd and his sister, also, disappeared? Was I left alone in the
bleak place, with a dozen lonely miles between me and human dwellings?
I could not return alone; better this horrible place than the unknown
perils of the out-of-doors. Hastily I barricaded the door, and to the
best of my power shuttered the windows; and then with dreary
forebodings I sat down to wait on fortune.
In a little I heard a long swinging step outside and the sound of
dogs. Joyfully I opened the latch, and there was the shepherd's grim
face waiting stolidly on what might appear.
At the sight of me he stepped back. 'What in the Lord's name are ye
daein' here?' he asked. 'Didna ye get enough afore?'
'Come in,' I said, sharply. 'I want to talk.'
In he came with those blessed dogs,--what a comfort it was to look
on their great honest faces! He sat down on the untidy bed and
'I came because I could not stay away. I saw too much to give me any
peace elsewhere. I must go back, even though I risk my life for it. The
cause of scholarship demands it as well as the cause of humanity.' 'Is
that a' the news ye hae?' he said. Weel, I've mair to tell ye. Three
weeks syne my sister Margit was lost, and I've never seen her mair.' My
jaw fell, and I could only stare at him.
'I cam hame from the hill at nightfa' and she was gone. I lookit for
her up hill and doun, but I couldna find her. Syne I think I went daft.
I went to the Scarts and huntit them up and doun, but no sign could I
see. The folk can bide quiet enough when they want. Syne I went to
Allermuir and drank mysel' blind,--me, that's a God-fearing man and a
saved soul; but the Lord help me, I didna ken what I was at. That's my
news, and day and nicht I wander thae hills, seekin' for what I canna
'But, man, are you mad?' I cried. 'Surely there are neighbours to
help you. There is a law in the land, and you had only to find the
nearest police-office and compel them to assist you.'
'What guid can man dae?' he asked. 'An army o' sodgers couldna find
that hidy-hole. Forby, when I went into Allermuir wi' my story the folk
thocht me daft. It was that set me drinking for--the Lord forgive
me!--I wasna my ain maister. I threepit till I was hairse, but the
bodies just lauch'd.' And he lay back on the bed like a man mortally
Grim though the tidings were, I can only say that my chief feeling
was of comfort. Pity for the new tragedy had swallowed up my fear. I
had now a purpose, and a purpose, too, not of curiosity but of
'I go to-morrow morning to the Muneraw. But first I want to give you
something to do.' And I drew roughly a chart of the place on the back
of a letter. 'Go into Allermuir to-morrow, and give this paper to the
landlord at the inn. The letter will tell him what to do. He is to
raise at once all the men he can get, and come to the place on the
chart marked with a cross. Tell him life depends on his hurry.'
The shepherd nodded. 'D'ye ken the Folk are watching for you? They
let me pass without trouble, for they've nae use for me, but I see fine
they're seeking you. Ye'll no gang half a mile the morn afore they grip
'So much the better,' I said. 'That will take me quicker to the
place I want to be at.'
'And I'm to gang to Allemuir the morn,' he repeated, with the air of
a child conning a lesson. 'But what if they'll no believe me?' 'They'll
believe the letter.'
'Maybe,' he said, and relapsed into a doze.
I set myself to put that house in order, to rouse the fire, and
prepare some food. It was dismal work; and meantime outside the night
darkened, and a great wind rose, which howled round the walls and
lashed the rain on the windows.
VII In tuas manus, Domine!
I had not got twenty yards from the cottage door ere I knew I was
watched. I had left the shepherd still dozing, in the half-conscious
state of a dazed and broken man. All night the wind had wakened me at
intervals, and now in the half-light of morn the weather seemed more
vicious than ever. The wind cut my ears, the whole firmament was full
of the rendings and thunders of the storm. Rain fell in blinding
sheets, the heath was a marsh, and it was the most I could do to
struggle against the hurricane which stopped my breath. And all the
while I knew I was not alone in the desert.
All men know--in imagination or in experience--the sensation of
being spied on. The nerves tingle, the skin grows hot and prickly, and
there is a queer sinking of the heart. Intensify this common feeling a
hundredfold, and you get a tenth part of what I suffered. I am telling
a plain tale, and record bare physical facts. My lips stood out from my
teeth as I heard, or felt, a rustle in the heather, a scraping among
stones. Some subtle magnetic link seemed established between my body
and the mysterious world around. I became sick--acutely sick--with the
My fright became so complete that when I turned a corner of rock, or
stepped in deep heather, I seemed to feel a body rub against me. This
continued all the way up the Farawa water, and then up its feeder to
the little lonely loch. It kept me from looking forward; but it
likewise kept me in such a sweat of fright that I was ready to faint.
Then thenotion came upon me to test this fancy of mine. If I was
tracked thus closely, clearly the trackers would bar my way if I turned
back. So I wheeled round and walked a dozen paces down the glen.
Nothing stopped me. I was about to turn again, when something made
me take six more paces. At the fourth something rustled in the heather,
and my neck was gripped as in a vice. I had already made up my mind on
what I would do. I would be perfectly still, I would conquer my fear,
and let them do as they pleased with me so long as they took me to
their dwelling. But at the touch of the hands my resolutions fled. I
struggled and screamed. Then something was clapped on my mouth, speech
and strength went from me, and once more I was back in the maudlin
childhood of terror.
In the cave it was always a dusky twilight. I seemed to be lying in
the same place, with the same dull glare of firelight far off, and the
same close stupefying smell. One of the creatures was standing silently
at my side, and I asked him some trivial question. He turned and
shambled down the passage, leaving me alone.
Then he returned with another, and they talked their guttural talk
to me. I scarcely listened till I remembered that in a sense I was here
of my own accord, and on a definite mission. The purport of their
speech seemed to be that, now I had returned, I must beware of a second
flight. Once I had been spared; a second time I should be killed
I assented gladly. The Folk, then, had some use for me. I felt my
Then the old creature which I had seen before crept out of some
corner and squatted beside me. He put a claw on my shoulder, a
horrible, corrugated, skeleton thing, hairy to the finger-tips and
nailless. He grinned, too, with toothless gums, and his hideous old
voice was like a file on sandstone.
I asked questions, but he would only grin and jabber, looking now
and then furtively over his shoulder towards the fire.
I coaxed and humoured him, till he launched into a narrative of
which I could make nothing. It seemed a mere string of names, with
certain words repeated at fixed intervals. Then it flashed on me that
this might be a religious incantation. I had discovered remnants of a
ritual and a mythology among them. It was possible that these were
sacred days, and that I had stumbled upon some rude celebration.
I caught a word or two and repeated them. He looked at me curiously.
Then I asked him some leading question, and he replied with clearness.
My guess was right. The midsummer week was the holy season of the year,
when sacrifices were offered to the gods.
The notion of sacrifices disquieted me, and I would fain have asked
further. But the creature would speak no more. He hobbled off, and left
me alone in the rock-chamber to listen to a strange sound which hung
ceaselessly about me. It must be the storm without, like a pack of
artillery rattling among the crags. A storm of storms surely, for the
place echoed and hummed, and to my unquiet eye the very rock of the
roof seemed to shake!
Apparently my existence was forgotten, for I lay long before any one
returned. Then it was merely one who brought food, the same strange
meal as before, and left hastily. When I had eaten I rose and stretched
myself. My hands and knees still quivered nervously; but I was strong
and perfectly well in body. The empty, desolate, tomb-like place was
eerie enough to scare any one; but its emptiness was comfort when I
thought of its inmates. Then I wandered down the passage towards the
fire which was burning in loneliness. Where had the Folk gone? I
puzzled over their disappearance.
Suddenly sounds began to break on my ear, coming from some inner
chamber at the end of that in which the fire burned. I could scarcely
see for the smoke; but I began to make my way towards the noise,
feeling along the sides of rock. Then a second gleam of light seemed to
rise before me, and I came to an aperture in the wall which gave
entrance to another room.
This in turn was full of smoke and glow--a murky orange glow, as if
from some strange flame of roots. There were the squat moving figures,
running in wild antics round the fire. I crouched in the entrance,
terrified and yet curious, till I saw something beyond the blaze which
held me dumb. Apart from the others and tied to some stake in the wall
was a woman's figure, and the face was the face of the shepherd's
My first impulse was flight. I must get away and think,--plan,
achieve some desperate way of escape. I sped back to the silent chamber
as if the gang were at my heels. It was still empty, and I stood
helplessly in the centre, looking at the impassable walls of rock as a
wearied beast may look at the walls of its cage. I bethought me of the
way I had escaped before and rushed thither, only to find it blocked by
a huge contrivance of stone. Yards and yards of solid rock were between
me and the upper air, and yet through it all came the crash and whistle
of the storm. If I were at my wits' end in this inner darkness, there
was also high commotion among the powers of the air in that upper
As I stood I heard the soft steps of my tormentors. They seemed to
think I was meditating escape, for they flung themselves on me and bore
me to the ground. I did not struggle, and when they saw me quiet, they
squatted round and began to speak. They told me of the holy season and
its sacrifices. At first I could not follow them; then when I caught
familiar words I found some clue, and they became intelligible. They
spoke of a woman, and I asked, 'What woman?' With all frankness they
told me of the custom which prevailed--how every twentieth summer a
woman was sacrificed to some devilish god, and by the hand of one of
the stranger race. I said nothing, but my whitening face must have told
them a tale, though I strove hard to keep my composure. I asked if they
had found the victims. 'She is in this place,' they said; 'and as for
the man, thou art he.' And with this they left me.
I had still some hours; so much I gathered from their talk, for the
sacrifice was at sunset. Escape was cut off for ever. I have always
been something of a fatalist, and at the prospect of the irrevocable
end my cheerfulness returned. I had my pistol, for they had taken
nothing from me. I took out the little weapon and fingered it lovingly.
Hope of the lost, refuge of the vanquished, ease to the coward--blessed
be he who first conceived it!
The time dragged on, the minutes grew to hours, and still I was left
solitary. Only the mad violence of the storm broke the quiet. It had
increased in violence, for the stones at the mouth of the exit by which
I had formerly escaped seemed to rock with some external pressure, and
cutting shafts of wind slipped past and cleft the heat of the passage.
What a sight the ravine outside must be, I thought, set in the forehead
of a great hill, and swept clean by every breeze! Then came a crashing,
and the long hollow echo of a fall. The rocks are splitting, said I;
the road down the corrie will be impassable now and for evermore.
I began to grow weak with the nervousness of the waiting, and
by-and-by I lay down and fell into a sort of doze. When I next knew
consciousness I was being roused by two of the Folk, and bidden get
ready. I stumbled to my feet, felt for the pistol in the hollow of my
sleeve, and prepared to follow.
When we came out into the wider chamber the noise of the storm was
deafening. The roof rang like a shield which has been struck. I
noticed, perturbed as I was, that my guards cast anxious eyes around
them, alarmed, like myself, at the murderous din. Nor was the world
quieter when we entered the last chamber, where the fire burned and the
remnant of the Folk waited. Wind had found an entrance from somewhere
or other, and the flames blew here and there, and the smoke gyrated in
odd circles. At the back, and apart from the rest, I saw the dazed eyes
and the white old drawn face of the woman.
They led me up beside her to a place where there was a rude flat
stone, hollowed in the centre, and on it a rusty iron knife, which
seemed once to have formed part of a scythe-blade. Then I saw the
ceremonial which was marked out for me. It was the very rite which I
had dimly figured as current among a rude people, and even in that
moment I had something of the scholar's satisfaction.
The oldest of the Folk, who seemed to be a sort of priest, came to
my side and mumbled a form of words. His fetid breath sickened me; his
dull eyes, glassy like a brute's with age, brought my knees together.
He put the knife in my hands, dragged the terror-stricken woman forward
to the altar, and bade me begin.
I began by sawing her bonds through. When she felt herself free she
would have fled back, but stopped when I bade her. At that moment there
came a noise of rending and crashing as if the hills were falling, and
for one second the eyes of the Folk were averted from the frustrated
Only for a moment. The next they saw what I had done, and with one
impulse rushed towards me. Then began the last scene in the play. I
sent a bullet through the right eye of the first thing that came on.
The second shot went wide; but the third shattered the hand of an
elderly ruffian with a cruel club. Never for an instant did they stop,
and now they were clutching at me. I pushed the woman behind, and fired
three rapid shots in blind panic, and then, clutching the scythe, I
struck right and left like a madman.
Suddenly I saw the foreground sink before my eyes. The roof sloped
down, and with a sickening hiss a mountain of rock and earth seemed to
precipitate itself on my assailants. One, nipped in the middle by a
rock, caught my eye by his hideous writhings. Two only remained in what
was now a little suffocating chamber, with embers from the fire still
smoking on the floor.
The woman caught me by the hand and drew me with her, while the two
seemed mute with fear. 'There's a road at the back,' she screamed. 'I
ken it. I fand it out.' And she pulled me up a narrow hole in the
How long we climbed I do not know. We were both fighting for air,
with the tightness of throat and chest, and the craziness of limb which
mean suffocation. I cannot tell when we first came to the surface, but
I remember the woman, who seemed, to have the strength of extreme
terror, pulling me from the edge of a crevasse and laying me on a flat
rock. It seemed to be the depth of winter, with sheer-falling rain and
a wind that shook the hills.
Then I was once more myself and could look about me. From my feet
yawned a sheer abyss, where once had been a hill-shoulder. Some great
mass of rock on the brow of the mountain had been loosened by the
storm, and in its fall had caught the lips of the ravine and swept the
nest of dwellings into a yawning pit. Beneath a mountain of rubble lay
buried that life on which I had thought to build my fame.
My feeling--Heaven help me!--was not thankfulness for God's mercy
and my escape, but a bitter mad regret. I rushed frantically to the
edge, and when I saw only the blackness of darkness I wept weak tears.
All the time the storm was tearing at my body, and I had to grip hard
by hand and foot to keep my place.
Suddenly on the brink of the ravine I saw a third figure. We two
were not the only fugitives. One of the Folk had escaped.
The thought put new life into me, for I had lost the first fresh
consciousness of terror. There still remained a relic of the vanished
life. Could I but make the thing my prisoner, there would be proof in
my hands to overcome a sceptical world.
I ran to it, and to my surprise the thing as soon as it saw me
rushed to meet me. At first I thought it was with some instinct of
self-preservation, but when I saw its eyes I knew the purpose of fight.
Clearly one or other should go no more from the place.
We were some ten yards from the brink when I grappled with it. Dimly
I heard the woman scream with fright, and saw her scramble across the
hillside. Then we were tugging in a death-throe, the hideous smell-of
the thing in my face, its red eyes burning into mine, and its hoarse
voice muttering. Its strength seemed incredible; but I, too, am no
weakling. We tugged and strained, its nails biting into my flesh, while
I choked its throat unsparingly. Every second I dreaded lest we should
plunge together over the ledge, for it was thither my adversary tried
to draw me. I caught my heel in a nick of rock, and pulled madly
And then, while I was beginning to glory with the pride of conquest,
my hope was dashed in pieces. The thing seemed to break from my arms,
and, as if in despair, cast itself headlong into the impenetrable
darkness. I stumbled blindly after it, saved myself on the brink, and
fell back, sick and ill, into a merciful swoon.
VIII Note in conclusion by the Editor
At this point the narrative of my unfortunate friend, Mr. Graves of
St Chad's, breaks off abruptly. He wrote it shortly before his death,
and was prevented from completing it by the shock of apoplexy which
carried him off. In accordance with the instructions in his will, I
have prepared it for publication, and now in much fear and hesitation
give it to the world. First, however, I must supplement it by such
facts as fall within my knowledge.
The shepherd seems to have gone to Allermuir and by the help of the
letter convinced the inhabitants. A body of men was collected under the
landlord, and during the afternoon set out for the hills. But
unfortunately the great midsummer storm--the most terrible of recent
climatic disturbances--had filled the mosses and streams, and they
found themselves unable to proceed by any direct road. Ultimately late
in the evening they arrived at the cottage of Farawa, only to find
there a raving woman, the shepherd's sister, who seemed crazy with
brain-fever. She told some rambling story about her escape, but her
narrative said nothing of Mr. Graves. So they treated her with what
skill they possessed, and sheltered for the night in and around the
cottage. Next morning the storm had abated a little, and the woman had
recovered something of her wits. From her they learned that Mr. Graves
was lying in a ravine on the side of the Muneraw in imminent danger of
his life. A body set out to find him; but so immense was the landslip,
and so dangerous the whole mountain, that it was nearly evening when
they recovered him from the ledge of rock. He was alive, but
unconscious, and on bringing him back to the cottage it was clear that
he was, indeed, very ill. There he lay for three months, while the best
skill that could be got was procured for him. By dint of an uncommon
toughness of constitution he survived; but it was an old and feeble man
who returned to Oxford in the early winter.
The shepherd and his sister immediately left the countryside, and
were never more heard of, unless they are the pair of unfortunates who
are at present in a Scottish pauper asylum, incapable of remembering
even their names. The people who last spoke with them declared that
their minds seemed weakened by a great shock, and that it was hopeless
to try to get any connected or rational statement.
The career of my poor friend from that hour was little short of a
tragedy. He awoke from his illness to find the world incredulous; even
the countryfolk of Allermuir set down the story to the shepherd's
craziness and my friend's credulity. In Oxford his argument was
received with polite scorn. An account of his experiences which he drew
up for the 'Times' was refused by the editor; and an article on
'Primitive Peoples of the North,' embodying what he believed to be the
result of his discoveries, was unanimously rejected by every
responsible journal in Europe. Whether he was soured by such treatment,
or whether his brain had already been weakened, he became a morose
silent man, and for the two years before his death had few friends and
no society. From the obituary notice in the 'Times' I take the
following paragraph, which shows in what light the world had come to
look upon him:
'At the, outset of his career he was regarded as a rising scholar in
one department of archaeology, and his Taffert lectures were a real
contribution to an obscure subject. But in after-life he was led into
fantastic speculations; and when he found himself unable to convince
his colleagues, he gradually retired into himself, and lived
practically a hermit's life till his death. His career, thus broken
short, is a sad instance of the fascination which the recondite and the
quack can exercise even on men of approved ability.'
And now his own narrative is published, and the world can judge as
it pleases about the amazing romance. The view which will doubtless
find general acceptance is that the whole is a figment of the brain,
begotten of some harmless moorland adventure and the company of such
religious maniacs as the shepherd and his sister. But some who knew the
former sobriety and calmness of my friend's mind may be disposed
timorously and with deep hesitation to another verdict. They may accept
the narrative, and believe that somewhere in those moorlands he met
with a horrible primitive survival, passed through the strangest
adventure, and had his finger on an epoch-making discovery. In this
case they will be inclined to sympathise with the loneliness and
misunderstanding of his latter days. It is not for me to decide the
question. That which alone could bring proof is buried beneath a
thousand tons of rock in the midst of an untrodden desert.