The Terror by
Night by Unknown
Maynard disincumbered himself from his fishing-creel,
stabbed the butt of his rod into the turf,
and settled down in the heather to fill a pipe.
All round him stretched the undulating moor,
purple in the late summer sunlight. To the
southward, low down, a faint haze told where
the sea lay. The stream at his feet sang its
queer, crooning moor-song as it rambled onward,
chuckling to meet a bed of pebbles somewhere
out of sight, whispering mysteriously to the
rushes that fringed its banks of peat, deepening
to a sudden contralto as it poured over granite
boulders into a scum-flecked pool below.
For a long time the man sat smoking. Occasionally
he turned his head to watch with keen
eyes the fretful movements of a fly hovering
above the water. Then a sudden dimple in
the smooth surface of the stream arrested his
attention. A few concentric ripples widened,
travelled towards him, and were absorbed in
the current. His lips curved into a little smile
and he reached for his rod. In the clear water
he could see the origin of the ripples; a small
trout, unconscious of his presence, was waiting
in its hover for the next tit-bit to float downstream.
Presently it rose again.
"The odds are ten to one in your favour,"
said the man. "Let's see!"
He dropped on one knee and the cast leapt
out in feathery coils. Once, twice it swished;
the third time it alighted like thistledown on
the surface. There was a tiny splash, a laugh,
and the little greenheart rod flicked a trout
high over his head. It was the merest baby—half-an-ounce,
perhaps—and it fell from the hook
into the herbage some yards from the stream.
"Little ass!" said Maynard. "That was
meant for your big brother."
He recovered his cast and began to look for
his victim. Without avail he searched the
heather, and as the fateful seconds sped, at last
laid down his rod and dropped on hands and knees
to probe among the grass-stems.
For a while he hunted in vain, then the sunlight
showed a golden sheen among some stones.
Maynard gave a grunt of relief, but as his hand
closed round it a tiny flutter passed through the
fingerling; it gave a final gasp and was still.
Knitting his brows in almost comical vexation,
he hastened to restore it to the stream, holding
it by the tail and striving to impart a life-like
wriggle to its limpness.
"Buck up, old thing!" he murmured encouragingly.
"Oh, buck up! You're all right,
really you are!"
But the "old thing" was all wrong. In
fact, it was dead.
Standing in the wet shingle, Maynard regarded
the speckled atom as it lay in the palm of his
"A matter of seconds, my son. One instant
in all eternity would have made just the difference
between life and death to you. And the high
gods denied it you!"
On the opposite side of the stream, set back
about thirty paces from the brink, stood a granite
boulder. It was as high as a man's chest, roughly
cubical in shape; but the weather and clinging
moss had rounded its edges, and in places segments
had crumbled away, giving foothold to clumps
of fern and starry moor-flowers. On three sides
the surrounding ground rose steeply, forming
an irregular horseshoe mound that opened to
the west. Perhaps it was the queer amphitheatrical
effect of this setting that connected
up some whimsical train of thought in Maynard's
"It would seem as if the gods had claimed
you," he mused, still holding the corpse. "You
shall be a sacrifice—a burnt sacrifice to the God
of Waste Places."
He laughed at the conceit, half-ashamed of
his own childishness, and crossing the stream
by some boulders, he brushed away the earth
and weed from the top of the great stone. Then
he retraced his steps and gathered a handful
of bleached twigs that the winter floods had left
stranded along the margin of the stream. These
he arranged methodically on the cleared space;
on the top of the tiny pyre he placed the troutlet.
"There!" he said, and smiling gravely struck
a match. A faint column of smoke curled up
into the still air, and as he spoke the lower rim
of the setting sun met the edge of the moor.
The evening seemed suddenly to become incredibly
still, even the voice of the stream ceasing
to be a sound distinct. A wagtail bobbing in
the shallows fled into the waste. Overhead the
smoke trembled upwards, a faint stain against
a cloudless sky. The stillness seemed almost
acute. It was as if the moor were waiting, and
holding its breath while it waited. Then the
twigs upon his altar crackled, and the pale flames
blazed up. The man stepped back with artistic
appreciation of the effect.
"To be really impressive, there ought to be
more smoke," he continued.
Round the base of the stone were clumps of
small flowers. They were crimson in colour and
had thick, fleshy leaves. Hastily, he snatched
a handful and piled it on the fire. The smoke
darkened and rose in a thick column; there was
a curious pungency in the air.
Far off the church-bell in some unseen hamlet
struck the hour. The distant sound, coming
from the world of men and every-day affairs,
seemed to break the spell. An ousel fluttered
across the stream and dabbled in a puddle among
some stones. Rabbits began to show themselves
and frisk with lengthened shadows in the clear
spaces. Maynard looked at his watch, half-mindful
of a train to be caught somewhere miles
away, and then, held by the peace of running
water, stretched himself against the sloping
The glowing world seemed peopled by tiny
folk, living out their timid, inscrutable lives
around him. A water-rat, passing bright-eyed
upon his lawful occasion, paused on the border
of the stream to consider the stranger, and was
lost to view. A stagnant pool among some reeds
caught the reflection of the sunset and changed
on the instant into raw gold.
Maynard plucked a grass stem and chewed
it reflectively, staring out across the purple
moor and lazily watching the western sky turn
from glory to glory. Over his head the smoke
of the sacrifice still curled and eddied upwards.
Then a sudden sound sent him on to one elbow—the
thud of an approaching horse's hoofs.
"Moor ponies!" he muttered, and, rising,
stood expectant beside his smoking altar.
Then he heard the sudden jingle of a bit, and
presently a horse and rider climbed into view
against the pure sky. A young girl, breeched,
booted and spurred like a boy, drew rein, and sat
looking down into the hollow.
For a moment neither spoke; then Maynard
acknowledged her presence by raising his tweed
hat. She gave a little nod.
"I thought it was somebody swaling—burning
the heather." She considered the embers on
the stone, and then her grey eyes travelled back
to the spare, tweed-clad figure beside it.
He smiled in his slow way—a rather attractive
"No. I've just concluded some pagan rites
in connection with a small trout!" He nodded
gravely at the stone. "That was a burnt sacrifice."
With whimsical seriousness he told her
of the trout's demise and high destiny.
For a moment she looked doubtful; but the
inflection of breeding in his voice, the wholesome,
lean face and humorous eyes, reassured her.
A smile hovered about the corners of her mouth.
"Oh, is that it? I wondered ..."
She gathered the reins and turned her horse's
"Forgive me if I dragged you out of your way,"
said Maynard, never swift to conventionality,
but touched by the tired shadows in her eyes.
The faint droop of her mouth, too, betrayed
intense fatigue. "You look fagged. I don't
want to be a nuisance or bore you, but I wish
you'd let me offer you a sandwich. I've some
milk here, too."
The girl looked round the ragged moor, brooding
in the twilight, and half hesitated. Then
she forced a wan little smile.
"I am tired, and hungry, too. Have you
enough for us both?"
"Lots!" said Maynard. To himself he
added: "And what's more, my child, you'll
have a little fainting affair in a few minutes, if
you don't have a feed."
"Come and rest for a minute," he continued
He spoke with pleasant, impersonal kindliness,
and as he turned to his satchel she slipped out of
the saddle and came towards him, leading her
"Drink that," he said, holding out the cup
of his flask. She drank with a wry little face,
and coughed. "I put a little whisky in it,"
he explained. "You needed it."
She thanked him and sat down with the
bridle linked over her arm. The colour crept
back into her cheeks. Maynard produced a
packet of sandwiches and a pasty.
"I've been mooning about the moor all the
afternoon and lost myself twice," she explained
between frank mouthfuls. "I'm hopelessly
late for dinner, and I've still got miles to go."
"Do you know the way now?" he asked.
"Oh, yes! It won't take me long. My
family are sensible, too, and don't fuss." She
looked at him, her long-lashed eyes a little
serious. "But you—how are you going to
get home? It's getting late to be out on the
"Oh, I'm all right, thanks!" He sniffed
the warm September night. "I think I shall
sleep here, as a matter of fact. I'm a gipsy
"'Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly Heaven above——'"
He broke off, arrested by her unsmiling eyes.
She was silent a moment.
"People don't as a rule sleep out—about
here." The words came jerkily, as if she were
forcing a natural tone into her voice.
"No?" He was accustomed to being questioned
on his unconventional mode of life, and
was prepared for the usual expostulations.
She looked abruptly towards him.
"Are you superstitious?"
He laughed and shook his head.
"I don't think so. But what has that got
to do with it?"
She hesitated, flushing a little.
"There is a legend—people about here say
that the moor here is haunted. There is a
Thing that hunts people to death!"
He laughed outright, wondering how old
she was. Seventeen or eighteen, perhaps.
She had said her people "didn't fuss." That
meant she was left to herself to pick up all
these old wives' tales.
"Really! Has anyone been caught?"
She nodded, unsmiling.
"Yes; old George Toms. He was one of
Dad's tenants, a big purple-faced man, who
drank a lot and never took much exercise.
They found him in a ditch with his clothes all
torn and covered with mud. He had been run
to death; there was no wound on his body,
but his heart was broken." Her thoughts
recurred to the stone against which they leant,
and his quaint conceit. "You were rather
rash to go offering burnt sacrifices about here,
don't you think? Dad says that stone is the
remains of an old Phœnician altar, too."
She was smiling now, but the seriousness
lingered in her eyes.
"And I have probably invoked some terrible
heathen deity—Ashtoreth, or Pugm, or Baal!
How awful!" he added, with mock gravity.
The girl rose to her feet.
"You are laughing at me. The people about
here are superstitious, and I am a Celt, too.
I belong here."
He jumped up with a quick protest.
"No, I'm not laughing at you. Please don't
think that! But it's a little hard to believe
in active evil when all around is so beautiful."
He helped her to mount and walked to the
top of the mound at her stirrup. "Tell me, is
there any charm or incantation, in case——?"
His eyes were twinkling, but she shook her fair
"They say iron—cold iron—is the only thing
it cannot cross. But I must go!" She held
out her hand with half-shy friendliness. "Thank
you for your niceness to me." Her eyes grew
suddenly wistful. "Really, though, I don't
think I should stay there if I were you. Please!"
He only laughed, however, and she moved
off, shaking her impatient horse into a canter.
Maynard stood looking after her till she was
swallowed by the dusk and surrounding moor.
Then, thoughtfully, he retraced his steps to the
A cloud lay across the face of the moon when
Fear awoke Maynard. He rolled on to one
elbow and stared round the hollow, filled with
inexplicable dread. He was ordinarily a courageous
man, and had no nerves to speak of;
yet, as his eyes followed the line of the ridge
against the sky, he experienced terror, the
elementary, nauseating terror of childhood,
when the skin tingles, and the heart beats at
a suffocating gallop. It was very dark, but
momentarily his eyes grew accustomed to it.
He was conscious of a queer, pungent smell,
horribly animal and corrupt.
Suddenly the utter silence broke. He heard
a rattle of stones, the splash of water about
him, realised that it was the brook beneath
his feet, and that he, Maynard, was running
for his life.
Neither then nor later did Reason assert
herself. He ran without question or amazement.
His brain—the part where human
reasoning holds normal sway—was dominated
by the purely primitive instinct of flight. And
in that sudden rout of courage and self-respect
one conscious thought alone remained. Whatever
it was that was even then at his heels, he
must not see it. At all costs it must be behind
him, and, resisting the sudden terrified impulse
to look over his shoulder, he unbuttoned his tweed
jacket and disengaged himself from it as he
ran. The faint haze that had gathered round
the full moon dispersed, and he saw the moor
stretching before him, grey and still, glistening
He was of frugal and temperate habits, a
wiry man at the height of his physical powers,
with lean flanks and a deep chest.
At Oxford they had said he was built to run
for his life. He was running for it now, and he
The ground sloped upwards after a while,
and he tore up the incline, breathing deep and
hard; down into a shallow valley, leaping gorse
bushes, crashing through whortle and meadowsweet,
stumbling over peat-cuttings and the
workings of forgotten tin-mines. An idiotic popular
tune raced through his brain. He found
himself trying to frame the words, but they
broke into incoherent prayers, still to the same
Then, as he breasted the flank of a boulder-strewn
tor, he seemed to hear snuffling breathing
behind him, and, redoubling his efforts, stepped
into a rabbit hole. He was up and running
again in the twinkling of an eye, limping from
a twisted ankle as he ran.
He sprinted over the crest of the hill and
thought he heard the sound almost abreast of
him, away to the right. In the dry bed of a
watercourse some stones were dislodged and
fell with a rattle in the stillness of the night;
he bore away to the left. A moment later
there was Something nearly at his left elbow,
and he smelt again the nameless, fœtid reek.
He doubled, and the ghastly truth flashed
upon him. The Thing was playing with him!
He was being hunted for sport—the sport of a
horror unthinkable. The sweat ran down into
He lost all count of time; his wrist watch
was smashed on his wrist. He ran through a
reeling eternity, sobbing for breath, stumbling,
tripping, fighting a leaden weariness; and ever
the same unreasoning terror urged him on.
The moon and ragged skyline swam about him;
the blood drummed deafeningly in his ears,
and his eyeballs felt as if they would burst
from their sockets. He had nearly bitten his
swollen tongue in two falling over an unseen
peat-cutting, and blood-flecked foam gathered
on his lips.
God, how he ran! But he was no longer
among bog and heather. He was running—shambling
now—along a road. The loping pursuit
of that nameless, shapeless Something sounded
like an echo in his head.
He was nearing a village, but saw nothing
save a red mist that swam before him like a
fog. The road underfoot seemed to rise and
fall in wavelike undulations. Still he ran,
with sobbing gasps and limbs that swerved
under his weight; at his elbow hung death
unnamable, and the fear of it urged him on
while every instinct of his exhausted body called
out to him to fling up his hands and end it.
Out of the mist ahead rose the rough outline of
a building by the roadside; it was the village
smithy, half workshop, half dwelling. The
road here skirted a patch of grass, and the
moonlight, glistening on the dew, showed the
dark circular scars of the turf where, for a
generation, the smith's peat fires had heated
the great iron hoops that tyred the wheels of
the wains. One of these was even then lying
on the ground with the turves placed in readiness
for firing in the morning, and in the throbbing
darkness of Maynard's consciousness a voice
seemed to speak faintly—the voice of a girl:
"There's a Thing that hunts people to death.
But iron—cold iron—it cannot cross."
The sweat of death was already on his brow
as he reeled sideways, plunging blindly across
the uneven tufts of grass. His feet caught in
some obstruction and he pitched forward into
the sanctuary of the huge iron tyre—a spasm
of cramp twisting his limbs up under him.
As he fell a great blackness rose around him,
and with it the bewildered clamour of awakened
Dr. Stanmore came down the flagged path
from the smith's cottage, pulling on his gloves.
A big car was passing slowly up the village
street, and as it came abreast the smithy the
doctor raised his hat.
The car stopped, and the driver, a fair-haired
girl, leant sideways from her seat.
"Good-morning, Dr. Stanmore! What's the
matter here? Nothing wrong with any of
Matthew's children, is there?"
The Doctor shook his head gravely.
"No, Lady Dorothy; they're all at school.
This is no one belonging to the family—a stranger
who was taken mysteriously ill last night just
outside the forge, and they brought him in.
It's a most queer case, and very difficult to
diagnose—that is to say, to give a diagnosis in
keeping with one's professional—er—conscience."
The girl switched off the engine, and took
her hand from the brake-lever. Something in
the doctor's manner arrested her interest.
"What is the matter with him?" she queried.
"What diagnosis have you made, professional
"Shock, Lady Dorothy; severe exhaustion
and shock, heart strained, superficial lesions,
bruises, scratches, and so forth. Mentally he
is in a great state of excitement and terror,
lapsing into delirium at times—that is really
the most serious feature. In fact, unless I can
calm him I am afraid we may have some brain
trouble on top of the other thing. It's most
The girl nodded gravely, holding her underlip
between her white teeth.
"What does he look like—in appearance,
I mean? Is he young?"
The shadow of a smile crossed the doctor's
"Yes, Lady Dorothy—quite young, and very
good-looking. He is a man of remarkable
athletic build. He is calmer now, and I have
left Matthew's wife with him while I slip out
to see a couple of other patients."
Lady Dorothy rose from her seat and stepped
down out of the car.
"I think I know your patient," she said.
"In fact, I had taken the car to look for him,
to ask him to lunch with us. Do you think
I might see him for a minute? If it is the person
I think it is I may be able to help you diagnose
Together they walked up the path and entered
the cottage. The doctor led the way
upstairs and opened a door. A woman sitting
by the bed rose and dropped a curtsey.
Lady Dorothy smiled a greeting to her and
crossed over to the bed. There, his face grey
and drawn with exhaustion, with shadows
round his closed eyes, lay Maynard; one hand
lying on the counterpane opened and closed
convulsively, his lips moved. The physician
eyed the girl interrogatively.
"Do you know him?" he asked.
She nodded, and put her firm, cool hand
over the twitching fingers.
"Yes," she said. "And I warned him.
Tell me, is he very ill?"
"He requires rest, careful nursing, absolute
"All that he can have at the Manor," said
the girl softly. She met the doctor's eyes and
looked away, a faint colour tingeing her cheeks.
"Will you go and telephone to father? I
will take him back in the car now if he is well
enough to be moved."
"Yes, he is well enough to be moved," said
the doctor. "It is very kind of you, Lady
Dorothy, and I will go and telephone at once.
Will you stay with him for a little while?"
He left the room, and they heard his feet go
down the narrow stairs. The cottage door opened
The two women, the old and the young, peasant
and peer's daughter, looked at each other, and
there was in their glance that complete understanding
which can only exist between women.
"Do 'ee mind old Jarge Toms, my lady?"
Lady Dorothy nodded.
"I know, I know! And I warned him!
They won't believe, these men! They think
because they are so big and strong that there
is nothing that can hurt them."
"'Twas th' iron that saved un, my lady.
'Twas inside one of John's new tyres as was
lyin' on the ground that us found un. Dogs
barkin' wakened us up. But it'd ha' had un,
else——" A sound downstairs sent her flying
to the door. "'Tis the kettle, my lady. John's
dinner spilin', an' I forgettin'."
She hurried out of the room and closed the
The sound of their voices seemed to have
roused the occupant of the bed. His eyelids
fluttered and opened; his eyes rested full on the
girl's face. For a moment there was no consciousness
in their gaze; then a whimsical ghost
of a smile crept about his mouth.
"Go on," he said in a weak voice. "Say it!"
"Say what?" asked Lady Dorothy. She
was suddenly aware that her hand was still on
his, but the twitching fingers had closed about
hers in a calm, firm grasp.
"Say 'I told you so'!"
She shook her head with a little smile.
"I told you that cold iron——"
"Cold iron saved me." He told her of the
iron hoop on the ground outside the forge. "You
saved me last night."
She disengaged her hand gently.
"I saved you last night—since you say so.
But in future——"
Someone was coming up the stairs. Maynard
met her eyes with a long look.
"I have no fear," he said. "I have found
something better than cold iron."
The door opened and the doctor came in.
He glanced at Maynard's face and touched his
"The case is yours, Lady Dorothy!" he said
with a little bow.