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Title: The Terror
Author: Arthur Machen
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Language:  English
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Title: The Terror
Author: Arthur Machen





1. The Coming of the Terror
2. Death in the Village
3. The Doctor's Theory
4. The Spread of the Terror
5. The Incident of the Unknown Tree
6. Mr. Remnant's Ray
7. The Case of the Hidden Germans
8. What Mr. Merritt Found
9. The Light on the Water
10. The Child and the Moth
11. At Treff Loyne Farm
12. The Letter of Wrath
13. The Last Words of Mr. Secretan
14. The End of the Terror




1. The Coming of the Terror


After two years we are turning once more to the morning's news with a
sense of appetite and glad expectation. There were thrills at the
beginning of the war: the thrill of horror and of a doom that seemed at
once incredible and certain; this was when Namur fell and the German
host swelled like a flood over the French fields, and drew very near to
the walls of Paris. Then we felt the thrill of exultation when the good
news came that the awful tide had been turned back, that Paris and the
world were safe; for awhile at all events.

Then for days we hoped for more news as good as this or better. Has von
Kluck been surrounded? Not to-day, but perhaps he will be surrounded
to-morrow. But the days became weeks, the weeks drew out to months; the
battle in the west seemed frozen. Now and again things were done that
seemed hopeful, with promise of events still better. But Neuve Chapelle
and Loos dwindled into disappointments as their tale was told fully; the
lines in the west remained, for all practical purposes of victory,
immobile. Nothing seemed to happen, there was nothing to read save the
record of operations that were clearly trifling and insignificant.
People speculated as to the reason of this inaction; the hopeful said
that Joffre had a plan, that he was "nibbling," others declared that we
were short of munitions, others again that the new levies were not yet
ripe for battle. So the months went by, and almost two years of war had
been completed before the motionless English line began to stir and
quiver as if it awoke from a long sleep, and began to roll onward,
overwhelming the enemy.

The secret of the long inaction of the British armies has been well
kept. On the one hand it was rigorously protected by the censorshop,
which severe, and sometimes severe to the point of absurdity--"the
captains and the ... depart," for instance--became in this
particular matter ferocious. As soon as the real significance of that
which was happening, or beginning to happen, was perceived by the
authorities, an underlined circular was issued to the newspaper
proprietors of Great Britain and Ireland. It warned each proprietor that
he might impart the contents of this circular to one other person only,
such person being the responsible editor of his paper, who was to keep
the communication secret under the severest penalties. The circular
forbade any mention of certain events that had taken place, that might
take place; it forbade any kind of allusion to these events or any hint
of their existence, or of the possibility of their existence, not only
in the press, but in any form whatever. The subject was not to be
alluded to in conversation, it was not to be hinted at, however
obscurely, in letters; the very existence of the circular, its subject
apart, was to be a dead secret.

These measures were successful. A wealthy newspaper proprietor of the
north, warmed a little at the end of the Throwsters' Feast (which was
held as usual, it will be remembered), ventured to say to the man next
to him: "How awful it would be, wouldn't it, if...." His words were
repeated, as proof, one regrets to say, that it was time for "old
Arnold" to "pull himself together"; and he was fined a thousand pounds.
Then, there was the case of an obscure weekly paper published in the
county town of an agricultural district in Wales. The Meiros Observer
(we will call it) was issued from a stationer's back premises, and
filled its four pages with accounts of local flower shows, fancy fairs
at vicarages, reports of parish councils, and rare bathing fatalities.

It also issued a visitors' list, which has been known to contain six
names.

This enlightened organ printed a paragraph, which nobody noticed, which
was very like paragraphs that small country newspapers have long been in
the habit of printing, which could hardly give so much as a hint to any
one--to any one, that is, who was not fully instructed in the
secret. As a matter of fact, this piece of intelligence got into the
paper because the proprietor, who was also the editor, incautiously left
the last processes of this particular issue to the staff, who was the
Lord-High-Everything-Else of the establishment; and the staff put in a
bit of gossip he had heard in the market to fill up two inches on the
back page. But the result was that the Meiros Observer ceased to appear,
owing to "untoward circumstances," as the proprietor said; and he would
say no more. No more, that is, by way of explanation, but a great deal
more by way of execration of "damned, prying busybodies."

Now a censorship that is sufficiently minute and utterly remorseless can
do amazing things in the way of hiding what it wants to hide. Before the
war, one would have thought otherwise; one would have said that, censor
or no censor, the fact of the murder at X or the fact of the bank
robbery at Y would certainly become known; if not through the press, at
all events through rumour and the passage of the news from mouth to
mouth. And this would be true--of England three hundred years ago,
and of savage tribelands of to-day. But we have grown of late to such a
reverence for the printed word and such a reliance on it, that the old
faculty of disseminating news by word of mouth has become atrophied.
Forbid the press to mention the fact that Jones has been murdered, and
it is marvellous how few people will hear of it, and of those who hear
how few will credit the story that they have heard. You meet a man in
the train who remarks that he has been told something about a murder in
Southwark; there is all the difference in the world between the
impression you receive from such a chance communication and that given
by half a dozen lines of print with name, and street and date and all
the facts of the case. People in trains repeat all sorts of tales, many
of them false; newspapers do not print accounts of murders that have not
been committed.

Then another consideration that has made for secrecy. I may have seemed
to say that the old office of rumour no longer exists; I shall be
reminded of the strange legend of the Russians and the mythology of the
angels of Mons. But let me point out, in the first place, that both
these absurdities depended on the papers for their wide dissemination.
If there had been no newspapers or magazines Russians and angels would
have made but a brief, vague appearance of the most shadowy kind--a
few would have heard of them, fewer still would have believed in them,
they would have been gossiped about for a bare week or two, and so they
would have vanished away.

And, then, again, the very fact of these vain rumours and fantastic
tales having been so widely believed for a time was fatal to the credit
of any stray mutterings that may have got abroad.

People had been taken in twice; they had seen how grave persons, men of
credit, had preached and lectured about the shining forms that had saved
the British army at Mons, or had testified to the trains, packed with
grey-coated Muscovites, rushing through the land at dead of night: and
now there was a hint of something more amazing than either of the
discredited legends. But this time there was no word of confirmation to
be found in daily paper, or weekly review, or parish magazine, and so
the few that heard either laughed, or, being serious, went home and
jotted down notes for essays on "War-time Psychology: Collective
Delusions."

I followed neither of these courses. For before the secret circular had
been issued my curiosity had somehow been aroused by certain paragraphs
concerning a "Fatal Accident to Well-known Airman." The propeller of the
aeroplane had been shattered, apparently by a collision with a flight of
pigeons; the blades had been broken and the machine had fallen like lead
to the earth.

And soon after I had seen this account, I heard of some very odd
circumstances relating to an explosion in a great munition factory in
the Midlands. I thought I saw the possibility of a connection between
two very different events.

It has been pointed out to me by friends who have been good enough to
read this record, that certain phrases I have used may give the
impression that I ascribe all the delays of the war on the western front
to the extraordinary circumstances which occasioned the issue of the
secret circular. Of course this is not the case, there were many reasons
for the immobility of our lines from October 1914 to July 1916. These
causes have been evident enough and have been openly discussed and
deplored. But behind them was something of infinitely greater moment. We
lacked men, but men were pouring into the new army; we were short of
shells, but when the shortage was proclaimed the nation set itself to
mend this matter with all its energy. We could undertake to supply the
defects of our army both in men and munitions--if the new and
incredible danger could be overcome. It has been overcome; rather,
perhaps, it has ceased to exist; and the secret may now be told.

I have said my attention was attracted by an account of the death of a
well-known airman. I have not the habit of preserving cuttings, I am
sorry to say, so that I cannot be precise as to the date of this event.
To the best of my belief it was either towards the end of May or the
beginning of June 1915. The newspaper paragraph announcing the death of
Flight-Lieutenant Western-Reynolds was brief enough; accidents, and
fatal accidents, to the men who are storming the air for us are,
unfortunately, by no means so rare as to demand an elaborated notice.
But the manner in which Western-Reynolds met his death struck me as
extraordinary, inasmuch as it revealed a new danger in the element that
we have lately conquered. He was brought down, as I said, by a flight of
birds; of pigeons, as appeared by what was found on the blood-stained
and shattered blades of the propeller. An eye-witness of the accident, a
fellow officer, described how Western-Reynolds set out from the
aerodrome on a fine afternoon, there being hardly any wind. He was going
to France; he had made the journey to and fro half a dozen times or
more, and felt perfectly secure and at ease.

"'Wester' rose to a great height at once, and we could scarcely see the
machine. I was turning to go when one of the fellows called out: 'I say!
What's this?' He pointed up, and we saw what looked like a black cloud
coming from the south at a tremendous rate. I saw at once it wasn't a
cloud; it came with a swirl and a rush quite different from any cloud
I've ever seen. But for a second I couldn't make out exactly what it
was. It altered its shape and turned into a great crescent, and wheeled
and veered about as if it was looking for something. The man who had
called out had got his glasses, and was staring for all he was worth.
Then he shouted that it was a tremendous flight of birds, 'thousands of
them.' They went on wheeling and beating about high up in the air, and
we were watching them, thinking it was interesting, but, not supposing
that they would make any difference to Wester, who was just about out of
sight. His machine was just a speck. Then the two arms of the crescent
drew in as quick as lightning, and these thousands of birds shot in a
solid mass right up there across the sky, and flew away somewhere about
nor'-nor'-by-west. Then Henley, the man with the glasses, called out:
'He's down!' and started running, and I went after him. We got a car and
as we were going along Henley told me that he'd seen the machine drop
dead, as if it came out of that cloud of birds. He thought then that
they must have mucked up the propeller somehow. That turned out to be
the case. We found the propeller blades all broken and covered with
blood and pigeon feathers, and carcasses of the birds had got wedged in
between the blades, and were sticking to them."

This was the story that the young airman told one evening in a small
company. He did not speak "in confidence," so I have no hesitation in
reproducing what he said. Naturally, I did not take a verbatim note of
his conversation, but I have something of a knack of remembering talk
that interests me, and I think my reproduction is very near to the tale
that I heard. And let it be noted that the flying man told his story
without any sense or indication of a sense that the incredible, or all
but the incredible, had happened. So far as he knew, he said, it was the
first accident of the kind. Airmen in France had been bothered once or
twice by birds--he thought they were eagles--flying viciously
at them, but poor old Wester had been the first man to come up against a
flight of some thousands of pigeons.

"And perhaps I shall be the next," he added, "but why look for trouble?
Anyhow, I'm going to see Toodle-oo to-morrow afternoon."

Well, I heard the story, as one hears all the varied marvels and terrors
of the air; as one heard some years ago of "air pockets," strange gulfs
or voids in the atmosphere into which airmen fell with great peril; or
as one heard of the experience of the airman who flew over the
Cumberland Mountains in the burning summer of 1911, and as he swam far
above the heights was suddenly and vehemently blown upwards, the hot air
from the rocks striking his plane as if it had been a blast from a
furnace chimney. We have just begun to navigate a strange region; we
must expect to encounter strange adventures, strange perils. And here a
new chapter in the chronicles of these perils and adventures had been
opened by the death of Western-Reynolds; and no doubt invention and
contrivance would presently hit on some way of countering the new
danger.

It was, I think, about a week or ten days after the airman's death that
my business called me to a northern town, the name of which, perhaps,
had better remain unknown. My mission was to inquire into certain
charges of extravagance which had been laid against the working people,
that is, the munition workers of this especial town. It was said that
the men who used to earn £2 10s. a week were now getting from
seven to eight pounds, that "bits of girls" were being paid two pounds
instead of seven or eight shillings, and that, in consequence, there was
an orgy of foolish extravagance. The girls, I was told, were eating
chocolates at four, five, and six shillings a pound, the women were
ordering thirty-pound pianos which they couldn't play, and the men
bought gold chains at ten and twenty guineas apiece.

I dived into the town in question and found, as usual, that there was a
mixture of truth and exaggeration in the stories that I had heard.
Gramophones, for example: they cannot be called in strictness
necessaries, but they were undoubtedly finding a ready sale, even in the
more expensive brands. And I thought that there were a great many very
spick-and-span perambulators to be seen on the pavement; smart
perambulators, painted in tender shades of colour and expensively
fitted.

"And how can you be surprised if people will have a bit of a fling?" a
worker said to me.

"We're seeing money for the first time in our lives, and it's bright.
And we work hard for it, and we risk our lives to get it. You've heard
of explosion yonder?"

He mentioned certain works on the outskirts of the town. Of course,
neither the name of the works nor of the town had been printed; there
had been a brief notice of "Explosion at Munition Works in the Northern
District: Many Fatalities." The working man told me about it, and added
some dreadful details.

"They wouldn't let their folks see bodies; screwed them up in coffins as
they found them in shop. The gas had done it."

"Turned their faces black, you mean?"

"Nay. They were all as if they had been bitten to pieces."

This was a strange gas.

I asked the man in the northern town all sorts of questions about the
extraordinary explosion of which he had spoken to me. But he had very
little more to say. As I have noted already, secrets that may not be
printed are often deeply kept; last summer there were very few people
outside high official circles who knew anything about the "tanks," of
which we have all been talking lately, though these strange instruments
of war were being exercised and tested in a park not far from London. So
the man who told me of the explosion in the munition factory was most
likely genuine in his profession that he knew nothing more of the
disaster. I found out that he was a smelter employed at a furnace on the
other side of the town to the ruined factory; he didn't know even what
they had been making there; some very dangerous high explosives, he
supposed. His information was really nothing more than a bit of gruesome
gossip, which he had heard probably at third or fourth or fifth hand.
The horrible detail of faces "as if they had been bitten to pieces" had
made its violent impression on him, that was all.

I gave him up and took a tram to the district of the disaster; a sort of
industrial suburb, five miles from the centre of the town. When I asked
for the factory, I was told that it was no good my going to it as there
was nobody there. But I found it; a raw and hideous shed with a walled
yard about it, and a shut gate. I looked for signs of destruction, but
there was nothing. The roof was quite undamaged; and again it struck me
that this had had been a strange accident. There had been an explosion
of sufficient violence to kill work-people in the building, but the
building itself showed no wounds or scars.

A man came out of the gate and locked it behind him. I began to ask him
some sort of question, or rather, I began to "open" for a question with
"A terrible business here, they tell me," or some such phrase of
convention. I got no farther. The man asked me if I saw a policeman
walking down the street. I said I did, and I was given the choice of
getting about my business forthwith or of being instantly given in
charge as a spy. "Th'ast better be gone and quick about it," was, I
think, his final advice, and I took it.

Well, I had come literally up against a brick wall, thinking the problem
over, I could only suppose that the smelter or his informant had twisted
the phrases of the story. The smelter had said the dead men's faces were
"bitten to pieces" this might be an unconscious perversion of "eaten
away." That phrase might describe well enough the effect of strong
acids, and, for all I knew of the processes of munition-making, such
acids might be used and might explode with horrible results in some
perilous stage of their admixture.

It was a day or two later that the accident to the airman,
Western-Reynolds, came into my mind. For one of those instants which are
far shorter than any measure of time there flashed out the possibility
of a link between the two disasters. But here was a wild impossibility,
and I drove it away. And yet I think the thought, mad as it seemed,
never left me; it was the secret light that at last guided me through a
sombre grove of enigmas.

It was about this time, so far as the date can be fixed, that a whole
district, one might say a whole county, was visited by a series of
extraordinary and terrible calamities, which were the more terrible
inasmuch as they continued for some time to be inscrutable mysteries. It
is, indeed, doubtful whether these awful events do not still remain
mysteries to many of those concerned; for before the inhabitants of this
part of the country had time to join one link of evidence to another the
circular was issued, and thenceforth no one knew how to distinguish
undoubted fact from wild and extravagant surmise.

The district in question is in the far west of Wales; I shall call it,
for convenience, Meirion. In it there is one seaside town of some repute
with holiday-makers for five or six weeks in the summer, and dotted
about the county there are three or four small old towns that seem
drooping in a slow decay, sleepy and grey with age and forgetfulness.
They remind me of what I have read of towns in the west of Ireland.
Grass grows between the uneven stones of the pavements, the signs above
the shop windows decline, half the letters of these signs are missing,
here and there a house has been pulled down, or has been allowed to
slide into ruin, and wild greenery springs up through the fallen stones,
and there is silence in all the streets. And it is to be noted, these
are not places that were once magnificent. The Celts have never had the
art of building, and so far as I can see, such towns as Towy and Merthyr
Tegveth and Meiros must have been always much as they are now, clusters
of poorish, meanly built houses, ill kept and down at heel.

And these few towns are thinly scattered over a wild country where north
is divided from south by a wilder mountain range. One of these places is
sixteen miles from any station; the others are doubtfully and deviously
connected by single-line railways served by rare trains that pause and
stagger and hesitate on their slow journey up mountain passes, or stop
for half an hour or more at lonely sheds called stations, situated in
the midst of desolate marshes. A few years ago I travelled with an
Irishman on one of these queer lines, and he looked to right and saw the
bog with its yellow and blue grasses and stagnant pools, and he looked
to left and saw a ragged hill-side, set with grey stone walls. "I can
hardly believe," he said, "that I'm not still in the wilds of Ireland."

Here, then, one sees a wild and divided and scattered region, a land of
outland hills and secret and hidden valleys. I know white farms on this
coast which must be separate by two hours of hard, rough walking from
any other habitation, which are invisible from any other house. And
inland, again, the farms are often ringed about by thick groves of ash,
planted by men of old days to shelter their roof-trees from rude winds
of the mountain and stormy winds of the sea; so that these places, too,
are hidden away, to be surmised only by the wood smoke that rises from
the green surrounding leaves. A Londoner must see them to believe in
them; and even then he can scarcely credit their utter isolation.

Such, then, in the main is Meirion, and on this land in the early summer
of last year terror descended--a terror without shape, such as no
man there had ever known.

It began with the tale of a little child who wandered out into the lanes
to pick flowers one sunny afternoon, and never came back to the cottage
on the hill.




2. Death in the Village


The child who was lost came from a lonely cottage that stands on the
slope of a steep hill-side called the Allt, or the height. The land
about it is wild and ragged; here the growth of gorse and bracken, here
a marshy hollow of reeds and rushes, marking the course of the stream
from some hidden well, here thickets of dense and tangled undergrowth,
the outposts of the wood. Down through this broken and uneven ground a
path leads to the lane at the bottom of the valley; then the land rises
again and swells up to the cliffs over the sea, about a quarter of a
mile away. The little girl, Gertrude Morgan, asked her mother if she
might go down to the lane and pick the purple flowers--these were
orchids--that grew there, and her mother gave her leave, telling
her she must be sure to be back by tea time, as there was apple tart for
tea.

She never came back. It was supposed that she must have crossed the road
and gone to the cliff's edge, possibly in order to pick the sea pinks
that were then in full blossom. She must have slipped, they said, and
fallen into the sea, two hundred feet below. And, it may be said at
once, that there was no doubt some truth in this conjecture, though it
stopped very far short of the whole truth. The child's body must have
been carried out by the tide, for it was never found.

The conjecture of a false step or of a fatal slide on the slippery turf
that slopes down to the rocks was accepted as being the only explanation
possible. People thought the accident a strange one because, as a rule,
country children living by the cliffs and the sea become wary at an
early age, and Gertrude Morgan was almost ten years old. Still, as the
neighbours said, "That's how it must have happened, and it's a great
pity, to be sure." But this would not do when in a week's time a strong
young labourer failed to come to his cottage after the day's work. His
body was found on the rocks six or seven miles from the cliffs where the
child was supposed to have fallen; he was going home by a path that he
had used every night of his life for eight or nine years, that he used
of dark nights in perfect security, knowing every inch of it. The police
asked if he drank, but he was a teetotaller; if he were subject to fits,
but he wasn't. And he was not murdered for his wealth, since
agricultural labourers are not wealthy. It was only possible again to
talk of slippery turf and a false step: but people began to be
frightened. Then a woman was found with her neck broken at the bottom of
a disused quarry near Llanfihangel, in the middle of the county. The
"false step" theory was eliminated here, for the quarry was guarded with
a natural hedge of gorse bushes. One would have to struggle and fight
through sharp thorns to destruction in such a place as this; and indeed
the gorse bushes were broken as if some one had rushed furiously through
them, just above the place where the woman's body was found. And this
was strange: there was a dead sheep lying beside her in the pit, as if
the woman and the sheep together had been chased over the brim of the
quarry. But chased by whom, or by what? And then there was a new form of
terror.

This was in the region of the marshes under the mountain. A man and his
son, a lad of fourteen or fifteen, set out early one morning to work and
never reached the farm where they were bound.

Their way skirted the marsh, but it was broad, firm and well metalled,
and it had been raised about two feet above the bog. But when search was
made in the evening of the same day Phillips and his son were found dead
in the marsh, covered with black slime and pondweed. And they lay some
ten yards from the path, which, it would seem, they must have left
deliberately. It was useless, of course, to look for tracks in the black
ooze, for if one threw a big stone into it a few seconds removed all
marks of the disturbance. The men who found the two bodies beat about
the verges and purlieus of the marsh in hope of finding some trace of
the murderers; they went to and fro over the rising ground where the
black cattle were grazing, they searched the alder thickets by the
brook; but they discovered nothing.

Most horrible of all these horrors, perhaps, was the affair of the
Highway, a lonely and unfrequented by-road that winds for many miles on
high and lonely land. Here, a mile from any other dwelling, stands a
cottage on the edge of a dark wood. It was inhabited by a laborer named
Williams, his wife, and their three children. One hot summer's evening,
a man who had been doing a day's gardening at a rectory three or four
miles away, passed the cottage, and stopped for a few minutes to chat
with Williams, the labourer, who was pottering about his garden, while
the children were playing on the path by the door. The two talked of
their neighbors and of the potatoes till Mrs. Williams appeared at the
doorway and said supper was ready, and Williams turned to go into the
house. This was about eight o'clock, and in the ordinary course the
family would have their supper and be in bed by nine, or by half past
nine at latest. At ten o'clock that night the local doctor was driving
home along the Highway. His horse shied violently and then stopped dead
just opposite the gate to the cottage, The doctor got down, frightened
at what he saw; and there on the roadway lay Williams, his wife, and the
three children, stone dead, all of them, Their skulls were battered in
as if by some heavy iron instrument; their faces were beaten into a
pulp.




3. The Doctor's Theory


It is not easy to make any picture of the horror that lay dark on the
hearts of the people of Meirion. It was no longer possible to believe or
to pretend to believe that these men and women and children met their
deaths through strange accidents. The little girl and the young labourer
might have slipped and fallen over the cliffs, but the woman who lay
dead with the dead sheep at the bottom of the quarry, the two men who
had been lured into the ooze of the marsh, the family who were found
murdered on the Highway before their own cottage door; in these cases
there could be no room for the supposition of accident. It seemed as if
it were impossible to frame any conjecture or outline of a conjecture
that would account for these hideous and, as it seemed, utterly
purposeless crimes. For a time people said that there must be a madman
at large, a sort of country variant of Jack the Ripper, some horrible
pervert who was possessed by the passion of death, who prowled darkling
about that lonely land, hiding in woods and in wild places, always
watching and seeking for the victims of his desire.

Indeed, Dr. Lewis, who found poor Williams, his wife, and children
miserably slaughtered on the Highway, was convinced at first that the
presence of a concealed madman in the countryside offered the only
possible solution to the difficulty.

"I felt sure," he said to me afterwards, "that the Williamses had been
killed by a homicidal maniac. It was the nature of the poor creatures'
injuries that convinced me that this was the case.

"Some years ago--thirty-seven or thirty-eight years ago as a matter
of fact--I had something to do with a case which on the face of it
had a strong likeness to the Highway murder. At that time I had a
practice at Usk, in Monmouthshire. A whole family living in a cottage by
the roadside were murdered one evening; it was called, I think, the
Llangibby murder; the cottage was near the village of that name. The
murderer was caught in Newport: he was a Spanish sailor, named Garcia,
and it appeared that he had killed father, mother, and the three
children for the sake of the brass works of an old Dutch clock, which
were found on him when he was arrested.

"Garcia had been serving a month's imprisonment in Usk gaol for some
small theft, and on his release he set out to walk to Newport, nine or
ten miles away; no doubt to get another ship. He passed the cottage and
saw the man working in his garden. Garcia stabbed him with his sailor's
knife. The wife rushed out; he stabbed her. Then he went into the
cottage and stabbed the three children, tried to set the place on fire,
and made off with the clockworks. That looked like the deed of a madman,
but Garcia wasn't mad--they hanged him, I may say--he was
merely a man of a very low type, a degenerate who hadn't the slightest
value for human life. I am not sure, but I think he came from one of the
Spanish islands, where the people are said to be degenerates, very
likely from too much interbreeding.

"But my point is that Garcia stabbed to kill and did kill, with one blow
in each case. There was no senseless hacking and slashing. Now those
poor people on the Highway had their heads smashed to pieces by what
must have been fatal, but the murderer must have gone on raining blows
with his iron hammer on people who were already stone dead. And that
sort of thing is the work of a madman, and nothing but a madman. That's
how I argued the matter out to myself just after the event.

"I was utterly wrong, monstrously wrong. But who could have suspected
the truth?"

Thus Dr. Lewis, and I quote him, or the substance of him, as
representative of most of the educated opinion of the district at the
beginnings of the terror. People seized on this theory largely because it
offered at least the comfort of an explanation, and any explanation,
even the poorest, is better than an intolerable and terrible mystery.
Besides, Dr. Lewis's theory was plausible; it explained the lack of
purpose that seemed to characterize the murders. And yet there were
difficulties even from the first. It was hardly possible that a strange
madman should be able to keep hidden in a countryside where any stranger
is instantly noted and noticed; sooner or later he would be seen as he
prowled along the lanes or across the wild places. Indeed, a drunken,
cheerful, and altogether harmless tramp was arrested by a farmer and his
man in the fact and act of sleeping off beer under a hedge; but the
vagrant was able to prove complete and undoubted alibis, and was soon
allowed to go on his wandering way.

Then another theory, or rather a variant of Dr. Lewis's theory, was
started. This was to the effect that the person responsible for the
outrages was, indeed, a madman; but a madman only at intervals. It was
one of the members of the Porth Club, a certain Mr. Remnant, who was
supposed to have originated this more subtle explanation. Mr. Remnant
was a middle-aged man, who, having nothing particular to do, read a
great many books by way of conquering the hours.

He talked to the club--doctors, retired colonels, parsons,
lawyers--about "personality," quoted various psychological
text-books in support of his contention that personality was sometimes
fluid and unstable, went back to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as good
evidence of his proposition, and laid stress on Dr Jekyll's speculation
that the human soul, so far from being one and indivisible, might
possibly turn out to be a mere polity, a state in which dwelt many
strange and incongruous citizens, whose characters were not merely
unknown but altogether unsurmised by that form of consciousness which so
rashly assumed that it was not only the president of the republic but
also its sole citizen.

"The long and the short of it is," Mr. Remnant concluded, "that any one
of us may be the murderer, though he hasn't the faintest notion of the
fact. Take Llewelyn there."

Mr. Payne Llewelyn was an elderly lawyer, a rural Tulkinghorn. He was
the hereditary solicitor to the Morgans of Pentwyn. This does not sound
anything tremendous to the Saxons of London; but the style is far more
than noble to the Celts of west Wales: it is immemorial: Teilo Sant was
of the collaterals of the first known chief of the race. And Mr. Payne
Llewelyn did his best to look like the legal adviser of this ancient
house. He was weighty, he was cautious, he was sound, he was secure. I
have compared him to Mr. Tulkinghorn of Lincoln's Inn Fields; but Mr.
Llewelyn would most certainly never have dreamed of employing his
leisure in peering into the cupboards where the family skeletons were
hidden. Supposing such cupboards to have existed, Mr. Payne Llewelyn
would have risked large out-of-pocket expenses to furnish them with
double, triple, impregnable locks. He was a new man, an advena,
certainly; for he was partly of the Conquest, being descended on one
side from Sir Payne Turberville; but he meant to stand by the old stock.

"Take Llewelyn now," said Mr. Remnant. "Look here, Llewelyn, can you
produce evidence to show where you were on the night those people were
murdered on the Highway? I thought not."

Mr. Llewelyn, an elderly man, as I have said, hesitated before speaking.

"I thought not," Remnant went on. "Now I say that it is perfectly
possible that Llewelyn may be dealing death throughout Meirion, although
in his present personality he may not have the faintest suspicion that
there is another Llewelyn following murder as a fine art."

Mr. Payne Llewelyn did not at all relish Mr. Remnant's suggestion that
he might well be a secret murderer, ravening for blood, remorseless as a
wild beast. He thought the phrase about his following murder as a fine
art was both nonsensical and in the worst taste, and his opinion was not
changed when Remnant pointed out that it was used by De Quincey in the
title of one of his most famous essays.

"If you had allowed me to speak," he said with some coldness of manner,
"I would have told you that on Tuesday last, the night on which those
unfortunate people were murdered on the Highway I was staying at the
Angel Hotel, Cardiff. I had business in Cardiff, and I was detained till
Wednesday afternoon."

Having given this satisfactory alibi, Mr. Payne Llewelyn left the club,
and did not go near it for the rest of the week.

Remnant explained to those who stayed in the smoking-room that, of
course, he had merely used Mr. Llewelyn as a concrete example of his
theory, which, he persisted, had the support of a considerable body of
evidence.

"There are several cases of double personality on record," he declared.
"And I say again that it is quite possible that these murders may have
been committed by one of us in his secondary personality. Why, I may be
the murderer in my Remnant B state, though Remnant A knows nothing
whatever about it, and is perfectly convinced that he could not kill a
fowl, much less a whole family. Isn't it so, Lewis?"

Dr. Lewis said it was so, in theory, but he thought not in fact.

"Most of the cases of double or multiple personality that have been
investigated," he said, "have been in connection with the very dubious
experiments of hypnotism, or the still more dubious experiments of
spiritualism. All that sort of thing, in my opinion, is like tinkering
with the works of a clock--amateur tinkering, I mean. You fumble
about with the wheels and cogs and bits of mechanism that you don't
really know anything about; and then you find your clock going backwards
or striking 2.40 at tea time. And I believe it's just the same thing
with these psychical research experiments; the secondary personality is
very likely the result of the tinkering and fumbling with a very
delicate apparatus that we know nothing about. Mind, I can't say that
it's impossible for one of us to be the Highway murderer in his B state,
as Remnant puts it. But I think it's extremely improbable. Probability
is the guide of life, you know, Remnant," said Dr. Lewis, smiling at
that gentleman, as if to say that he also had done a little reading in
his day. "And it follows, therefore, that improbability is also the
guide of life. When you get a very high degree of probability, that is,
you are justified in taking it as a certainty; and on the other hand, if
a supposition is highly improbable, you are justified in treating it as
an impossible one. That is, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of
a thousand."

"How about the thousandth case?" said Remnant. "Supposing these
extraordinary crimes constitute the thousandth case?"

The doctor smiled and shrugged his shoulders, being tired of the
subject. But for some little time highly respectable members of Porth
society would look suspiciously at one another wondering whether, after
all, there mightn't be "something in it." However, both Mr. Remnant's
somewhat crazy theory and Dr. Lewis's plausible theory became untenable
when two more victims of an awful and mysterious death were offered up
in sacrifice, for a man was found dead in the Llanfihangel quarry, where
a woman had been discovered. And on the same day a girl of fifteen was
found broken on the jagged rocks under the cliffs near Porth. Now, it
appeared that these two deaths must have occurred at about the same
time, within an hour of one another, certainly; and the distance between
the quarry and the cliffs by Black Rock is certainly twenty miles.

"A motor could do it," one man said.

But it was pointed out that there was no high road between the two
places; indeed, it might be said that there was no road at all between
them. There was a network of deep, narrow, and tortuous lanes that
wandered into one another at all manner of queer angles for, say,
seventeen miles; this in the middle, as it were, between Black Rock and
the quarry at Llanfihangel. But to get to the high land of the cliffs
one had to take a path that went through two miles of fields; and the
quarry lay a mile away from the nearest by-road in the midst of gorse
and bracken and broken land. And, finally, there was no track of
motor-car or motor bicycle in the lanes which must have been followed to
pass from one place to the other.

"What about an aeroplane, then?" said the man of the motorcar theory.
Well, there was certainly an aerodrome not far from one of the two
places of death; but somehow, nobody believed that the Flying Corps
harboured a homicidal maniac. It seemed clear, therefore, that there
must be more than one person concerned in the terror of Meirion. And Dr.
Lewis himself abandoned his own theory.

"As I said to Remnant at the club," he remarked, "improbability is the
guide of life. I can't believe that there are a pack of madmen or even
two madmen at large in the country. I give it up."

And now a fresh circumstance or set of circumstances became manifest to
confound judgment and to awaken new and wild surmises. For at about this
time people realized that none of the dreadful events that were
happening all about them was so much as mentioned in the press. I have
already spoken of the fate of the Meiros Observer. This paper was
suppressed by the authorities because it had inserted a brief paragraph
about some who had been "found dead under mysterious circumstances"; I
think that paragraph referred to the first death of Llanfihangel quarry.
Thenceforth, horror followed on horror, but no word was printed in any
of the local journals. The curious went to the newspaper
offices--there were two left in the county--but found nothing
save a firm refusal to discuss the matter. And the Cardiff papers were
drawn and found blank; and the London press was apparently ignorant of
the fact that crimes that had no parallel were terrorizing a whole
countryside. Everybody wondered what could have happened, what was
happening; and then it was whispered that the coroner would allow no
inquiry to be made as to these deaths of darkness.

"In consequence of instructions received from the Home Office," one
coroner was understood to have said, "I have to tell the jury that their
business will be to hear the medical evidence and to bring in a verdict
immediately in accordance with that evidence. I shall disallow all
questions."

One jury protested. The foreman refused to bring in any verdict at all.

"Very good," said the coroner. "Then I beg to inform you, Mr. foreman
and gentlemen of the jury, that under the Defense of the Realm Act, I
have power to supersede your functions, and to enter a verdict according
to the evidence which has been laid before the court as if it had been
the verdict of you all."

The foreman and jury collapsed and accepted what they could not avoid.
But the rumours that got abroad of all this, added to the known fact
that the terror was ignored in the press, no doubt by official command,
increased the panic that was now arising, and gave it a new direction.

Clearly, people reasoned, these government restrictions and prohibitions
could only refer to the war, to some great danger in connection with the
war. And that being so, it followed that the outrages which must be kept
so secret were the work of the enemy; that is, of concealed German
agents.




4. The Spread of the Terror


It is time, I think, for me to make one point clear. I began this
history with certain references to an extraordinary accident to an
airman whose machine fell to the ground after collision with a huge
flock of pigeons; and then to an explosion in a northern munition
factory, an explosion as, I noted, of a very singular kind. Then I
deserted the neighbourhood of London, and the northern district, and
dwelt on a mysterious and terrible series of events which occurred in
the summer of 1915 in a Welsh county, which I have named, for
convenience, Meirion.

Well, let it be understood at once that all this detail that I have
given about the occurrences in Meirion does not imply that the county in
the far west was alone or especially afflicted by the terror that was
over the land. They tell me that in the villages about Dartmoor the
stout Devonshire hearts sank as men's hearts used to sink in the time of
plague and pestilence. There was horror, too, about the Norfolk Broads,
and far up by Perth no one would venture on the path that leads by Scone
to the wooded heights above the Tay. And in the industrial districts: I
met a man by chance one day in an odd London corner who spoke with
horror of what a friend had told him.

"'Ask no questions, Ned,' he says to me, 'but I tell yaw a' was in
Baimigan t'other day, and a' met a pal who'd seen three hundred coffins
going out of works not far from there.'"

And then the ship that hovered outside the mouth of the Thames with all
sails set and beat to and fro in the wind, and never answered any hail,
and showed no light! The forts shot at her and brought down one of the
masts, but she went suddenly about with a change of wind under what sail
still stood, and then veered down Channel, and drove ashore at last on
the sandbanks and pinewoods of Arcachon, and not a man alive on her, but
only rattling heaps of bones! That last voyage of the Semiramis would be
something horribly worth telling; but I only heard it at a distance as a
yarn, and only believed it because it squared with other things that I
knew for certain.

This, then, is my point; I have written of the terror as it fell on
Meirion, simply because I have had opportunities of getting close there
to what really happened. Third or fourth or fifth hand in the other
places: but round about Porth and Merthyr Tegveth I have spoken with
people who have seen the tracks of the terror with their own eyes.

Well, I have said that the people of that far-western county realized,
not only that death was abroad in their quiet lanes and on their
peaceful hills, but that for some reason it was to be kept all secret.
Newspapers might not print any news of it, the very juries summoned to
investigate it were allowed to investigate nothing. And so they
concluded that this veil of secrecy must somehow be connected with the
war; and from this position it was not a long way to a further
inference: that the murderers of innocent men and women and children
were either Germans or agents of Germany. It would be just like the
Huns, everybody agreed, to think out such a devilish scheme as this; and
they always thought out their schemes beforehand. They hoped to seize
Paris in a few weeks, but when they were beaten on the Marne they had
their trenches on the Aisne ready to fall back on: it had all been
prepared years before the war. And so, no doubt, they had devised this
terrible plan against England in case they could not bear us in open
fight: there were people ready, very likely, all over the country, who
were prepared to murder and destroy everywhere as soon as they got the
word. In this way the Germans intended to sow terror throughout England
and fill our hearts with panic and dismay, hoping so to weaken their
enemy at home that he would lose all heart over the war abroad. It was
the Zeppelin notion, in another form; they were committing these
horrible and mysterious outrages thinking that we should be frightened
out of our wits.

It all seemed plausible enough; Germany had by this time perpetrated so
many horrors and had so excelled in devilish ingenuities that no
abomination seemed too abominable to be probable, or too ingeniously
wicked to be beyond the tortuous malice of the Hun. But then came the
questions as to who the agents of this terrible design were, as to where
they lived, as to how they contrived to move unseen from field to field,
from lane to lane. All sorts of fantastic attempts were made to answer
these questions; but it was felt that they remained unanswered. Some
suggested that the murderers landed from submarines, or flew from hiding
places on the west coast of Ireland, coming and going by night; but
there were seen to be flagrant impossibilities in both these
suggestions. Everybody agreed that the evil work was no doubt the work
of Germany; but nobody could begin to guess how it was done. Somebody at
the club asked Remnant for his theory.

"My theory," said that ingenious person, "is that human progress is
simply a long march from one inconceivable to another. Look at that
airship of ours that came over Porth yesterday: ten years ago that would
have been an inconceivable sight. Take the steam engine, take printing,
take the theory of gravitation: they were all inconceivable till
somebody thought of them. So it is, no doubt, with this infernal dodgery
that we're talking about: the Huns have found it out, and we haven't;
and there you are. We can't conceive how these poor people have been
murdered, because the method's inconceivable to us."

The club listened with some awe to this high argument. After Remnant had
gone, one member said: "Wonderful man, that."

"Yes," said Dr. Lewis. "He was asked whether he knew something. And his
reply really amounted to 'No, I don't.' But I have never heard it better
put."

It was, I suppose, at about this time when the people were puzzling
their heads as to the secret methods used by the Germans or their agents
to accomplish their crimes that a very singular circumstance became
known to a few of the Porth people. It related to the murder of the
Williams family on the Highway in front of their cottage door. I do not
know that I have made it plain that the old Roman road called the
Highway follows the course of a long, steep hill that goes steadily
westward till it slants down and droops towards the sea. On either side
of the road the ground falls away, here into deep shadowy woods, here to
high pastures, now and again into a field of corn, but for the most part
into the wild and broken land that is characteristic of Arfon.

The fields are long and narrow, stretching up the steep hill-side; they
fall into sudden dips and hollows, a well springs up in the midst of one
and a grove of ash and thorn bends over it, shading it; and beneath it
the ground is thick with reeds and rushes. And then may come on either
side of such a field territories glistening with the deep growth of
bracken, and rough with gorse and rugged with thickets of blackthorn,
green lichen hanging strangely from the branches; such are the lands on
either side of the Highway.

Now on the lower slopes of it, beneath the Williams's cottage, some
three or four fields down the hill, there is a military camp. The place
has been used as a camp for many years, and lately the site has been
extended and huts have been erected. But a considerable number of the
men were under canvas here in the summer of 1915.

On the night of the Highway murder this camp, as it appeared afterwards,
was the scene of the extraordinary panic of the horses.

A good many men in the camp were asleep in their tents soon after 9.30,
when the last post was sounded. They woke up in panic. There was a
thundering sound on the steep hill-side above them, and down upon the
tents came half a dozen horses, mad with fright, trampling the canvas,
trampling the men, bruising dozens of them and killing two.

Everything was in wild confusion, men groaning and screaming in the
darkness, struggling with the canvas and the twisted ropes, shouting
out, some them, raw lads enough, that the Germans had landed, others
wiping the blood from their eyes, a few, roused suddenly from heavy
sleep, hitting out at one another, officers coming up at the double
roaring out orders to the sergeants, a party of soldiers who were just
returning to camp from the village seized with fright at what they could
scarcely see or distinguish, at the wildness of the shouting and cursing
and groaning that they could not understand, bolting out of the camp
again and racing for their lives back to the village: everything in the
maddest confusion of wild disorder.

Some of the men had seen the horses galloping down the hill as if terror
itself was driving them. They scattered off into the darkness, and
somehow or another found their way back in the night to their pasture
above the camp. They were grazing there peacefully in the morning, and
the only sign of the panic of the night before was the mud they had
scattered all over themselves as they pelted through a patch of wet
ground. The farrier said they were as quiet a lot as any in Meirion; he
could make nothing of it.

"Indeed," he said, "I believe they must have seen the devil himself to
be in such a fright as that: save the people!"

Now all this was kept as quiet as might be at the time when it happened;
it became known to the men of the Porth Club in the days when they were
discussing the difficult question of the German outrages, as the murders
were commonly called. And this wild stampede of the farm horses was held
by some to be evidence of the extraordinary and unheard-of character of
the dreadful agency that was at work. One of the members of the club had
been told by an officer who was in the camp at the time of the panic
that the horses that came charging down were in a perfect fury of
fright, that he had never seen horses in such a state, and so there was
endless speculation as to the nature of the sight or the sound that had
driven half a dozen quiet beasts into raging madness.


Then, in the middle of this talk, two or three other incidents, quite as
odd and incomprehensible, came to be known, borne on chance trickles of
gossip that came into the towns from outland farms, or were carried by
cottagers tramping into Porth on market-day with a fowl or two and eggs
and garden stuff; scraps and fragments of talk gathered by servants from
the country folk and repeated to their mistresses. And in such ways it
came out that up at Plas Newydd there had been a terrible business over
swarming the bees; they had turned as wild as wasps and much more
savage. They had come about the people who were taking the swarms like a
cloud. They settled on one man's face so that you could not see the
flesh for the bees crawling all over it, and they had stung him so badly
that the doctor did not know whether he would get over it, and they had
chased a girl who had come out to see the swarming, and settled on her
and stung her to death. Then they had gone off to a brake below the farm
and got into a hollow tree there, and it was not safe to go near it, for
they would come out at you by day or by night.

And much the same thing had happened, it seemed, at three or four
farms and cottages where bees were kept. And there were stories, hardly
so clear or so credible, of sheep-dogs, mild and trusted beasts, turning
as savage as wolves and injuring the farm boys in a horrible
manner--in one case it was said with fatal results. It was
certainly true that old Mrs. Owen's favourite Brahma-Dorking cock had
gone mad; she came into Porth one Saturday morning with her face and her
neck all bound up and plastered. She had gone out to her bit of a field
to feed the poultry the night before, and the bird had flown at her and
attacked her most savagely, inflicting some very nasty wounds before she
could beat it off.

"There was a stake handy, lucky for me," she said, "and I did beat him
and beat him till the life was out of him. But what is come to the
world, whatever?"

Now Remnant, the man of theories, was also a man of extreme leisure. It
was understood that he had succeeded to ample means when he was quite a
young man, and after tasting the savours of the law, as it were, for
half a dozen terms at the board of the Middle Temple, he had decided
that it would be senseless to bother himself with passing examinations
for a profession which he had not the faintest intention of practising.
So he turned a deaf ear to the call of "Manger" ringing through the
Temple Courts, and set himself out to potter amiably through the world.
He had pottered all over Europe, he had looked at Africa, and had even
put his head in at the door of the East, on a trip which included the
Greek isles and Constantinople. Now, getting into the middle fifties, he
had settled at Porth for the sake, as he said, of the Gulf Stream and
the fuchsia hedges, and pottered over his books and his theories and the
local gossip. He was no more brutal than the general public, which
revels in the details of mysterious crime: but it must be said that the
terror, black though it was, was a boon to him. He peered and
investigated and poked about with the relish of a man to whose life a
new zest has been added. He listened attentively to the strange tales of
bees and dogs and poultry that came into Porth with the country baskets
of butter, rabbits, and green peas; and he evolved at last a most
extraordinary theory.

Full of this discovery, as he thought it, he went one night to see Dr.
Lewis and take his view of the matter.

"I want to talk to you," said Remnant to the doctor, "about what I have
called, provisionally, the Z Ray."




5. The Incident of the Unknown Tree


Dr. Lewis, smiling indulgently, and quite prepared for some monstrous
piece of theorizing, led Remnant into the room that overlooked the
terraced garden and the sea.

The doctor's house, though it was only a ten minutes' walk from the
center of the town, seemed remote from all other habitations. The drive
to it from the road came through a deep grove of trees and a dense
shrubbery, trees were about the house on either side, mingling with
neighbouring groves, and below, the garden fell down, terrace by green
terrace, to wild growth, a twisted path amongst red rocks, and at last
to the yellow sand of a little cove. The room to which the doctor took
Remnant looked over these terraces and across the water to the dim
boundaries of the bay. It had French windows that were thrown wide open,
and the two men sat in the soft light of the lamp--this was before
the days of severe lighting regulations in the far west--and
enjoyed the sweet odours and the sweet vision of the summer evening.
Then Remnant began:

"I suppose, Lewis, you've heard these extraordinary stories of bees and
dogs and things that have been going about lately?"

"Certainly I have heard them. I was called in at Plas Newydd, and
treated Thomas Trevor, who's only just out of danger, by the way. I
certified for the poor child, Mary Trevor. She was dying when I got to
the place. There was no doubt she was stung to death by bees, and I
believe there were other very similar cases at Llantarnam and Morwen;
none fatal, I think. What about them?"

"Well: then there are the stories of good-tempered old sheepdogs turning
wicked and 'savaging' children?"

"Quite so. I haven't seen any of these cases professionally; but I
believe the stories are accurate enough."

"And the old woman assaulted by her own poultry?"

"That's perfectly true. Her daughter put some stuff of their own
concoction on her face and neck, and then she came to me. The wounds
seemed going all right, so I told her to continue the treatment,
whatever it might be."

"Very good," said Mr. Remnant. He spoke now with an italic
impressiveness. "Don't you see the link between all this and the
horrible things that have been happening about here for the last month?"


Lewis stared at Remnant in amazement. He lifted his red eyebrows and
lowered them in a kind of scowl. His speech showed traces of his native
accent.

"Great burning!" he exclaimed. 'What on earth are you getting at now? It
is madness. Do you mean to tell me that you think there is some
connection between a swarm or two of bees that have turned nasty, a
cross dog, and a wicked old barn-door cock and these poor people that
have been pitched over the cliffs and hammered to death on the road?
There's no sense in it, you know."

"I am strongly inclined to believe that there is a great deal of sense
in it," replied Remnant with extreme calmness. "Look here, Lewis, I saw
you grinning the other day at the club when I was telling the fellows
that in my opinion all these outrages had been committed, certainly by
the Germans, but by some method of which we have no conception. But what
I meant to say when I talked about inconceivables was just this: that
the Williamses and the rest of them have been killed in some way that's
not in theory at all, not in our theory, at all events, some way we've
not contemplated, not thought of for an instant. Do you see my point?"

"Well, in a sort of way. You mean there's an absolute originality in the
method? I suppose that is so. But what next?"

Remnant seemed to hesitate, partly from a sense of the portentous nature
of what he was about to say, partly from a sort of half unwillingness to
part with so profound a secret.

"Well," he said, "you will allow that we have two sets of phenomena of a
very extraordinary kind occurring at the same time. Don't you think that
it's only reasonable to connect the two sets with one another."

"So the philosopher of Tenterden steeple and the Goodwin Sands thought,
certainly," said Lewis. "But what is the connection? Those poor folks on
the Highway weren't stung by bees or worried by a dog. And horses don't
throw people over cliffs or stifle them in marshes."

"No; I never meant to suggest anything so absurd. It is evident to me
that in all these cases of animals turning suddenly savage the cause has
been terror, panic, fear. The horses that went charging into the camp
were mad with fright, we know. And I say that in the other instances we
have been discussing the cause was the same. The creatures were exposed
to an infection of fear, and a frightened beast or bird or insect uses
its weapons, whatever they may be. If, for example, there had been
anybody with those horses when they took their panic they would have
lashed out at him with their heels."

"Yes, I dare say that that is so. Well."

"Well; my belief is that the Germans have made an extraordinary
discovery. I have called it the Z ray. You know that the ether is merely
an hypothesis, we have to suppose that it's there to account for the
passage of the Marconi current from one place to another. Now, suppose
that there is a psychic ether as well as a material ether, suppose that
it is possible to direct irresistible impulses across this medium,
suppose that these impulses are towards murder or suicide; then I think
that you have an explanation of the terrible series of events that have
been happening in Meirion for the last few weeks. And it is quite clear
to my mind that the horses and the other creatures have been exposed to
this Z ray, and that it has produced on them the effect of terror, with
ferocity as the result of terror. Now what do you say to that?
Telepathy, you know, is well established: so is hypnotic suggestion. You
have only to look in the Encyclopædia Britannica to see that, and
suggestion is so strong in some cases to be an irresistible imperative.
Now don't you feel that putting telepathy and suggestion together, as it
were, you have more than the elements of what I call the Z ray? I feel
myself that I have more to go on in making my hypothesis than the
inventor of the steam-engine had in making his hypothesis when he saw
the lid of the kettle bobbing up and down. What do you say?"

Dr. Lewis made no answer. He was watching the growth of a new, unknown
tree in his garden.

The doctor made no answer to Remnant's question. For one thing, Remnant
was profuse in his eloquence--he has been rigidly condensed in this
history--and Lewis was tired of the sound of his voice. For another
thing, he found the Z-ray theory almost too extravagant to be bearable,
wild enough to tear patience to tatters. And then as the tedious
argument continued Lewis became conscious that there was something
strange about the night.

It was a dark summer night. The moon was old and faint, above the
Dragon's Head across the bay, and the air was very still. It was so
still that Lewis had noted that not a leaf stirred on the very tip of a
high tree that stood out against the sky; and yet he knew that he was
listening to some sound that he could not determine or define. It was
not the wind in the leaves, it was not the gentle wash of the water of
the sea against the rocks; that latter sound he could distinguish quite
easily. But there was something else. It was scarcely a sound; it was as
if the air itself trembled and fluttered, as the air trembles in a
church when they open the great pedal pipes of the organ.

The doctor listened intently. It was not an illusion, the sound was not
in his own head, as he had suspected for a moment; but for the life of
him he could not make out whence it came or what it was. He gazed down
into the night over the terraces of his garden, now sweet with the scent
of the flowers of the night; tried to peer over the treetops across the
sea towards the Dragon's Head. It struck him suddenly that this strange
fluttering vibration of the air might be the noise of a distant
aeroplane or airship; there was not the usual droning hum, but this
sound might be caused by a new type of engine. A new type of engine?
Possibly it was an enemy airship; their range, it had been said, was
getting longer; and Lewis was just going to call Remnant's attention to
the sound, to its possible cause, and to the possible danger that might
be hovering over them, when he saw something that caught his breath and
his heart with wild amazement and a touch of terror.

He had been staring upward into the sky, and, about to speak to Remnant,
he had let his eyes drop for an instant. He looked down towards the
trees in the garden, and saw with utter astonishment that one had
changed its shape in the few hours that had passed since the setting of
the sun. There was a thick grove of ilexes bordering the lowest terrace,
and above them rose one tall pine, spreading its head of sparse, dark
branches dark against the sky.

As Lewis glanced down over the terraces he saw that the tall pine tree
was no longer there. In its place there rose above the ilexes what might
have been a greater ilex; there was the blackness of a dense growth of
foliage rising like a broad and far-spreading and rounded cloud over the
lesser trees.

Here, then, was a sight wholly incredible, impossible. It is doubtful
whether the process of the human mind in such a case has ever been
analysed and registered; it is doubtful whether it ever can be
registered. It is hardly fair to bring in the mathematician, since he
deals with absolute truth (so far as mortality can conceive absolute
truth); but how would a mathematician feel if he were suddenly
confronted with a two-sided triangle? I suppose he would instantly
become a raging madman; and Lewis, staring wide-eyed and wild-eyed at a
dark and spreading tree which his own experience informed him was not
there, felt for an instant that shock which should affront us all when
we first realize the intolerable antinomy of Achilles and the tortoise.

Common sense tells us that Achilles will flash past the tortoise almost
with the speed of the lightning; the inflexible truth of mathematics
assures us that till the earth boils and the heavens cease to endure,
the tortoise must still be in advance; and thereupon we should, in
common decency, go mad. We do not go mad, because, by special grace, we
are certified that, in the final court of appeal, all science is a lie,
even the highest science of all; and so we simply grin at Achilles and
the tortoise, as we grin at Darwin, deride Huxley, and laugh at Herbert
Spencer.

Dr. Lewis did not grin. He glared into the dimness of the night, at the
great spreading tree that he knew could not be there. And as he gazed he
saw that what at first appeared the dense blackness of foliage was
fretted and starred with wonderful appearances of lights and colours.

Afterwards he said to me: "I remember thinking to myself: Look here, I
am not delirious; my temperature is perfectly normal. I am not drunk; I
only had a pint of Graves with my dinner, over three hours ago. I have
not eaten any poisonous fungus; I have not taken _Anhelonium Lewinii_
experimentally. So, now then! What is happening?"

The night had gloomed over; clouds obscured the faint moon and the
misty stars. Lewis rose, with some kind of warning and inhibiting
gesture to Remnant, who, he was conscious was gaping at him in
astonishment. He walked to the open French window, and took a pace
forward on the path outside, and looked, very intently, at a dark shape
of the tree, down below the sloping garden, above the washing of the
waves. He shaded the light of the lamp behind him by holding his hands
on each side of his eyes.

The mass of the tree--the tree that couldn't be there--stood
out against the sky, but not so clearly, now that the clouds had rolled
up. Its edges, the limits of its leafage, were not so distinct.

Lewis thought that he could detect some sort of quivering movement in
it; though the air was at a dead calm. It was a night on which one might
hold up a lighted match and watch it burn without any wavering or
inclination of the flame.

"You know," said Lewis, "how a bit of burnt paper will sometimes hang
over the coals before it goes up the chimney, and little worms of fire
will shoot through it. It was like that, if you should be standing some
distance away. Just threads and hairs of yellow light I saw, and specks
and sparks of fire, and then a twinkling of a ruby no bigger than a pin
point, and a green wandering in the black, as if an emerald were
crawling, and then little veins of deep blue. 'Woe is me!' I said to
myself in Welsh, 'What is all this color and burning?' And, then, at
that very moment there came a thundering rap at the door of the room
inside, and there was my man telling me that I was wanted directly up at
the Garth, as old Mr. Trevor Williams had been taken very bad. I knew
his heart was not worth much, so I had to go off directly and leave
Remnant to make what he could of it all."




6. Mr. Remnant's Ray


Dr. Lewis was kept some time at the Garth. It was past twelve when he
got back to his house. He went quickly to the room that overlooked the
garden and the sea and threw open the French window and peered into the
darkness. There, dim indeed against the dim sky but unmistakable, was
the tall pine with its sparse branches, high above the dense growth of
the ilex-trees. The strange boughs which had amazed him had vanished;
there was no appearance now of colours or of fires.

He drew his chair up to the open window and sat there gazing and
wondering far into the night, till brightness came upon the sea and sky,
and the forms of the trees in the garden grew clear and evident.

He went up to his bed at last filled with a great perplexity, still
asking questions to which there was no answer.

The doctor did not say anything about the strange tree to Remnant. When
they next met, Lewis said that he had thought there was a man hiding
amongst the bushes--this in explanation of that warning gesture he
had used, and of his going out into the garden and staring into the
night. He concealed the truth because he dreaded the Remnant doctrine
that would undoubtedly be produced; indeed, he hoped that he had heard
the last of the theory of the Z ray. But Remnant firmly reopened this
subject.

"We were interrupted just as I was putting my case to you," he said.
"And to sum it all up, it amounts to this: that the Huns have made one
of the great leaps of science. They are sending 'suggestions' (which
amount to irresistible commands) over here, and the persons affected are
seized with suicidal or homicidal mania. The people who were killed by
falling over the cliffs or into the quarry probably committed suicide;
and so with the man and boy who were found in the bog. As to the Highway
case, you remember that Thomas Evans said that he stopped and talked to
Williams on the night of the murder. In my opinion Evans was the
murderer. He came under the influence of the ray, became a homicidal
maniac in an instant, snatched Williams's spade from his hand and killed
him and the others."

"The bodies were found by me on the road."

"It is possible that the first impact of the ray produces violent
nervous excitement, which would manifest itself externally. Williams
might have called to his wife to come and see what was the matter with
Evans. The children would naturally follow their mother. It seems to me
simple. And as for the animals--the horses, dogs, and so forth, they
as I say, were no doubt panic-stricken by the ray, and hence driven to
frenzy."

"Why should Evans have murdered Williams instead of Williams murdering
Evans? Why should the impact of the ray affect one and not the other?"

"Why does one man react violently to a certain drug, while it makes no
impression on another man? Why is A able to drink a bottle of whisky and
remain sober, while B is turned into something very like a lunatic after
he has drunk three glasses?"

"It is a question of idiosyncrasy," said the doctor.

"Is 'idiosyncrasy' Greek for 'I don't know'?" asked Remnant.

"Not at all," said Lewis, smiling blandly. "I mean that in some
diatheses whisky--as you have mentioned whisky--appears not to
be pathogenic, or at all events not immediately pathogenic. In other
cases, as you very justly observed, there seems to be a very marked
cachexia associated with the exhibition of the spirit in question, even
in comparatively small doses."

Under this cloud of professional verbiage Lewis escaped from the club
and from Remnant. He did not want to hear any more about that dreadful
ray, because he felt sure that the ray was all nonsense. But asking
himself why he felt this certitude in the matter, he had to confess that
he didn't know. An aeroplane, he reflected, was all nonsense before it
was made; and he remembered talking in the early nineties to a friend of
his about the newly discovered X rays.

The friend laughed incredulously, evidently didn't believe a word of it,
till Lewis told him that there was an article on the subject in the
current number of the Saturday Review; whereupon the unbeliever said,
"Oh, is that so? Oh, really. I see," and was converted on the X ray
faith on the spot. Lewis, remembering this talk, marvelled at the
strange processes of the human mind, its illogical and yet
all-compelling ergos, and wondered whether he himself was only waiting
for an article on the Z ray in the Saturday Review to become a devout
believer in the doctrine of Remnant.

But he wondered with far more fervor as to the extraordinary thing he
had seen in his own garden with his own eyes. The tree that changed all
its shape for an hour or two of the night, the growth of strange boughs,
the apparition of secret fires among them, the sparkling of emerald and
ruby lights: how could one fail to be afraid with great amazement at the
thought of such a mystery?

Dr. Lewis's thoughts were distracted from the incredible adventure of
the tree by the visit of his sister and her husband. Mr. and Mrs.
Merritt lived in a well-known manufacturing town of the Midlands, which
was now, of course, a center of munition work. On the day of their
arrival at Porth, Mrs. Merritt, who was tired after the long, hot
journey, went to bed early, and Merritt and Lewis went into the room by
the garden for their talk and tobacco. They spoke of the year that had
passed since their last meeting, of the weary dragging of the war, of
friends that had perished in it, of the hopelessness of an early ending
of all this misery. Lewis said nothing of the terror that was on the
land. One does not greet a tired man who is come to a quiet, sunny place
for relief from black smoke and work and worry with a tale of horror.
Indeed, the doctor saw that his brother-in-law looked far from well. And
he seemed "jumpy"; there was an occasional twitch of his mouth that
Lewis did not like at all.

"Well," said the doctor, after an interval of silence and port wine, "I
am glad to see you here again. Porth always suits you. I don't think
you're looking quite up to your usual form. But three weeks of Meirion
air will do wonders."

"Well, I hope it will," said the other. "I am not up to the mark. Things
are not going well at Midlingham."

"Business is all right, isn't it?"

"Yes. Business is all right. But there are other things that are all
wrong. We are living under a reign of terror. It comes to that."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Well, I suppose I may tell you what I know. It's not much. I didn't
dare write it. But do you know that at every one of the munition works
in Midlingham and all about it there's a guard of soldiers with drawn
bayonets and loaded rifles day and night? Men with bombs, too. And
machine-guns at the big factories."

"German spies?"

"You don't want Lewis guns to fight spies with. Nor bombs. Nor a platoon
of men. I woke up last night. It was the machinegun at Benington's Army
Motor Works. Firing like fury. And then bang! bang! bang! That was the
hand bombs."

"But what against?"

"Nobody knows."

"Nobody knows what is happening," Merritt repeated, and he went on to
describe the bewilderment and terror that hung like a cloud over the
great industrial city in the Midlands, how the feeling of concealment,
of some intolerable secret danger that must not be named, was worst of
all.

"A young fellow I know," he said, "was on short leave the other day from
the front, and he spent it with his people at Belmont--that's about
four miles out of Midlingham, you know.

"'Thank God,' he said to me, 'I am going back to-morrow. It's no good
saying that the Wipers salient is nice, because it isn't. But it's a
damned sight better than this. At the front you know what you're up
against anyhow.' At Midlingham everybody has the feeling that we're up
against something awful and we don't know what; it's that that makes
people inclined to whisper. There's terror in the air."

Merrit made a sort of picture of the great town cowering in its fear of
an unknown danger.

"People are afraid to go about alone at nights in the outskirts. They
make up parties at the stations to go home together if it's anything
like dark, or if there are any lonely bits on their way."

"But why? I don't understand. What are they afraid of?"

"Well, I told you about my being awakened up the other night with the
machine-guns at the motor works rattling away, and the bombs exploding
and making the most terrible noise. That sort of thing alarms one, you
know. It's only natural."

"Indeed, it must be very terrifying. You mean, then, there is a general
nervousness about, a vague sort of apprehension that makes people
inclined to herd together?"

"There's that, and there's more. People have gone out, have never come
back. There were a couple of men in the train to Holme, arguing about
the quickest way to get to Northend, a sort of outlying part of Holme
where they both lived. They argued all the way out of Midlingham, one
saying that the high road was the quickest though it was the longest
way. 'It's the quickest going because it's the cleanest going,' he said.

"The other chap fancied a short cut across the fields, by the canal.
'It's half the distance,' he kept on. 'Yes, if you don't lose your way,'
said the other. Well, it appears they put an even half crown on it, and
each was to try his own way when they got out of the train. It was
arranged that they were to meet at the Wagon in Northend. 'I shall be at
the Wagon first,' said the man who believed in the short cut, and with
that he climbed over the stile and made off across the fields. It wasn't
late enough to be really dark, and a lot of them thought he might win
the stakes. But he never turned up at the Wagon--or anywhere else for the
matter of that."

"What happened to him?"

"He was found lying on his back in the middle of a field--some way
from the path. He was dead. The doctors said he'd been suffocated.
Nobody knows how. Then there have been other cases. We whisper about
them at Midlingham, but we're afraid to speak out."

Lewis was ruminating all this profoundly. Terror in Meirion and terror
far away in the heart of England; but at Midlingham, so far as he could
gather from these stories of soldiers on guard, of crackling
machine-guns, it was a case of an organized attack on the munitioning of
the army. He felt that he did not know enough to warrant his deciding
that the terror of Meirion and of Stratfordshire were one.

Then Merritt began again:

"There's a queer story going about, when the door's shut and the
curtain's drawn, that is, as to a place right out in the country over
the other side of Midlingham; on the opposite side to Dunwich. They've
built one of the new factories out there, a great red-brick town of
sheds they tell me it is, with a tremendous chimney. It's not been
finished more than a month or six weeks.

They plumped it down right in the middle of the fields, by the line, and
they're building huts for the workers as fast as they can but up to the
present the men are billeted all about, up and down the line.

"About two hundred yards from this place there's an old footpath,
leading from the station and the main road up to a small hamlet on the
hill-side. Part of the way this path goes by a pretty large wood, most
of it thick undergrowth. I should think there must be twenty acres of
wood, more or less. As it happens, I used this path once long ago; and I
can tell you it's a black place of nights.

"A man had to go this way one night. He got along all right till he came
to the wood. And then he said his heart dropped out of his body. It was
awful to hear the noises in that wood. Thousands of men were in it, he
swears that. It was full of rustling, and pattering of feet trying to go
dainty, and the crack of dead boughs lying on the ground as some one
trod on them, and swishing of the grass, and some sort of chattering
speech going on, that sounded, so he said, as if the dead sat in their
bones and talked! He ran for his life, anyhow; across fields, over
hedges, through brooks. He must have run, by his tale, ten miles out of
his way before he got home to his wife, and beat at the door, and broke
in, and bolted it behind him."

"There is something rather alarming about any wood at night," said Dr.
Lewis.

Merritt shrugged his shoulders.

"People say that the Germans have landed, and that they are hiding in
underground places all over the country."




7. The Case of the Hidden Germans


Lewis gasped for a moment, silent in contemplation of the
magnificence of rumour. The Germans already landed, hiding underground,
striking by night, secretly, terribly, at the power of England! Here was
a conception which made the myth of the Russians a paltry fable; before
which the legend of Mons was an ineffectual thing.

It was monstrous. And yet-- He looked steadily at Merritt; a
square-headed, black-haired, solid sort of man. He had symptoms of
nerves about him for the moment, certainly, but one could not wonder at
that, whether the tales he told were true, or whether he merely believed
them to be true. Lewis had known his brother-in-law for twenty years or
more, and had always found him a sure man in his own small world. "But
then," said the doctor to himself, "those men, if they once get out of
the ring of that little world of theirs, they are lost. Those are the
men that believed in Madame Blavatsky."

"Well," he said, "what do you think yourself? The Germans landed and
hiding somewhere about the country: there's something extravagant in the
notion, isn't there?"

"I don't know what to think. You can't get over the facts. There are the
soldiers with their rifles and their guns at the works all over
Stratfordshire, and those guns go off. I told you I'd heard them. Then
who are the soldiers shooting at? That's what we ask ourselves at
Midlingham."

"Quite so; I quite understand. It's an extraordinary state of things."

"It's more than extraordinary; it's an awful state of things. It's
terror in the dark, and there's nothing worse than that. As that young
fellow I was telling you about said, 'At the front you do know what
you're up against.'"

"And people really believe that a number of Germans have somehow got
over to England and have hid themselves underground?"

"People say they've got a new kind of poison gas. Some think that they
dig underground places and make the gas there, and lead it by secret
pipes into the shops; others say that they throw gas bombs into the
factories. It must be worse than anything they've used in France, from
what the authorities say.

"The authorities? Do they admit that there are Germans in hiding about
Midlingham?"

"No. They call it 'explosions.' But we know it isn't explosions. We know
in the Midlands what an explosion sounds like and looks like. And we
know that the people killed in these 'explosions' are put into their
coffins in the works. Their own relations are not allowed to see them."

"And so you believe in the German theory?"

"If I do, it's because one must believe in something. Some say they've
seen the gas. I heard that a man living in Dunwich saw it one night like
a black cloud with sparks of fire in it floating over the tops of the
trees by Dunwich Common."

The light of an ineffable amazement came into Lewis's eyes. The night of
Remnant's visit, the trembling vibration of the air, the dark tree that
had grown in his garden since the setting of the sun, the strange
leafage that was starred with burning, with emerald and ruby fires, and
all vanished away when he returned from his visit to the Garth; and such
a leafage had appeared as a burning cloud far in the heart of England:
what intolerable mystery, what tremendous doom was signified in this?
But one thing was clear and certain: that the terror of Meirion was also
the terror of the Midlands.

Lewis made up his mind most firmly that if possible all this should be
kept from his brother-in-law.

Merritt had come to Porth as to a city of refuge from the horrors of
Midlingham; if it could be managed he should be spared the knowledge
that the cloud of terror had gone before him and hung black over the
western land. Lewis passed the port and said in an even voice:

"Very strange, indeed; a black cloud with sparks of fire?"

"I can't answer for it, you know; it's only a rumour."

"Just so; and you think, or you're inclined to think, that this and all
the rest you've told me is to be put down to the hidden Germans?"

"As I say; because one must think something."

"I quite see your point. No doubt, if it's true, it's the most awful
blow that has ever been dealt at any nation in the whole history of man,
The enemy established in our vitals! But it is possible, after all? How
could it have been worked?"

Merritt told Lewis how it had been worked, or rather, how people said it
had been worked. The idea, he said, was that this was a part, and a most
important part, of the great German plot to destroy England and the
British Empire.

The scheme had been prepared years ago, some thought soon after the
Franco-Prussian War.

Moltke had seen that the invasion of England (in the ordinary sense of
the term "invasion") presented very great difficulties. The matter was
constantly in discussion in the inner military and high political
circles, and the general trend of opinion in these quarters was that at
the best, the invasion of England would involve Germany in the gravest
difficulties, and leave France in the position of the tertius gaudens.
This was the state of affairs when a very high Prussian personage was
approached by the Swedish professor, Huvelius.

Thus Merritt, and here I would say in parenthesis that this Huvelius was
by all accounts an extraordinary man. Considered personally and apart
from his writings he would appear to have been a most amiable
individual. He was richer than the generality of Swedes, certainly far
richer than the average university professor in Sweden. But his shabby,
green frock-coat, and his battered, furry hat were notorious in the
university town where he lived. No one laughed, because it was well
known that Professor Huvelius spent every penny of his private means and
a large portion of his official stipend on works of kindness and
charity. He hid his head in a garret, some one said, in order that
others might be able to swell on the first floor. It was told of him
that he restricted himself to a diet of dry bread and coffee for a month
in order that a poor woman of the streets, dying of consumption, might
enjoy luxuries in hospital.

And this was the man who wrote the treatise _De Facinore Humano_; to
prove the infinite corruption of the human race.

Oddly enough, Professor Huvelius wrote the most cynical book in the
world--Hobbes preaches rosy sentimentalism in comparison--with
the very highest motives. He held that a very large part of human
misery, misadventure, and sorrow was due to the false convention that
the heart of man was naturally and in the main well disposed and kindly,
if not exactly righteous.

"Murderers, thieves, assassins, violators, and all the host of the
abominable," he says in one passage, "are created by the false pretense
and foolish credence of human virtue. A lion in a cage is a fierce
beast, indeed; but what will he be if we declare him to be a lamb and
open the doors of his den? Who will be guilty of the deaths of the men,
women and children whom he will surely devour, save those who unlocked
the cage?" And he goes on to show that kings and the rulers of the
peoples could decrease the sum of human misery to a vast extent by
acting on the doctrine of human wickedness. "War," he declares, "which
is one of the worst of evils, will always continue to exist. But a wise
king will desire a brief war rather than a lengthy one, a short evil
rather than a long evil. And this not from the benignity of his heart
towards his enemies, for we have seen that the human heart is naturally
malignant, but because he desires to conquer, and to conquer easily,
without a great expenditure of men or of treasure, knowing that if he
can accomplish this feat his people will love him and his crown will be
secure. So he will wage brief victorious wars, and not only spare his
own nation, but the nation of the enemy, since in a short war the loss
is less on both sides than in a long war. And so from evil will come
good."

And how, asks Huvelius, are such wars to be waged? The wise prince, he
replies, will begin by assuming the enemy to be infinitely corruptible
and infinitely stupid, since stupidity and corruption are the chief
characteristics of man. So the prince will make himself friends in the
very councils of his enemy, and also amongst the populace, bribing the
wealthy by proffering to them the opportunity of still greater wealth,
and winning the poor by swelling Words. "For, contrary to the common
opinion, it is the wealthy who are greedy of wealth; while the populace
are to be gained by talking to them about liberty, their unknown god.
And so much are they enchanted by the words liberty, freedom, and such
like, that the wise can go to the poor, rob them of what little they
have, dismiss them with a hearty kick, and win their hearts and their
votes for ever, if only they will assure them that the treatment which
they have received is called liberty." Guided by these principles, says
Huvelius, the wise prince will entrench himself in the country that he
desires to conquer; "nay, with but little trouble, he may actually and
literally throw his garrisons into the heart of the enemy country before
war has begun."

                            * * *

This is a long and tiresome parenthesis; but it is necessary as
explaining the long tale which Merritt told his brother-in-law, he
having received it from some magnate of the Midlands, who had travelled
in Germany. It is probable that the story was suggested in the first
place by the passage from Huvelius which I have just quoted.

Merritt knew nothing of the real Huvelius, who was all but a saint; he
thought of the Swedish professor as a monster of iniquity, "worse," as
he said, "then Neech"--meaning, no doubt, Nietzsche.

So he told the story of how Huvelius had sold his plan to the Germans; a
plan for filling England with German soldiers. Land was to be bought in
certain suitable and well-considered places, Englishmen were to be
bought as the apparent owners of such land, and secret excavations were
to be made, till the country was literally undermined. A subterranean
Germany, in fact, was to be dug under selected districts of England:
there were to be great caverns, underground cities, well drained, well
ventilated, supplied with water, and in these places vast stores both of
food and of munitions were to be accumulated, year after year, till "the
day" dawned. And then, warned in time, the secret garrison would leave
shops, hotels, offices, villas, and vanish underground, ready to begin
their work of bleeding England at the heart, "That's what Henson told
me," said Merritt at the end of his long story. "Henson, head of the
Buckley Iron and Steel Syndicate. He has been a lot in Germany."

"Well," said Lewis, "of course, it may be so. If it is so, it is
terrible beyond words."

Indeed, he found something horribly plausible in the story. It was an
extraordinary plan, of course; an unheard-of scheme; but it did not seem
impossible. It was the Trojan horse on a gigantic scale; indeed, he
reflected, the story of the horse with the warriors concealed within it
which was dragged into the heart of Troy by the deluded Trojans
themselves might be taken as a prophetic parable of what had happened to
England--if Henson's theory were well founded. And this theory
certainly squared with what one had heard of German preparations in
Belgium and in France: emplacements for guns ready for the invader,
German manufactories which were really German forts on Belgian soil, the
caverns by the Aisne made ready for the cannon; indeed, Lewis thought he
remembered something about suspicious concrete tennis-courts on the
heights commanding London. But a German army hidden under English
ground! It was a thought to chill the stoutest heart.

And it seemed from that wonder of the burning tree, that the enemy
mysteriously and terribly present at Midlingham, was present also in
Meirion. Lewis, thinking of the country as he knew it, of its wild and
desolate hillsides, its deep woods, its wastes and solitary places.
could not but confess that no more fit region could be found for the
deadly enterprise of secret men. Yet, he thought again, there was but
little harm to be done in Meirion to the armies of England or to their
munitionment. They were working for panic terror? Possibly that might be
so: but the camp under the Highway? That should be their first object,
and no harm had been done there.

Lewis did not know that since the panic of the horses men had died
terribly in that camp; that it was now a fortified place, with a deep,
broad trench, a thick tangle of savage barbed wire about it, and a
machine-gun planted at each corner.




8. What Mr. Merritt Found


Mr. Merritt began to pick up his health and spirits a good deal. For
the first morning or two of his stay at the doctor's he contented
himself with a very comfortable deck chair close to the house, where he
sat under the shade of an old mulberry-tree beside his wife and watched
the bright sunshine on the green lawns, on the creamy crests of the
waves, on the headlands of that glorious coast, purple even from afar
with the imperial glow of the heather, on the white farmhouses gleaming
in the sunlight, high over the sea, far from any turmoil, from any
troubling of men.

The sun was hot, but the wind breathed all the while gently,
incessantly, from the east, and Merritt, who had come to this quiet
place, not only from dismay, but from the stifling and oily airs of the
smoky Midland town, said that that east wind, pure and clear and like
well-water from the rock, was new life to him. He ate a capital dinner
at the end of his first day at Porth and took rosy views. As to what
they had been talking about the night before, he said to Lewis, no doubt
there must be trouble of some sort, and perhaps bad trouble; still,
Kitchener would soon put it all right.

So things went on very well. Merritt began to stroll about the garden,
which was full of the comfortable spaces, groves, and surprises that
only country gardens know. To the right of one of the terraces he found
an arbor of summer-house covered with white roses, and he was as pleased
as if he had discovered the pole. He spent a whole day there, smoking
and lounging and reading a rubbishly sensational story, and declared
that the Devonshire roses had taken many years off his age. Then on the
other side of the garden there was a filbert grove that he had never
explored on any of this former visits; and again there was a find. Deep
in the shadow of the filberts was a bubbling well, issuing from rocks,
and all manner of green, dewy ferns growing about it and above it, and
an angelica springing beside it. Merritt knelt on his knees, and
hollowed his hand and drank the well water. He said (over his port) that
night that if all water were like the water of the filbert well the
world would turn to teetotalism. It takes a townsman to relish the
manifold and exquisite joys of the country.

It was not till he began to venture abroad that Merritt found that
something was lacking of the old rich peace that used to dwell in
Meirion. He had a favorite walk which he never neglected, year after
year. This walk led along the cliffs towards Meiros, and then one could
turn inland and return to Porth by deep winding lanes that went over the
Allt. So Merritt set out early one morning and got as far as a
sentry-box at the foot of the path that led up to the cliff. There was a
sentry pacing up and down in front of the box, and he called on Merritt
to produce his pass, or to turn back to the main road. Merritt was a
good deal put out, and asked the doctor about this strict guard. And the
doctor was surprised.

"I didn't know they had put their bar up there," he said. "I suppose
it's wise. We are certainly in the far west here; still, the Germans
might slip round and raid us and do a lot of damage just because Meirion
is the last place we should expect them to go for."

"But there are no fortifications, surely, on the cliff?"

"Oh, no; I never heard of anything of the kind there"

"Well, what's the point of forbidding the public to go on the cliff,
then? I can quite understand putting a sentry on the top to keep a
look-out for the enemy. What I don't understand is a sentry at the
bottom who can't keep a look-out for anything, as he can't see the sea.
And why warn the public off the cliffs? I couldn't facilitate a German
landing by standing on Pengareg, even if I wanted to."

"It is curious," the doctor agreed. "Some military reasons, I suppose."

He let the matter drop, perhaps because the matter did not affect him.
People who live in the country all the year round, country doctors
certainly, are little given to desultory walking in search of the
picturesque.

Lewis had no suspicion that sentries whose object was equally obscure
were being dotted all over the country. There was a sentry, for example,
by the quarry at Llanfihangel, where the dead woman and the dead sheep had
been found some weeks before. The path by the quarry was used a good
deal, and its closing would have inconvenienced the people of the
neighbourhood very considerably. But the sentry had his box by the side
of the track and had his orders to keep everybody strictly to the path,
as if the quarry were a secret fort.

It was not known till a month or two ago that one of these sentries was
himself a victim of the terror. The men on duty at this place were given
certain very strict orders, which from the nature of the case, must have
seemed to them unreasonable. For old soldiers, orders are orders; but
here was a young bank clerk, scarcely in training for a couple of
months, who had not begun to appreciate the necessity of hard, literal
obedience to an order which seemed to him meaningless.

He found himself on a remote and lonely hill-side, he had not the
faintest notion that his every movement was watched; and he disobeyed a
certain instruction that had been given him. The post was found deserted
by the relief; the sentry's dead body was found at the bottom of the
quarry.

This by the way; but Mr. Merritt discovered again and again that things
happened to hamper his walks and his wanderings. Two or three miles from
Porth there is a great marsh made by the Afon River before it falls into
the sea, and here Merritt had been accustomed to botanize mildly.

He had learned pretty accurately the causeways of solid ground that lead
through the sea of swamp and ooze and soft yielding soil, and he set out
one hot afternoon determined to make a thorough exploration of the
marsh, and this time to find that rare bog bean, that he felt sure, must
grow somewhere in its wide extent.

He got into the by-road that skirts the marsh, and to the gate which he
had always used for entrance.

There was the scene as he had known it always, the rich growth of reeds
and flags and rushes, the mild black cattle grazing on the "islands" of
firm turf, the scented procession of the meadow-sweet, the royal glory
of the loosestrife, flaming pennons, crimson and golden, of the giant
dock.

But they were bringing out a dead man's body through the gate.

A labouring man was holding open the gate on the marsh. Merritt,
horrified, spoke to him and asked who it was, and how it had happened.

"They do say he was a visitor at Porth. Somehow he has been drowned in
the marsh, whatever."

"But it's perfectly safe. I've been all over it a dozen times."

"Well, indeed, we did always think so. If you did slip by accident,
like, and fall into the water, it was not so deep; it was easy enough to
climb out again. And this gentleman was quite young, to look at him,
poor man; and he has come to Meirion for his pleasure and holiday and
found his death in it!"

"Did he do it on purpose? Is it suicide?"

"They say he had no reasons to do that."

Here the sergeant of police in charge of the party interposed,
according to orders, which he himself did not understand.

"A terrible thing, sir, to be sure, and a sad pity; and I am sure this
is not the sort of sight you have come to see down in Meirion this
beautiful summer. So don't you think, sir, that it would be more
pleasantlike, if you would leave us to this sad business of ours? I have
heard many gentlemen staying in Porth say that there is nothing to beat
the view from the hill over there, not in the whole of Wales."

Every one is polite in Meirion, but somehow Merritt understood that, in
English, this speech meant "move on".

Merritt moved back to Porth--he was not in the humour for any idle,
pleasurable strolling after so dreadful a meeting with death. He made
some inquiries in the town about the dead man, but nothing seemed known
of him. It was said that he had been on his honeymoon, that he had been
staying at the Porth Castle Hotel; but the people of the hotel declared
that they had never heard of such a person. Merritt got the local paper
at the end of the week; there was not a word in it of any fatal accident
in the marsh. He met the sergeant of police in the street. That officer
touched his helmet with the utmost politeness and a "hope you are
enjoying yourself, sir; indeed you do look a lot better already"; but as
to the poor man who was found drowned or stifled in the marsh, he knew
nothing.

The next day Merritt made up his mind to go to the marsh to see whether
he could find anything to account for so strange a death. What he found
was a man with an armlet standing by the gate. The armlet had the
letters "C. W." on it, which are understood to mean "Coast Watcher." The
watcher said he had strict instructions to keep everybody away from the
marsh.

Why? He didn't know, but some said that the river was changing its
course since the new railway embankment was built, and the marsh had
become dangerous to people who didn't know it thoroughly.

"Indeed, sir," he added, "it is part of my orders not to set foot on
either side of that gate myself, not for one scrag-end of a minute."

Merritt glanced over the gate incredulously. The marsh looked as it had
always looked; there was plenty of sound, hard ground to walk on; he
could see the track that he used to follow as firm as ever. He did not
believe in the story of the changing course of the river, and Lewis said
he had never heard of anything of the kind. But Merritt had put the
question in the middle of general conversation; he had not led up to it
from any discussion of the death in the marsh, and so the doctor was
taken unawares. If he had known of the connection in Merritt's mind
between the alleged changing of the Afon's course and the tragical event
in the marsh, no doubt he would have confirmed the official explanation.
He was, above all things, anxious to prevent his sister and her husband
from finding out that the invisible hand of terror that ruled at
Midlingham was ruling also in Meirion.

Lewis himself had little doubt that the man who was found dead in the
marsh had been struck down by the secret agency, whatever it was, that
had already accomplished so much of evil; but it was a chief part of the
terror that no one knew for certain that this or that particular event
was to be ascribed to it. People do occasionally fall over cliffs
through their own carelessness, and as the case of Garcia, the Spanish
sailor, showed, cottagers and their wives and children are now and then
the victims of savage and purposeless violence. Lewis had never wandered
about the marsh himself; but Remnant had pottered round it and about it,
and declared that the man who met his death there--his name was
never known, in Porth at all events--must either have committed
suicide by deliberately lying prone in the ooze and stifling himself, or
else must have been held down in it. There were no details available, so
it was clear that the authorities had classified this death with the
others; still, the man might have committed suicide, or he might have
had a sudden seizure and fallen in the slimy water face downwards. And
so on: it was possible to believe that case A or B or C was in the
category of ordinary accidents or ordinary crimes. But it was not
possible to believe that A and B and C were all in that category. And
thus it was to the end, and thus it is now. We know that the terror
reigned, and how it reigned, but there were many dreadful events
ascribed to its rule about which there must always be room for doubt.

For example, there was the case of the Mary Ann, the rowing-boat which
came to grief in so strange a manner, almost under Merritt's eyes. In my
opinion he was quite wrong in associating the sorry fate of the boat and
her occupants with a system of signalling by flash-lights which he
detected, or thought that he detected, on the afternoon in which the
Mary Ann was capsized. I believe his signalling theory to be all
nonsense, in spite of the naturalized German governess who was lodging
with her employers in the suspected house. But, on the other hand, there
is no doubt in my own mind that the boat was overturned and those in it
drowned by the work of the terror.




9. The Light on the Water


Let it be noted carefully that so far Merritt had not the slightest
suspicion that the terror of Midlingham was quick over Meirion. Lewis
had watched and shepherded him carefully. He had let out no suspicion of
what had happened in Meirion, and before taking his brother-in-law to
the club he had passed round a hint among the members. He did not tell
the truth about Midlingham--and here again is a point of interest,
that as the terror deepened the general public co-operated voluntarily,
and, one would say, almost subconsciously, with the authorities in
concealing what they knew from one another-but he gave out a desirable
portion of the truth: that his brother-in-law was "nervy," not by any
means up to the mark, and that it was therefore desirable that he should
be spared the knowledge of the intolerable and tragic mysteries which
were being enacted all about them.

"He knows about that poor fellow who was found in the marsh," said
Lewis, "and he has a kind of vague suspicion that there is something out
of the common about the case; but no more than that."

"A clear case of suggested, or rather commanded suicide," said Remnant.
"I regard it as a strong confirmation of my theory."

"Perhaps so," said the doctor, dreading lest he might have to hear about
the Z ray all over again. "But please don't let anything out to him; I
want him to get built up thoroughly before he goes back to Midlingham."

Then, on the other hand, Merritt was as still as death about the doings
of the Midlands; he hated to think of them, much more to speak of them;
and thus, as I say, he and the men at the Porth Club kept their secrets
from one another; and thus, from the beginning to the end of the terror,
the links were not drawn together. In many cases, no doubt, A and B met
every day and talked familiarly, it may be confidentially, on other
matters of all sorts, each having in his possession half of the truth,
which he concealed from the other, so the two halves were never put
together to make a whole.

Merritt, as the doctor guessed, had a kind of uneasy feeling--it
scarcely amounted to a suspicion--as to the business of the marsh;
chiefly because he thought the official talk about the railway
embankment and the course of the river rank nonsense. But finding that
nothing more happened, he let the matter drop from his mind, and settled
himself down to enjoy his holiday.

He found to his delight that there were no sentries or watchers to
hinder him from the approach to Larnac Bay, a delicious cove, a place
where the ash-grove and the green meadow and the glistening bracken
sloped gently down to red rocks and firm yellow sands. Merritt
remembered a rock that formed a comfortable seat, and here he
established himself of a golden afternoon, and gazed at the blue of the
sea and the crimson bastions and bays of the coast as it bent inward to
Sarnau and swept out again southward to the odd-shaped promontory called
the Dragon's Head.

Merritt gazed on, amused by the antics of the porpoises who were
tumbling and splashing and gambolling a little way out at sea, charmed
by the pure and radiant air that was so different from the oily smoke
that often stood for heaven at Midlingham, and charmed, too, by the
white farmhouses dotted here and them on the heights of the curving
coast.

Then he noticed a little row-boat at about two hundred yards from the
shore. There were two or three people aboard, he could not quite make
out how many, and they seemed to be doing something with a line; they
were no doubt fishing, and Merritt (who disliked fish) wondered how
people could spoil such an afternoon, such a sea, such pellucid and
radiant air by trying to catch white, flabby, offensive, evil-smelling
creatures that would be excessively nasty when cooked.

He puzzled over this problem and turned away from it to the
contemplation of the crimson headlands. And then he says that he noticed
that signalling was going on. Flashing lights of intense brilliance, he
declares, were coming from one of those farms on the heights of the
coast; it was as if white fire was spouting from it. Merritt was
certain, as the light appeared and disappeared, that some message was
being sent, and he regretted that he knew nothing of heliography. Three
short flashes, a long and very brilliant flash, then two short flashes.
Merritt fumbled in his pocket for pencil and paper so that he might
record these signals, and, bringing his eyes down to the sea level, he
became aware, with amazement and horror, that the boat had disappeared.
All that he could see was some vague, dark object far to westward,
running out with the tide.

Now it is certain, unfortunately, that the Mary Ann was capsized and
that two school-boys and the sailor in charge were drowned. The bones of
the boat were found amongst the rocks far along the coast, and the three
bodies were also washed ashore. The sailor could not swim at all, the
boys only a little, and it needs an exceptionally fine swimmer to fight
against the outward suck of the tide as it rushes past Pengareg Point.

But I have no belief whatever in Merritt's theory. He held (and still
holds, for all I know), that the flashes of light which he saw coming
from Penyrhaul, the farmhouse on the height, had some connection with
the disaster to the Mary Ann. When it was ascertained that a family were
spending their summer at the farm, and that the governess was a German,
though a long-naturalized German, Merritt could not see that there was
anything left to argue about, though there might be many details to
discover. But, in my opinion, all this was a mere mare's nest: the
flashes of brilliant light were caused, no doubt, by the sun lighting up
one window of the farmhouse after the other.

Still, Merritt was convinced from the very first, even before the
damning circumstance of the German governess was brought to light; and
on the evening of the disaster, as Lewis and he sat together after
dinner, he was endeavouring to put what he called the common sense of
the matter to the doctor.

"If you hear a shot," said Merritt, "and you see a man fall, you know
pretty well what killed him." There was a flutter of wild wings in the
room. A great moth beat to and fro and dashed itself madly against the
ceiling, the walls, the glass bookcase. Then a sputtering sound, a
momentary dimming of the lamp. The moth had succeeded in its mysterious
quest.

"Can you tell me," said Lewis as if he were answering Merritt, "why
moths rush into the flame?"

Lewis had put his question as to the strange habits of the common moth
to Merritt with the deliberate intent of closing the debate on death by
heliograph. The query was suggested, of course, by the incident of the
moth in the lamp, and Lewis thought that he had said: "Oh, shut up!"
in a somewhat elegant manner. And in fact Merritt looked
dignified, remained silent, and helped himself to port.

That was the end that the doctor had desired. He had no doubt in his own
mind that the affair of the Mary Ann was but one more item in a long
account of horrors that grew larger almost with every day; and he was
in no humour to listen to wild and futile theories as to the manner in
which the disaster had been accomplished. Here was a proof that the
terror that was upon them was mighty not only on the land but on the
waters; for Lewis could not see that the boat could have been attacked
by any ordinary means of destruction. From Merritt's story, it must have
been in shallow water. The shore of Larnac Bay shelves very gradually,
and the Admiralty charts showed the depth of water two hundred yards out
to be only two fathoms; this would be too shallow for a submarine. And
it could not have been shelled, and it could not have been torpedoed;
there was no explosion. The disaster might have been due to
carelessness; boys, he considered, will play the fool anywhere, even in
a boat; but he did not think so; the sailor would have stopped them.
And, it may be mentioned, that the two boys were as a matter of fact
extremely steady, sensible young fellows, not in the least likely to
play foolish tricks of any kind.

Lewis was immersed in these reflections, having successfully silenced
his brother-in-law; he was trying in vain to find some clue to the
horrible enigma. The Midlingham theory of a concealed German force,
hiding in places under the earth, was extravagant enough, and yet it
seemed the only solution that approached plausibility; but then again
even a subterranean German host would hardly account for this wreckage
of a boat, floating on a calm sea. And then what of the tree with the
burning in it that had appeared in the garden there a few weeks ago, and
the cloud with a burning in it that had shown over the trees of the
Midland village? I think I have already written something of the
probable emotions of the mathematician confronted suddenly with an
undoubted two-sided triangle. I said, if I remember, that he would be
forced, in decency, to go mad; and I believe that Lewis was very near to
this point. He felt himself confronted with an intolerable problem that
most instantly demanded solution, and yet, with the same breath, as it
were, denied the possibility of their being any solution. People were
being killed in an inscrutable manner by some inscrutable means, day
after day, and one asked why and how; and there seemed no answer. In the
Midlands, where every kind of munitionment was manufactured, the
explanation of German agency was plausible; and even if the subterranean
notion was to be rejected as savoring altogether too much of the
fairy-tale, or rather of the sensational romance, yet it was possible
that the backbone of the theory was true; the Germans might have planted
their agents in some way or another in the midst of our factories, But
here in Meirion, what serious effect could be produced by the casual and
indiscriminate slaughter of a couple of school-boys in a boat, of a
harmless holiday-maker in a marsh? The creation of an atmosphere of
terror and dismay? It was possible, of course, but it hardly seemed
tolerable, in spite of the enormities of Louvain and of the Lusitania.

Into these meditations, and into the still dignified silence of
Merritt broke the rap on the door of Lewis's man, and those words which
harass the ease of the country doctor when he tries to take any ease:
"You're wanted in the surgery, if you please, sir." Lewis bustled out,
and appeared no more that night.

The doctor had been summoned to a little hamlet on the outskirts of
Porth, separated from it by half a mile or three quarters of road. One
dignifies, indeed, this settlement without a name in calling it a
hamlet; it was a mere row of four cottages, built about a hundred years
ago for the accommodation of the workers in a quarry long since disused.
In one of these cottages the doctor found a father and mother weeping
and crying out to "doctor bach, doctor bach," and two frightened
children, and one little body, still and dead. It was the youngest of
the three, little Johnnie, and he was dead.

The doctor found that the child had been asphyxiated. He felt the
clothes; they were dry; it was not a case of drowning. He looked at the
neck; there was no mark of strangling. He asked the father how it had
happened, and father and mother, weeping most lamentably, declared they
had no knowledge of how their child had been killed: "unless it was the
People that had done it." The Celtic fairies are still malignant. Lewis
asked what had happened that evening; where had the child been?

"Was he with his brother and sister? Don't they know anything about it?"

Reduced into some sort of order from its original piteous confusion,
this is the story that the doctor gathered.

All three children had been well and happy through the day. They had
walked in with the mother, Mrs. Roberts, to Porth on a marketing
expedition in the afternoon; they had returned to the cottage, had had
their tea, and afterwards played about on the road in front of the
house. John Roberts had come home somewhat late from his work, and it
was after dusk when the family sat down to supper. Supper over, the
three children went out again to play with other children from the
cottage next door, Mrs. Roberts telling them that they might have half
an hour before going to bed.

The two mothers came to the cottage gates at the same moment and called
out to their children to come along and be quick about it. The two small
families had been playing on the strip of turf across the road, just by
the stile into the fields. The children ran across the road; all of them
except Johnnie Roberts. His brother Willie said that just as their
mother called them he heard Johnnie cry out:

"Oh, what is that beautiful shiny thing over the stile?"




10. The Child and the Moth


The little Robertses ran across the road, up the path, and into the
lighted room. Then they noticed that Johnny had not followed them. Mrs.
Roberts was doing something in the back kitchen, and Mr. Roberts had
gone out to the shed to bring in some sticks for the next morning's
fire. Mrs. Roberts heard the children run in and went on with her work.
The children whispered to one another that Johnnie would "catch it" when
their mother came out of the back room and found him missing; but they
expected he would run in through the open door any minute. But six or
seven, perhaps ten, minutes passed, and there was no Johnnie. Then the
father and mother came into the kitchen together, and saw that their
little boy was not there.

They thought it was some small piece of mischief--that the two
other children had hidden the boy somewhere in the room: in the big
cupboard perhaps.

"What have you done with him then?" said Mrs. Roberts. "Come our, you
little rascal, directly in a minute."

There was no little rascal to come out, and Margaret Roberts, the girl,
said that Johnnie had not come across the road with them: he must be
still playing all by himself by the hedge.

"What did you let him stay like that for?" said Mrs. Roberts. "Can't I
trust you for two minutes together? Indeed to goodness, you are all of
you more trouble than you are worth." She went to open the door.

"Johnnie! Come in directly, or you will be sorry for it. Johnnie!"

The poor woman called at the door. She went out to the gate and called
there:

"Come you, little Johnnie. Come you, bachgen, there's a good boy. I do
see you hiding there."

She thought he must be hiding in the shadow of the hedge, and that he
would come running and laughing--"He was always such a happy little
fellow"--to her across the road. But no little merry figure danced
out of the gloom of the still, dark night; it was all silence.

It was then, as the mother's heart began to chill, though she still
called cheerfully to the missing child, that the elder boy told how
Johnny had said there was something beautiful by the stile: "And perhaps
he did climb over, and he is running now about the meadow, and has lost
his way."

The father got his lantern then, and the whole family went crying and
calling about the meadow, promising cakes and sweets and a fine toy to
the poor Johnnie if he would come to them.

They found the little body, under the ash-grove in the middle of the
field. He was quite still and dead, so still that a great moth had
settled on his forehead, fluttering away when they lifted him up.

Dr. Lewis heard this story. There was nothing to be done; little to be
said to these most unhappy people.

"Take care of the two that you have left to you," said the doctor as he
went away. "Don't let them out of your sight if you can help it. It is
dreadful times that we are living in."

It is curious to record that all through these dreadful times the simple
little "season" went through its accustomed course at Porth. The war and
its consequences had somewhat thinned the numbers of the summer
visitors; still a very fair contingent of them occupied the hotels and
boarding-houses and lodging-houses and bathed from the old-fashioned
machines on one beach, or from the new-fashioned tents on the other, and
sauntered in the sun, or lay stretched out in the shade under the trees
that grow down almost to the water's edge. Porth never tolerated
Ethiopians or shows of any kind on its sands, but the Rockets did very
well during that summer in their garden entertainment, given in the
castle grounds, and the fit-up companies that came to the Assembly Rooms
are said to have paid their bills to a woman and to a man.

Porth depends very largely on its Midland and northern custom, custom of
a prosperous, well established sort. People who think Llandudno
overcrowded and Colwyn Bay too raw and red and new come year after year
to the placid old town in the south-west and delight in its peace; and
as I say, they enjoyed themselves much as usual there in the summer of
1915. Now and then they became conscious, as Mr. Merritt became
conscious, that they could not wander about quite in the old way; but
they accepted sentries and coast watchers and people who politely
pointed out the advantages of seeing the view from this point rather
than from that as very necessary consequences of the dreadful war that
was being waged; nay, as a Manchester man said, after having been turned
back from his favourite walk to Castell Coch, it was gratifying to think
that they were so well looked after.

"So far as I can see," he added, "there's nothing to prevent a submarine
from standing out there by Ynys Sant and landing half a dozen men in a
collapsible boat in any of these little coves. And pretty fools we
should look, shouldn't we, with our throats cut on the sands; or carried
back to Germany in the submarine?" He tipped the coast watcher half a
crown.

"That's right, lad," he said, "you give us the tip."

Now here was a strange thing. The North-countryman had his thoughts on
elusive submarines and German raiders; the watcher had simply received
instructions to keep people off the Castell Coch fields, without reason
assigned. And there can be no doubt that the authorities themselves,
while they marked out the fields as in the "terror zone," gave their
orders in the dark and were themselves profoundly in the dark as to the
manner of the slaughter that had been done there; for if they had
understood what had happened, they would have understood also that their
restrictions were useless.

The Manchester man was warned off his walk about ten days after Johnnie
Roberts's death.

The watcher had been placed at his post because, the night before, a
young farmer had been found by his wife lying in the grass close to the
castle, with no scar on him, nor any mark of violence, but stone dead.

The wife of the dead man, Joseph Cradock, finding her husband lying
motionless on the dewy turf, went white and stricken up the path to the
village and got two men who bore the body to the farm. Lewis was sent
for, and knew at once when he saw the dead man that he had perished in
the way that the little Roberts boy had perished--whatever that
awful way might be. Cradock had been asphyxiated; and here again there
was no mark of a grip on the throat. It might have been a piece of work
by Burke and Hare, the doctor reflected; a pitch plaster might have been
clapped over the man's mouth and nostrils and held there.

Then a thought struck him; his brother-in-law had talked of a new kind of
poison gas that was said to be used against the munition workers in the
Midlands: was it possible that the deaths of the man and the boy were
due to some such instrument? He applied his tests but could find no
trace of any gas having been employed. Carbonic acid gas? A man could
not be killed with that in the open air; to be fatal that required a
confined space, such a position as the bottom of a huge vat or of a
well.

He did not know how Cradock had been killed; he confessed it to himself.
He had been suffocated; that was all he could say.

It seemed that the man had gone out at about half past nine to look
after some beasts. The field in which they were was about five minutes'
walk from the house. He told his wife he would be back in a quarter of
an hour or twenty minutes. He did not return, and when he had gone for
three quarters of an hour Mrs. Cradock went out to look for him. She
went into the field where the beasts were, and everything seemed all
right, but there was no trace of Cradock. She called out; there was no
answer.

Now the meadow in which the cattle were pastured is high ground; a hedge
divides it from the fields which fall gently down to the castle and the
sea. Mrs. Cradock hardly seemed able to say why, having failed to find
her husband among his beasts, she turned to the path which led to
Castell Coch. She said at first that she had thought that one of the
oxen might have broken through the hedge and strayed, and that Cradock
had perhaps gone after it. And then, correcting herself, she said:

"There was that; and then there was something else that I could not make
out at all. It seemed to me that the hedge did look different from
usual. To be sure, things do look different at night, and there was a
bit of sea mist about, but somehow it did look odd to me, and I said to
myself: 'Have I lost my way then?'"

She declared that the shape of the trees in the hedge appeared to
have changed, and besides, it had a look "as if it was lighted up,
somehow," and so she went on towards the stile to see what all this
could be, and when she came near everything was as usual. She looked
over the stile and called and hoped to see her husband coming towards
her or to hear his voice; but there was no answer, and glancing down the
path she saw, or thought she saw, some sort of brightness on the ground,
"a dim sort of light like a bunch of glow-worms in a hedge-bank."

"And so I climbed over the stile and went down the path, and the light
seemed to melt away; and there was my poor husband lying on his back,
saying not a word to me when I spoke to him and touched him."

So for Lewis the terror blackened and became altogether intolerable, and
others, he perceived, felt as he did. He did not know, he never asked
whether the men at the club had heard of these deaths of the child and
the young farmer: but no one spoke of them. Indeed, the change was
evident; at the beginning of the terror men spoke of nothing else; now
it had become all too awful for ingenious chatter or laboured and
grotesque theories. And Lewis had received a letter from his
brother-in-law at Midlingham; it contained the sentence, "I am afraid
Fanny's health has not greatly benefited by her visit to Porth; there
are still several symptoms I don't at all like.'' And this told him, in
a phraseology that the doctor and Merritt had agreed upon, that the
terror remained heavy in the Midland town.

It was soon after the death of Cradock that people began to tell strange
tales of a sound that was to be heard of nights about the hills and
valleys to the northward of Porth. A man who had missed the last train
from Meiros and had been forced to tramp the ten miles between Meiros
and Porth seems to have been the first to hear it. He said he had got to
the top of the hill by Tredonoc, somewhere between half past ten and
eleven, when he first noticed an odd noise that he could not make out at
all: it was like a shout, a long, drawn-out, dismal wail coming from a
great way off, faint with distance. He stopped to listen, thinking at
first that it might be owls hooting in the woods; but it was different,
he said, from that; it was a long cry, and then there was silence and
then it began over again. He could make nothing of it, and feeling
frightened, he did not quite know of what, he walked on briskly and was
glad to see the lights of Porth station.

He told his wife of this dismal sound that night, and she told the
neighbors, and most of them thought that it was "all fancy"--or
drink, or the owls after all. But the night after, two or three people,
who had been to some small merry-making in a cottage just off the Meiros
road, heard the sound as they were going home, soon after ten. They,
too, described it as a long, wailing cry, indescribably dismal in the
stillness of the autumn night: "Like the ghost of a voice," said one;
"As if it came up from the bottom of the earth," said another.




11. At Treff Loyne Farm


Let it be remembered, again and again, that, all the while that the
terror lasted, there was no common stock of information as to the
dreadful things that were being done. The press had not said one word
upon it, there was no criterion by which the mass of the people could
separate fact from mere vague rumour, no test by which ordinary
misadventure or disaster could be distinguished from the achievements of
the secret and awful force that was at work.

And so with every event of the passing day. A harmless commercial
traveller might show himself in the course of his business in the
tumbledown main street of Meiros and find himself regarded with looks of
fear and suspicion as a possible worker of murder, while it is likely
enough that the true agents of the terror went quite unnoticed. And
since the real nature of all this mystery of death was unknown, it
followed easily that the signs and warnings and omens of it were all the
more unknown. Here was horror, there was horror; but there was no link
to join one horror with another; no common basis of knowledge from which
the connection between this horror and that horror might be inferred.

So there was no one who suspected at all that this dismal and hollow
sound that was now heard of nights in the region to the north of Porth,
had any relation at all to the case of the little girl who went out one
afternoon to pick purple flowers and never returned, or to the case of
the man whose body was taken out of the peaty slime of the marsh, or to
the case of Cradock, dead in his fields, with a strange glimmering of
light about his body, as his wife reported. And it is a question as to
how far the rumour of this melancholy, nocturnal summons got abroad at
all.

Lewis heard of it, as a country doctor hears of most things, driving up
and down the lanes, but he heard of it without much interest, with no
sense that it was in any sort of relation to the terror.

Remnant had been given the story of the hollow and echoing voice of the
darkness in a coloured picturesque form; he employed a Tredonoc man to
work in his garden once a week. The gardener had not heard the summons
himself, but he knew a man who had done so.

"Thomas Jenkins, Pentoppin, he did put his head out late last night to
see what the weather was like, and he was cutting a field of corn the
next day, and he did tell me that when he was with the Methodists in
Cardigan he did never hear no singing eloquence in the chapels that was
like to it. He did declare it was like a wailing of Judgment Day."

Remnant considered the matter, and was inclined to think that the sound
must be caused by a subterranean inlet of the sea; there might be, he
supposed, an imperfect or half-opened or tortuous blowhole in the
Tredonoc woods, and the noise of the tide, surging up below, might very
well produce that effect of a hollow wailing, far away. But neither he
nor any one else paid much attention to the matter; save the few who
heard the call at dead of night, as it echoed awfully over the black
hills.

The sound had been heard for three or perhaps four nights, when the
people coming out of Tredonoc church after morning service on Sunday
noticed that there was a big yellow sheep-dog in the churchyard. The
dog, it appeared, had been waiting for the congregation; for it at once
attached itself to them, at first to the whole body, and then to a group
of half a dozen who took the turning to the right. Two of these
presently went off over the fields to their respective houses, and four
strolled on in the leisurely Sunday-morning manner of the country, and
these the dog followed, keeping to heel all the time. The men were
talking hay, corn, and markets and paid no attention to the animal, and
so they strolled along the autumn lane till they came to a gate in the
hedge, whence a roughly made farm road went through the fields, and
dipped down into the woods and to Treff Loyne farm.

Then the dog became like a possessed creature. He barked furiously, He
ran up to one of the men and looked up at him, "as if he were begging
for his life," as the man said, and then rushed to the gate and stood by
it, wagging his tail and barking at intervals. The men stared and
laughed.

"Whose dog will that be?" said one of them.

"It will be Thomas Griffith's, Treff Loyne," said another.

"Well, then, why doesn't he go home? Go home then!" He went through the
gesture of picking up a stone from the road and throwing it at the dog.
"Go home, then! Over the gate with you." But the dog never stirred. He
barked and whined and ran up to the men and then back to the gate. At
last he came to one of them, and crawled and abased himself on the
ground and then took hold of the man's coat and tried to pull him in the
direction of the gate. The farmer shook the dog off, and the four went
on their way; and the dog stood in the road and watched them and then
put up its head and uttered a long and dismal howl that was despair.

The four farmers thought nothing of it; sheep-dogs in the country are
dogs to look after sheep, and their whims and fancies are not studied.
But the yellow dog--he was a kind of degenerate collie--haunted the
Tredonoc lanes from that day. He came to a cottage door one night and
scratched at it, and when it was opened lay down, and then, barking, ran
to the garden gate and waited, entreating, as it seemed, the cottager to
follow him. They drove him away and again he gave that long howl of
anguish. It was almost as bad, they said, as the noise that they had
heard a few nights before. And then it occurred to somebody, so far as I
can make out with no particular reference to the odd conduct of the
Treff Loyne sheepdog, that Thomas Griffith had not been seen for some
time past. He had missed market-day at Porth, he had not been at
Tredonoc church, where he was a pretty regular attendant on Sunday; and
then, as heads were put together, it appeared that nobody had seen any
of the Griffith family for days and days.

Now in a town, even in a small town, this process of putting heads
together is a pretty quick business. In the country, especially in a
countryside of wild lands and scattered and lonely farms and cottages,
the affair takes time. Harvest was going on, everybody was busy in his
own fields, and after the long day's hard work neither the farmer nor
his men felt inclined to stroll about in search of news or gossip. A
harvester at the day's end is ready for supper and sleep and for nothing
else.

And so it was late in that week when it was discovered that Thomas
Griffith and all his house had vanished from this world.

I have often been reproached for my curiosity over questions which are
apparently of slight importance, or of no importance at all. I love to
inquire, for instance, into the question of the visibility of a lighted
candle at a distance. Suppose, that is, a candle lighted on a still,
dark night in the country; what is the greatest distance at which you
can see that there is a light at all? And then as to the human voice;
what is its carrying distance, under good conditions, as a mere sound,
apart from any matter of making out words that may be uttered? They are
trivial questions, no doubt, but they have always interested me, and the
latter point has its application to the strange business of Treff Loyne.
That melancholy and hollow sound, that wailing summons that appalled the
hearts of those who heard it was, indeed, a human voice, produced in a
very exceptional manner; and it seems to have been heard at points
varying from a mile and a half to two miles from the farm. I do not know
whether this is anything extraordinary, I do not know whether the
peculiar method of production was calculated to increase or diminish the
carrying power of the sound.

Again and again I have laid emphasis in this story of the terror on the
strange isolation of many of the farms and cottages in Meirion. I have
done so in the effort to convince the townsman of something that he has
never known. To the Londoner a house a quarter of a mile from the
outlying suburban lamp, with no other dwelling within two hundred yards,
is a lonely house, a place to fit with ghosts and mysteries and terrors.
How can he understand then, the true loneliness of the white farmhouses
of Meirion, dotted here and there, for the most part not even on the
little lanes and deep winding by-ways, but set in the very heart of the
fields, or alone on huge bastioned headlands facing the sea, and whether
on the high verge of the sea or on the hills or in the hollows of the
inner country, hidden from the sight of men, far from the sound of any
common call. There is Penyrhaul, for example, the farm from which the
foolish Merritt thought he saw signals of light being made: from seaward
it is of course, widely visible; but from landward, owing partly to the
curving and indented configuration of the bay, I doubt whether any other
habitation views it from a nearer distance than three miles.

And of all these hidden and remote places, I doubt if any is so deeply
buried as Treff Loyne. I have little or no Welsh, I am sorry to say, but
I suppose that the name is corrupted from Trellwyn, or Tref-y-llwyn,
"the place in the grove" and indeed, it lies in the very heart of dark,
overhanging woods. A deep, narrow valley runs down from the high lands
of the Allt, through these woods, through steep hill-sides of bracken
and gorse, right down to the great marsh, whence Merritt saw the dead
man being carried. The valley lies away from any road, even from that
by-road, little better than a bridle-path, where the four farmers,
returning from church, were perplexed by the strange antics of the
sheep-dog. One cannot say that the valley is overlooked, even from a
distance, for so narrow is it that the ash-groves that rim it on either
side seem to meet and shut it in. I, at all events, have never found any
high place from which Treff Loyne is visible; though, looking down from
the Allt, I have seen blue woodsmoke rising from its hidden chimneys.

Such was the place, then, to which one September afternoon a party went
up to discover what had happened to Griffith and his family. There were
half a dozen farmers, a couple of policemen, and four soldiers, carrying
their arms; those last had been lent by the officer commanding at the
camp. Lewis, too, was of the party; he had heard by chance that no one
knew what had become of Griffith and his family; and he was anxious
about a young fellow, a painter, of his acquaintance, who had been
lodging at Treff Loyne all the summer.

They all met by the gate of Tredonoc churchyard, and tramped solemnly
along the narrow lane: all of them, I think, with some vague discomfort
of mind, with a certain shadowy fear, as of men who do not quite know
what they may encounter. Lewis heard the corporal and the three soldiers
arguing over their orders.

"The captain says to me," muttered the corporal, "'Don't hesitate to
shoot if there's any trouble.' 'Shoot what, sir,' I says. 'The trouble,'
says he, and that's all I could get out of him."

The men grumbled in reply; Lewis thought he heard some obscure reference
to rat-poison, and wondered what they were talking about.

They came to the gate in the hedge, where the farm road led down to
Treff Loyne. They followed this track, roughly made, with grass growing
up between its loosely laid stones, down by the hedge from field to
wood, till at last they came to the sudden walls of the valley, and the
sheltering groves of the ash-trees. Here the way curved down the steep
hill-side, and bent southward, and followed henceforward the hidden
hollow of the valley, under the shadow of the trees.

Here was the farm enclosure; the outlying walls of the yard and the
barns and sheds and outhouses. One of the farmers threw open the gate
and walked into the yard, and forthwith began bellowing at the top of
his voice:

"Thomas Griffith! Thomas Griffith! Where be you, Thomas Griffith?" The
rest followed him.

The corporal snapped out an order over his shoulder, and there was a
rattling metallic noise as the men fixed their bayonets and became in an
instant dreadful dealers out of death, in place of harmless fellows with
a feeling for beer.

"Thomas Griffith!" again bellowed the farmer.

There was no answer to this summons. But they found poor Griffith
lying on his face at the edge of the pond in the middle of the yard.
There was a ghastly wound in his side, as if a sharp stake had been
driven into his body.




12. The Letter of Wrath


It was a still September afternoon. No wind stirred in the hanging
woods that were dark all about the ancient house of Treff Loyne; the
only sound in the dim air was the lowing of the cattle; they had
wandered, it seemed, from the fields and had come in by the gate of the
farmyard and stood there melancholy, as if they mourned for their dead
master. And the horses; four great, heavy, patient-looking beasts, they
were there too, and in the lower field the sheep were standing, as if
they waited to be fed.

"You would think they all knew there was something wrong," one of the
soldiers muttered to another. A pale sun showed for a moment and
glittered on their bayonets. They were standing about the body of poor,
dead Griffith, with a certain grimness growing on their faces and
hardening there. Their corporal snapped something at them again; they
were quite ready. Lewis knelt down by the dead man and looked closely at
the great gaping wound in his side.

"He's been dead a long time," he said. "A week, two weeks, perhaps. He
was killed by some sharp pointed weapon. How about the family? How many
are there of them? I never attended them."

"There was Griffith, and his wife, and his son Thomas and Mary Griffith,
his daughter. And I do think there was a gentleman lodging with them
this summer.

That was from one of the farmers. They all looked at one another, this
party of rescue, who knew nothing of the danger that had smitten this
house of quiet people, nothing of the peril which had brought them to
this pass of a farmyard with a dead man in it, and his beasts standing
patiently about him, as if they waited for the farmer to rise up and
give them their food. Then the party turned to the house. It was an old,
sixteenth-century building, with the singular round, Flemish chimney
that is characteristic of Meirion. The walls were snowy with whitewash,
the windows were deeply set and stone-mullioned, and a solid,
stone-tiled porch sheltered the doorway from any winds that might
penetrate to the hollow of that hidden valley. The windows were shut
tight. There was no sign of any life or movement about the place. The
party of men looked at one another, and the church-warden amongst the
farmers, the sergeant of police, Lewis, and the corporal drew together.

"What is it to goodness, doctor?" said the church-warden.

"I can tell you nothing at all--except that that poor man there has
been pierced to the heart," said Lewis.

"Do you think they are inside and they will shoot us?" said another
farmer. He had no notion of what he meant by "they," and no one of them
knew better than he. They did not know what the danger was, or where it
might strike them, or whether it was from without or from within.

They stared at the murdered man, and gazed dismally at one another.

"Come!" said Lewis, "we must do something. We must get into the house
and see what is wrong."

"Yes, but suppose they are at us while we are getting in," said the
sergeant. "Where shall we be then, Doctor Lewis?"

The corporal put one of his men by the gate at the top of the farmyard,
another at the gate by the bottom of the farmyard, and told them to
challenge and shoot. The doctor and the rest opened the little gate of
the front garden and went up to the porch and stood listening by the
door, it was all dead silence. Lewis took an ash stick from one of the
farmers and beat heavily three times on the old, black, oaken door
studded with antique nails.

He struck three thundering blows, and then they all waited. There was no
answer from within.

He beat again, and still silence. He shouted to the people within, but
there was no answer. They all turned and looked at one another, that
party of quest and rescue who knew not what they sought, what enemy they
were to encounter. There was an iron ring on the door. Lewis turned it
but the door stood fast; it was evidently barred and bolted. The
sergeant of police called out to open, but again there was no answer.

They consulted together. There was nothing for it but to blow the door
open, and someone of them called in a loud voice to anybody that might
be within to stand away from the door, or they would be killed. And at
this very moment the yellow sheepdog came bounding up the yard from the
woods and licked their hands and fawned on them and barked joyfully.

"Indeed now," said one of the farmers, "he did know that there was
something amiss. A pity it was, Thomas Williams, that we did not follow
him when he implored us last Sunday."

The corporal motioned the rest of the party back, and they stood looking
fearfully about them at the entrance to the porch. The corporal
disengaged his bayonet and shot into the keyhole, calling out once more
before he fired. He shot and shot again; so heavy and firm was the
ancient door, so stout its bolts and fastenings. At last he had to fire
at the massive hinges, and then they all pushed together and the door
lurched open and fell forward. The corporal raised his left hand and
stepped back a few paces. He hailed his two men at the top and bottom of
the farmyard.

They were all right, they said. And so the party climbed and struggled
over the fallen door into the passage, and into the kitchen of the
farmhouse.

Young Griffith was lying dead before the hearth, before a dead fire of
white wood ashes. They went on towards the parlour, and in the doorway
of the room was the body of the artist, Secretan, as if he had fallen in
trying to get to the kitchen. Upstairs the two women, Mrs. Griffith and
her daughter, a girl of eighteen, were lying together on the bed in the
big bedroom, clasped in each other's arms.

They went about the house, searched the pantries, the back kitchen and
the cellars; there was no life in it.

"Look!" said Dr. Lewis, when they came back to the big kitchen, "look!
It is as if they had been besieged. Do you see that piece of bacon, half
gnawed through?"

Then they found these pieces of bacon, cut from the sides on the kitchen
wall, here and there about the house. There was no bread in the place,
no milk, no water.

"And," said one of the farmers, "they had the best water here in all
Meirion. The well is down there in the wood; it is most famous water.
The old people did use to call it Ffynnon Teilo; it was Saint Teilo's
Well, they did say."

"They must have died of thirst," said Lewis. "They have been dead for
days and days."

The group of men stood in the big kitchen and stared at one another, a
dreadful perplexity in their eyes. The dead were all about them, within
the house and without it; and it was in vain to ask why they had died
thus. The old man had been killed with the piercing thrust of some sharp
weapon; the rest had perished, it seemed probable, of thirst; but what
possible enemy was this that besieged the farm and shut in its
inhabitants? There was no answer.

The sergeant of police spoke of getting a cart and taking the bodies
into Porth, and Dr. Lewis went into the parlour that Secretan had used
as a sitting-room, intending to gather any possessions or effects of the
dead artist that he might find there. Half a dozen portfolios were piled
up in one corner, there were some books on a side table, a fishing-rod
and basket behind the door--that seemed all. No doubt there would
be clothes and such matters upstairs, and Lewis was about to rejoin the
rest of the party in the kitchen, when he looked down at some scattered
papers lying with the books on the side table. On one of the sheets he
read to his astonishment the words: "Dr. James Lewis, Porth." This was
written in a staggering trembling scrawl, and examining the other leaves
he saw that they were covered with writing.

The table stood in a dark corner of the room, and Lewis gathered up the
sheets of paper and took them to the window-ledge and began to read,
amazed at certain phrases that had caught his eye. But the manuscript
was in disorder; as if the dead man who had written it had not been
equal to the task of gathering the leaves into their proper sequence; it
was some time before the doctor had each page in its place. This was the
statement that he read, with ever-growing wonder, while a couple of the
farmers were harnessing one of the horses in the yard to a cart, and the
others were bringing down the dead women.


I do not think that I can last much longer. We shared out
the last drops of water a long time ago. I do not know how many days
ago. We fall asleep and dream and walk about the house in our dreams,
and I am often not sure whether I am awake or still dreaming, and so the
days and nights are confused in my mind. I awoke not long ago in the
passage. I had a confused feeling that I had had an awful dream which
seemed horribly real, and I thought for a moment what a relief it was to
know that it wasn't true, whatever it might have been. I made up my mind
to have a good long walk to freshen myself up, and then I looked round
and found that I had been lying on the stones of the passage; and it all
came back to me. There was no walk for me.

I have not seen Mrs. Griffith or her daughter for a long while. They
said they were going upstairs to have a rest. I heard them moving about
the room at first, now I can hear nothing.

Young Griffith is lying in the kitchen, before the hearth. He was
talking to himself about the harvest and the weather when I last went
into the kitchen. He didn't seem to know I was there, as he went
gabbling on in a low voice very fast, and then he began to call the dog,
Tiger.

There seems no hope for any of us. We are in the dream of death....


Here the manuscript became unintelligible for half a dozen lines.
Secretan had written the words "dream of death" three or four times
over. He had begun a fresh word and scratched it out and then followed
strange, unmeaning characters, the script, as Lewis thought, of a
terrible language.

And then the writing became clear, clearer than it was at the beginning
of the manuscript, and the sentences flowed more easily, as if the cloud
on Secretan's mind had lifted for a while. There was a fresh start, as
it were, and the writer began again, in ordinary letter form:


Dear Lewis, I hope you will excuse all this confusion and
wandering. I intended to begin a proper letter to you, and now I find
all that stuff that you have been reading--if this ever gets into
your hands. I have not the energy even to tear it up. If you read it you
will know to what a sad pass I had come when it was written. It looks
like delirium or a bad dream, and even now, though my mind seems to have
cleared up a good deal, I have to hold myself in tightly to be sure that
the experiences of the last days in this awful place are true, real
things, not a long nightmare from which I shall wake up presently and
find myself in my rooms at Chelsea.

I have said of what I am writing, "if it ever gets into your hands," and
I am not at all sure that it ever will. If what is happening here is
happening everywhere else, then I suppose, the world is coming to an
end. I cannot understand it, even now I can hardly believe it. I know
that I dream such wild dreams and walk in such mad fancies that I have
to look out and look about me to make sure that I am not still dreaming.

Do you remember that talk we had about two months ago when I dined with
you? We got on, somehow or other, to space and time, and I think we
agreed that as soon as one tried to reason about space and time one was
landed in a maze of contradictions. You said something to the effect
that it was very curious but this was just like a dream. "A man will
sometimes wake himself from his crazy dream," you said, "by realizing
that he is thinking nonsense." And we both wondered whether these
contradictions that one can't avoid if one begins to think of time and
space may not really be proofs that the whole of life is a dream, and
the moon and the stars bits of nightmare. I have often thought over that
lately. I kick at the walls as Dr. Johnson kicked at the stone, to make
sure that the things about me are there. And then that other question
gets into my mind--is the world really coming to an end, the world
as we have always known it; and what on earth will this new world be
like? I can't imagine it; it's a story like Noah's Ark and the Flood.
People used to talk about the end of the world and fire, but no one ever
thought of anything like this.

And then there's another thing that bothers me. Now and then I wonder
whether we are not all mad together in this house. In spite of what I
see and know, or, perhaps, I should say, because what I see and know is
so impossible, I wonder whether we are not all suffering from a
delusion.

Perhaps we are our own jailers, and we are really free to go out and
live. Perhaps what we think we see is not there at all. I believe I have
heard of whole families going mad together, and I may have come under
the influence of the house, having lived in it for the last four months.
I know there have been people who have been kept alive by their keepers
forcing food down their throats, because they are quite sure that their
throats are closed, so that they feel they are unable to swallow a
morsel. I wonder now and then whether we are all like this in Treff
Loyne; yet in my heart I feel sure that it is not so.

Still, I do not want to leave a madman's letter behind me, and so I will
not tell you the full story of what I have seen, or believe I have seen.
If I am a sane man you be able to fill in the blanks for yourself from
your own knowledge. If I am mad, burn the letter and say nothing about
it. Or perhaps--and indeed, I am not quite sure--I may wake up
and hear Mary Griffith calling to me in her cheerful sing-song that
breakfast will be ready "directly, in a minute," and I shall enjoy it
and walk over to Porth and tell you the queerest, most horrible dream
that a man ever had, and ask what I had better take.

I think that it was on a Tuesday that we first noticed that there was
something queer about, only at the time we didn't know that there was
anything really queer in what we noticed. I had been out since nine o'clock
in the morning trying to paint the marsh, and I found it a very
tough job. I came home about five or six o'clock and found the family at
Treff Loyne laughing at old Tiger, the sheepdog. He was making short
runs from the farmyard to the door of the house, barking, with quick,
short yelps. Mrs. Griffith and Miss Griffith were standing by the porch,
and the dog would go to them, look in their faces, and then run up the
farmyard to the gate, and then look back with that eager yelping bark,
as if he were waiting for the women to follow him. Then, again and
again, he ran up to them and tugged at their skirts as if he would pull
them by main force away from the house.

Then the men came home from the fields and he repeated this performance.
The dog was running all up and down the farmyard, in and out of the barn
and sheds yelping, barking; and always with that eager run to the person
he addressed, and running away directly, and looking back as if to see
whether we were following him. When the house-door was shut and they all
sat down to supper, he would give them no peace, till at last they
turned him out of doors. And then he sat in the porch and scratched at
the door with his claws, barking all the while. When the daughter
brought in my meal, she said: "We can't think what is come to old Tiger,
and indeed, he has always been a good dog, too."

The dog barked and yelped and whined and scratched at the door all
through the evening. They let him in once, but he seemed to have become
quite frantic. He ran up to one member of the family after another; his
eyes were bloodshot and his mouth was foaming, and he tore at their
clothes till they drove him out again into the darkness. Then he broke
into a long, lamentable howl of anguish, and we heard no more of him.




13. The Last Words of Mr. Secretan


I slept ill that night. I woke again and again from uneasy dreams, and I
seemed in my sleep to hear strange calls and noises and a sound of
murmurs and beatings on the door. There were deep, hollow voices, too,
that echoed in my sleep, and when I woke I could hear the autumn wind,
mournful, on the hills above us. I started up once with a dreadful
scream in my ears; but then the house was all still, and I fell again
into uneasy sleep.

It was soon after dawn when I finally roused myself. The people in the
house were talking to each other in high voices, arguing about something
that I did not understand.

"It is those damned gipsies, I tell you," said old Griffith.

"What would they do a thing like that for?" asked Mrs. Griffith. "If it
was stealing now--"

"It is more likely that John Jenkins has done it out of spite," said the
son. "He said that he would remember you when we did catch him
poaching."

They seemed puzzled and angry, so far as I could make out, but not at
all frightened. I got up and began to dress. I don't think I looked out
of the window. The glass on my dressing-table is high and broad, and the
window is small; one would have to poke one's head round the glass to
see anything.

The voices were still arguing downstairs. I heard the old man say,
"Well, here's for a beginning anyhow," and then the door slammed.

A minute later the old man shouted, I think, to his son. Then there was
a great noise which I will not describe more particularly, and a
dreadful screaming and crying inside the house and a sound of rushing
feet. They all cried out at once to each other. I heard the daughter
crying, "it is no good, mother, he is dead, indeed they have killed
him," and Mrs. Griffith screaming to the girl to let her go. And then
one of them rushed out of the kitchen and shot the great bolts of oak
across the door, just as something beat against it with a thundering
crash.

I ran downstairs. I found them all in wild confusion, in an agony of
grief and horror and amazement. They were like people who had seen
something so awful that they had gone mad.

I went to the window looking out on the farmyard. I won't tell you all
that I saw. But I saw poor old Griffith lying by the pond, with blood
pouring out of his side.

I wanted to go out to him and bring him in. But they told me that he
must be stone dead, and such things also that it was quite plain that
any one who went out of the house would not live more than a moment. We
could not believe it, even as we gazed at the body of the dead man; but
it was there. I used to wonder sometimes what one would feel like if one
saw an apple drop from the tree and shoot up into the air and disappear.
I think I know now how one would feel.

Even then we couldn't believe that it would last. We were not
seriously afraid for ourselves.

We spoke of getting out in an hour or two, before dinner anyhow. It
couldn't last, because it was impossible. Indeed, at twelve o'clock
young Griffith said he would go down to the well by the back way and
draw another pail of water. I went to the door and stood by it. He had
not gone a dozen yards before they were on him. He ran for his life, and
we had all we could do to bar the door in time. And then I began to get
frightened.

Still we could not believe in it. Somebody would come along shouting in
an hour or two and it would all melt away and vanish. There could not be
any real danger. There was plenty of bacon in the house, and half the
weekly baking of loaves and some beer in the cellar and a pound or so of
tea, and a whole pitcher of water that had been drawn from the well the
night before. We could do all right for the day and in the morning it
would have all gone away.

But day followed day and it was still there. I knew Treff Loyne was a
lonely place--that was why I had gone there, to have a long rest
from all the jangle and rattle and turmoil of London, that makes a man
alive and kills him too. I went to Treff Loyne because it was buried in
the narrow valley under the ash trees, far away from any track. There
was not so much as a footpath that was near it; no one ever came that
way. Young Griffith had told me that it was a mile and a half to the
nearest house, and the thought of the silent peace and retirement of the
farm used to be a delight to me.

And now this thought came back without delight, with terror. Griffith
thought that a shout might be heard on a still night up away on the
Allt, "if a man was listening for it," he added, doubtfully. My voice was
clearer and stronger than his, and on the second night I said I would go
up to my bedroom and call for help through the open window. I waited
till it was all dark and still, and looked out through the window before
opening it. And when I saw over the ridge of the long barn across the
yard what looked like a tree, though I knew there was no tree there. It
was a dark mass against the sky, with widespread boughs, a tree of
thick, dense growth. I wondered what this could be, and I threw open the
window, not only because I was going to call for help, but because I
wanted to see more clearly what the dark growth over the barn really
was.

I saw in the depth of the dark of it points of fire, and colors in
light, all glowing and moving, and the air trembled. I stared out into
the night, and the dark tree lifted over the roof of the barn and rose
up in the air and floated towards me. I did not move till at the last
moment when it was close to the house; and then I saw what it was and
banged the window down only just in time. I had to fight, and I saw the
tree that was like a burning cloud rise up in the night and sink again
and settle over the barn.

I told them downstairs of this. They sat with white faces, and Mrs.
Griffith said that ancient devils were let loose and had come out of the
trees and out of the old hills because of the wickedness that was on the
earth. She began to murmur something to herself, something that sounded
to me like broken-down Latin.

I went up to my room again an hour later, but the dark tree swelled over
the barn. Another day went by, and at dusk I looked out, but the eyes of
fire were watching me. I dared not open the window.

And then I thought of another plan. There was the great old fireplace,
with the round Flemish chimney going high above the house. If I stood
beneath it and shouted I thought perhaps the sound might be carried
better than if I called out of the window; for all I knew the round
chimney might act as a sort of megaphone. Night after night, then, I
stood in the hearth and called for help from nine o'clock to eleven. I
thought of the lonely place, deep in the valley of the ash trees, of the
lonely hills and lands about it. I thought of the little cottages far
away and hoped that my voice might reach to those within them. I thought
of the winding lane high on the Allt, and of the few men that came there
of nights; but I hoped that my cry might come to one of them.

But we had drunk up the beer, and we would only let ourselves have water
by little drops, and on the fourth night my throat was dry, and I began
to feel strange and weak; I knew that all the voice I had in my lungs
would hardly reach the length of the field of the farm.

It was then we began to dream of wells and fountains, and water coming
very cold, in little drops, out of rocky places in the middle of a cool
wood. We had given up all meals; now and then one would cut a lump from
the sides of bacon on the kitchen wall and chew a bit of it, but the
saltness was like fire.

There was a great shower of rain one night. The girl said we might open
a window and hold out bowls and basins and catch the rain. I spoke of
the cloud with burning eyes. She said, "we will go to the window in the
dairy at the back, and one of us can get some water at all events."

She stood up with her basin on the stone slab in the dairy and looked
out and heard the plashing of the rain, falling very fast. And she
unfastened the catch of the window and had just opened it gently with
one hand, for about an inch, and had her basin in the other hand. "And
then," said she, "there was something that began to tremble and shudder
and shake as it did when we went to the Choral Festival at St. Teilo's,
and the organ played, and there was the cloud and the burning close
before me."

And then we began to dream, as I say. I woke up in my sitting-room one
hot afternoon when the sun was shining, and I had been looking and
searching in my dream all through the house, and I had gone down to the
old cellar that wasn't used, the cellar with the pillars and the vaulted
room, with an iron pike in my hand. Something said to me that there was
water there, and in my dream I went to a heavy stone by the middle
pillar and raised it up, and there beneath was a bubbling well of cold,
clear water, and I had just hollowed my hand to drink it when I woke. I
went into the kitchen and told young Griffith. I said I was sure there
was water there. He shook his head, but he took up the great kitchen
poker and we went down to the old cellar. I showed him the stone by the
pillar, and he raised it up. But there was no well.

Do you know, I reminded myself of many people whom I have met in life? I
would not be convinced. I was sure that, after all, there was a well
there. They had a butcher's cleaver in the kitchen and I took it down to
the old cellar and hacked at the ground with it. The others didn't
interfere with me. We were getting past that. We hardly ever spoke to
one another. Each one would be wandering about the house, upstairs and
downstairs, each one of us, I suppose, bent on his own foolish plan and
mad design, but we hardly ever spoke. Years ago, I was an actor for a
bit, and I remember how it was on first nights; the actors treading
softly up and down the wings, by their entrance, their lips moving and
muttering over the words of their parts, but without a word for one
another. So it was with us. I came upon young Griffith one evening
evidently trying to make a subterranean passage under one of the walls
of the house. I knew he was mad, as he knew I was mad when he saw me
digging for a well in the cellar; but neither said anything to the
other.

Now we are past all this. We are too weak. We dream when we are awake
and when we dream we think we wake. Night and day come and go and we
mistake one for another; I hear Griffith murmuring to himself about the
stars when the sun is high at noonday, and at midnight I have found
myself thinking that I walked in bright sunlit meadows beside cold,
rushing streams that flowed from high rocks.

Then at the dawn figures in black robes, carrying lighted tapers in
their hands pass slowly about and about; and I hear great rolling organ
music that sounds as if some tremendous rite were to begin, and voices
crying in an ancient song shrill from the depths of the earth.

Only a little while ago I heard a voice which sounded as if it were at
my very ears, but rang and echoed and resounded as if it were rolling
and reverberated from the vault of some cathedral, chanting in terrible
modulations. I heard the words quite clearly.

_Incipit liber irae Domini Dei nostri_. (Here beginneth The Book of the
Wrath of the Lord our God.)

And then the voice sang the word Aleph, prolonging it, it seemed through
ages, and a light was extinguished as it began the chapter:

In that day, saith the Lord, there shall be a cloud over the land, and
in the cloud a burning and a shape of fire, and out of the cloud shall
issue forth my messengers; they shall run all together, they shall not
turn aside; this shall be a day of exceeding bitterness, without
salvation. And on every high hill, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will set
my sentinels, and my armies shall encamp in the place of every valley;
in the house that is amongst rushes I will execute judgment, and in vain
shall they fly for refuge to the munitions of the rocks.

In the groves of the woods, in the places where the leaves are as a tent
above them, they shall find the sword of the slaver; and they that put
their trust in walled cities shall be confounded. Woe unto the armed
man, woe unto him that taketh pleasure in the strength of his artillery,
for a little thing shall smite him, and by one that hath no might shall
he be brought down into the dust. That which is low shall be set on
high; I will make the lamb and the young sheep to be as the lion from
the swellings of Jordan; they shall not spare, saith the Lord, and the
doves shall be as eagles on the hill Engedi; none shall be found that
may abide the onset of their battle.

Even now I can hear the voice rolling far away, as if it came from the
altar of a great church and I stood at the door. There are lights very
far away in the hollow of a vast darkness, and one by one they are put
out. I hear a voice, chanting again with that endless modulation that
climbs and aspires to the stars, and shines there, and rushes down to
the dark depths of the earth, again to ascend; the word is Zain.


Here the manuscript lapsed again, and finally into utter, lamentable
confusion. There were scrawled lines wavering across the page on which
Secretan seemed to have been trying to note the unearthly music that
swelled in his dying ears. As the scrapes and scratches of ink showed,
he had tried hard to begin a new sentence. The pen had dropped at last
out of his hand upon the paper, leaving a blot and a smear upon it.

Lewis heard the tramp of feet along the passage; they were carrying out
the dead to the cart.




14. The End of the Terror


Dr. Lewis maintained that we should never begin to understand the real
significance of life until we began to study just those aspects of it
which we now dismiss and overlook as utterly inexplicable, and
therefore, unimportant.

We were discussing a few months ago the awful shadow of the terror which
at length had passed away from the land. I had formed my opinion, partly
from observation, partly from certain facts which had been communicated
to me, and the passwords having been exchanged, I found that Lewis had
come by very different ways to the same end.

"And yet," he said, "it is not a true end, or rather, it is like all the
ends of human inquiry, it leads one to a great mystery. We must confess
that what has happened might have happened at any time in the history of
the world. It did not happen till a year ago as a matter of fact, and
therefore we made up our minds that it never could happen; or, one would
better say, it was outside the range even of imagination. But this is
our way. Most people are quite sure that the Black Death--otherwise
the plague--will never invade Europe again. They have made up their
complacent minds that it was due to dirt and bad drainage. As a matter
of fact the plague had nothing to do with dirt or with drains: and there
is nothing to prevent its ravaging England tomorrow. But if you tell
people so, they won't believe you. They won't believe in anything that
isn't there at the particular moment when you are talking to them. As
with the plague, so with the terror. We could not believe that such a
thing could ever happen. Remnant said, truly enough, that whatever it
was, it was outside theory, outside our theory. Flatland cannot believe
in the cube or the sphere."

I agreed with all this. I added that sometimes the world was incapable
of seeing, much less believing, that which was before its own eyes.

"Look," I said, "at any eighteenth-century print of a Gothic cathedral.
You will find that the trained artistic eye even could not behold in any
true sense the building that was before it. I have seen an old print of
Peterborough Cathedral that looks as if the artist had drawn it from a
clumsy model, constructed of bent wire and children's bricks."

"Exactly; because Gothic was outside the æsthetic theory (and
therefore vision) of the time.

"You can't believe what you don't see: rather, you can't see what you
don't believe. It was so during the time of the terror. All this bears
out what Coleridge said as to the necessity of having the idea before
the facts could be of any service to one. Of course, he was right; mere
facts, without the correlating idea, are nothing and lead to no
conclusion. We had plenty of facts, but we could make nothing of them. I
went home at the tail of that dreadful procession from Treff Loyne in a
state of mind very near to madness. I heard one of the soldiers saying
to the other:

"'There's no rat that'll spike a man to the heart, Bill.' I don't know
why, but I felt that if I heard any more of such talk as that I should
go crazy; it seemed to me that the anchors of reason were parting. I
left the party and took the short cut across the fields into Porth. I
looked up Davies in the High Street and arranged with him that he should
take on any cases I might have that evening, and then I went home and
gave my man his instructions to send people on. And then I shut myself
up to think it all out--if I could.

"You must not suppose that my experiences of that afternoon had afforded
me the slightest illumination. Indeed, if it had not been that I had
seen poor old Griffith's body lying pierced in his own farmyard, I think
I should have been inclined to accept one of Secretan's hints, and to
believe that the whole family had fallen a victim to a collective
delusion or hallucination, and had shut themselves up and died of thirst
through sheer madness. I think there have been such cases. It's the
insanity of inhibition, the belief that you can't do something which you
are really perfectly capable of doing. But; I had seen the body of the
murdered man and the wound that had killed him.

"Did the manuscript left by Secretan give me no hint? Well, it seemed to
me to make confusion worse confounded. You have seen it; you know that
in certain places it is evidently mere delirium, the wanderings of a
dying mind. How was I to separate the facts from the phantasms--lacking
the key to the whole enigma. Delirium is often a sort of cloud-castle, a
sort of magnified and distorted shadow of actualities, but it is a very
difficult thing, almost an impossible thing, to reconstruct the real
house from the distortion of it, thrown on the clouds of the patient's
brain. You see, Secretan in writing that extraordinary document almost
insisted on the fact that he was not in his proper sense; that for days
he had been part asleep, part awake, part delirious. How was one to
judge his statement, to separate delirium from fact? In one thing he
stood confirmed; you remember he speaks of calling for help up the old
chimney of Treff Loyne; that did seem to fit in with the tales of a
hollow, moaning cry that had been heard upon the Allt: so far one could
take him as a recorder of actual experiences. And I looked in the old
cellars of the farm and found a frantic sort of rabbit-hole dug by one
of the pillars: again he was confirmed. But what was one to make of that
story of the chanting voice, and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and
the chapter out of some unknown minor prophet? When one has the key it
is easy enough to sort out the facts, or the hints of facts from the
delusions; but I hadn't the key on that September evening. I was
forgetting the 'tree' with lights and fires in it; that, I think,
impressed me more than anything with the feeling that Secretan's story
was, in the main, a true story. I had seen a like appearance down there
in my own garden; but what was it?

"Now, I was saying that, paradoxically, it is only by the inexplicable
things that life can be explained. We are apt to say, you know, 'a very
odd coincidence' and pass the matter by, as if there were no more to be
said, or as if that were the end of it. Well, I believe that the only
real path lies through the blind alleys."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, this is an instance of what I mean. I told you about Merritt, my
brother-in-law, and the capsizing of that boat, the Mary Ann. He had
seen, he said, signal lights flashing from one of the farms on the
coast, and he was quite certain that the two things were intimately
connected as cause and effect. I thought it all nonsense, and I was
wondering how I was going to shut him up when a big moth flew into the
room through that window, fluttered about, and succeeded in burning
itself alive in the lamp. That gave me my cue; I asked Merritt if he
knew why moths made for lamps or something of the kind: I thought it
would be a hint to him that I was sick of his flash-lights and his
half-baked theories. So it was--he looked sulky and held his
tongue.

"But a few minutes later I was called out by a man who had found his
little boy dead in a field near his cottage about an hour before. The
child was so still, they said, that a great moth had settled on his
forehead and only fluttered away when they lifted up the body. It was
absolutely illogical; but it was this odd 'coincidence' of the moth in
my lamp and the moth on the dead boy's forehead that first set me on the
track. I can't say that it guided me in any real sense; it was more like
a great flare of red paint on a wall: it rang up my attention, if I may
say so; it was a sort of shock like a bang on the big drum. No doubt
Merritt was talking great nonsense that evening so far as his particular
instance went; the flashes of light from the farm had nothing to do with
the wreck of the boat. But his general principle was sound; when you
hear a gun go off and see a man fall it is idle to talk of 'a mere
coincidence.' I think a very interesting book might be written on this
question: I would call it _A Grammar of Coincidence_.

"But as you will remember from having read my notes on the matter, I
was called in about ten days later to see a man named Cradock, who had
been found in a field near his farm quite dead. This also was at night.
His wife found him, and there were some very queer things in her story.
She said that the hedge of the field looked as if it were changed: she
began to be afraid that she had lost her way and got into the wrong
field. Then she said the hedge was lighted up as if there were a lot of
glow-worms in it, and when she peered over the stile there seemed to be
some kind of glimmering upon the ground, and then the glimmering melted
away, and she found her husband's body near where this light had been.
Now this man Cradock had been suffocated just as the little boy Roberts
had been suffocated, and as that man in the Midlands who took a short
cut one night had been suffocated. Then I remembered that poor Johnnie
Roberts had called out about 'something shiny' over the stile just
before he played truant. Then, on my part, I had to contribute the very
remarkable sight I witnessed here, as I looked down over the garden; the
appearance as of a spreading tree where I knew there was no such tree,
and then the shining and burning of lights and moving colors. Like the
poor child and Mrs. Cradock, I had seen something shiny, just as some
man in Stratfordshire had seen a dark cloud with points of fire in it
floating over the trees. And Mrs. Cradock thought that the shape of the
trees in the hedge had changed.

"My mind almost uttered the word that was wanted; but you see the
difficulties. This set of circumstances could not, so far as I could
see, have any relation with the other circumstances of the terror. How
could I connect all this with the bombs and machine-guns of the
Midlands, with the armed men who kept watch about the munition shops by
day and night. Then there was the long list of people here who had
fallen over the cliffs or into the quarry; there were the cases of the
men stifled in the slime of the marshes; there was the affair of the
family murdered in front of their cottage on the Highway; there was the
capsized Mary Ann. I could not see any thread that could bring all these
incidents together; they seemed to me to be hopelessly disconnected. I
could not make out any relation between the agency that beat out the
brains of the Williamses and the agency that overturned the boat. I
don't know, but I think it's very likely if nothing more had happened
that I should have put the whole thing down as an unaccountable series
of crimes and accidents which chanced to occur in Meirion in the summer
of 1915. Well, of course, that would have been an impossible standpoint
in view of certain incidents in Merritt's story. Still, if one is
confronted by the insoluble, one lets it go at last. If the mystery is
inexplicable, one pretends that there isn't any mystery. That is the
justification for what is called free thinking.

"Then came that extraordinary business of Treff Loyne. I couldn't put
that on one side. I couldn't pretend that nothing strange or out of the
way had happened. There was no getting over it or getting round it. I
had seen with my eyes that there was a mystery, and a most horrible
mystery. I have forgotten my logic, but one might say that Treff Loyne
demonstrated the existence of a mystery in the figure of death.

"I took it all home, as I have told you, and sat down for the evening
before it. It appalled me, not only by its horror, but here again by the
discrepancy between its terms. Old Griffith, so far as I could judge,
had been killed by the thrust of a pike or perhaps of a sharpened stake:
how could one relate this to the burning tree that had floated over the
ridge of the barn. It was as if I said to you: 'Here is a man drowned,
and here is a man burned alive: show that each death was caused by the
same agency!' And the moment that I left this particular case of Treff
Loyne, and tried to get some light on it from other instances of the
terror, I would think of the man in the Midlands who heard the feet of a
thousand men rustling in the wood, and their voices as if dead men sat
up in their bones and talked. And then I would say to myself: 'And how
about that boat overturned in a calm sea?' There seemed no end to it, no
hope of any solution.

"It was, I believe, a sudden leap of the mind that liberated me from the
tangle. It was quite beyond logic. I went back to that evening when
Merritt was boring me with his flash-lights, to the moth in the candle,
and to the moth on the forehead of poor Johnnie Roberts. There was no
sense in it; but I suddenly determined that the child and Joseph Cradock
the farmer, and that unnamed Stratfordshire man, all found at night, all
asphyxiated, had been choked by vast swarms of moths. I don't pretend
even now that this is demonstrated, but I'm sure it's true.

"Now suppose you encounter a swarm of these creatures in the dark.
Suppose the smaller ones fly up your nostrils. You will gasp for breath
and open your mouth. Then, suppose some hundreds of them fly into your
mouth, into your gullet, into your windpipe, what will happen to you?
You will be dead in a very short time, choked, asphyxiated."

"But the moths would be dead too. They would be found in the bodies."

"The moths? Do you know that it is extremely difficult to kill a moth
with cyanide of potassium? Take a frog, kill it, open its stomach. There
you will find its dinner of moths and small beetles, and the 'dinner'
will shake itself and walk off cheerily to resume an entirely active
existence. No; that is no difficulty.

"Well, now I came to this. I was shutting out all the other cases. I was
confining myself to those that came under the one formula. I got to the
assumption or conclusion, whichever you like, that certain people had
been asphyxiated by the action of moths. I had accounted for that
extraordinary appearance of burning or colored lights that I had
witnessed myself, when I saw the growth of that strange tree in my
garden. That was clearly the cloud with points of fire in it that the
Stratfordshire man took for a new and terrible kind of poison gas, that
was the shiny something that poor little Johnnie Roberts had seen over
the stile, that was the glimmering light that had led Mrs. Cradock to
her husband's dead body, that was the assemblage of terrible eyes that
had watched over Treff Loyne by night. Once on the right track I
understood all this, for coming into this room in the dark, I have been
amazed by the wonderful burning and the strange fiery colours of the
eyes of a single moth, as it crept up the pane of glass, outside.
Imagine the effect of myriads of such eyes, of the movement of these
lights and fires in a vast swarm of moths, each insect being in constant
motion while it kept its place in the mass: I felt that all this was
clear and certain.

"Then the next step. Of course, we know nothing really about moths;
rather, we know nothing of moth reality. For all I know there may be
hundreds of books which treat of moth and nothing but moth. But these
are scientific books, and science only deals with surfaces; it has
nothing to do with realities--it is impertinent if it attempts to
do with realities. To take a very minor matter, we don't even know why
the moth desires the flame. But we do know what the moth does not do; it
does not gather itself into swarms with the object of destroying human
life. But here, by the hypothesis, were cases in which the moth had done
this very thing; the moth race had entered, it seemed, into a malignant
conspiracy against the human race. It was quite impossible, no
doubt--that is to say, it had never happened before--but I
could see no escape from this conclusion.

"These insects, then, were definitely hostile to man; and then I
stopped, for I could not see the next step, obvious though it seems to
me now. I believe that the soldiers' scraps of talk on the way to Treff
Loyne and back flung the next plank over the gulf. They had spoken of
'rat-poison,' of no rat being able to spike a man through the heart; and
then, suddenly, I saw my way clear. If the moths were infected with
hatred of men, and possessed the design and the power of combining
against him, why not suppose this hatred, this design, this power shared
by other non-human creatures?

"The secret of the terror might be condensed into a sentence: the
animals had revolted against men.

"Now, the puzzle became easy enough: one had only to classify. Take the
cases of the people who met their deaths by falling over cliffs or over
the edge of quarries. We think of sheep as timid creatures, who always
ran away. But suppose sheep that don't run away: and, after all, in
reason why should they run away? Quarry or no quarry, cliff or no cliff:
what would happen to you if a hundred sheep ran after you instead of
running from you? There would be no help for it; they would have you
down and beat you to death or stifle you. Then suppose man, woman, or
child near a cliff's edge or a quarry-side, and a sudden rush of sheep.
Clearly there is no help; there is nothing for it but to go over. There
can be no doubt that that is what happened in all these cases.

"And again; you know the country and you know how a herd of cattle will
sometimes pursue people through the fields in a solemn, stolid sort of
way. They behave as if they wanted to close in on you. Townspeople
sometimes get frightened and scream and run; you or I would take no
notice, or at the utmost, wave our sticks at the herd, which will stop
dead or lumber off. But suppose they don't lumber off. The mildest old
cow, remember, is stronger than any man. What can one man or half a
dozen men do against half a hundred of these beasts no longer restrained
by that mysterious inhibition, which has made for ages the strong the
humble slaves of the weak? But if you are botanizing in the marsh, like
that poor fellow who was staying at Porth, and forty or fifty young
cattle gradually close round you, and refuse to move when you shout and
wave your stick, but get closer and closer instead, and get you into the
slime. Again, where is your help? If you haven't got an automatic
pistol, you must go down and stay down, while the beasts lie quietly on
you for five minutes. It was a quicker death for poor Griffith of Treff
Loyne--one of his own beasts gored him to death with one sharp
thrust of its horn into his heart. And from that morning those within
the house were closely besieged by their own cattle and horses and
sheep: and when those unhappy people within opened a window to call for
help or to catch a few drops of rain water to relieve their burning
thirst, the cloud waited for them with its myriad eyes of fire. Can you
wonder that Secretan's statement reads in places like mania? You
perceive the horrible position of those people in Treff Loyne, not only
did they see death advancing on them, but advancing with incredible
steps, as if one were to die not only in nightmare but by nightmare.

"But no one in his wildest, most fiery dreams had ever imagined such a
fate. I am not astonished that Secretan at one moment suspected the
evidence of his own senses, at another surmised that the world's end had
come."

"And how about the Williamses who were murdered on the Highway near
here?"

"The horses were the murderers; the horses that afterwards stampeded the
camp below. By some means which is still obscure to me they lured that
family into the road and beat their brains out; their shod hoofs were
the instruments of execution. And, as for the Mary Ann, the boat that
was capsized, I have no doubt that it was overturned by a sudden rush of
the porpoises that were gambolling about in the water of Larnac Bay. A
porpoise is a heavy beast--half a dozen of them could easily upset
a light rowing-boat. The munition works? Their enemy was rats. I believe
that it has been calculated that in greater London the number of rats is
about equal to the number of human beings, that is, there are about
seven millions of them. The proportion would be about the same in all
the great centres of population; and the rat, moreover, is, on occasion,
migratory in its habits. You can understand now that story of the
Semiramis, beating about the mouth of the Thames, and at last cast away
by Arcachon, her only crew dry heaps of bones. The rat is an expert
boarder of ships. And so one can understand the tale told by the
frightened man who took the path by the wood that led up from the new
munition works. He thought he heard a thousand men treading softly
through the wood and chattering to one another in some horrible tongue;
what he did hear was the marshalling of an army of rats--their
array before the battle.

"And conceive the terror of such an attack. Even one rat in a fury is
said to be an ugly customer to meet; conceive then, the irruption of
these terrible, swarming myriads, rushing upon the helpless, unprepared,
astonished workers in the munition shops."

                               * * *

There can be no doubt, I think, that Dr. Lewis was entirely justified
in these extraordinary conclusions. As I say, I had arrived at pretty
much the same end, by different ways; but this rather as to the general
situation, while Lewis had made his own particular study of those
circumstances of the terror that were within his immediate purview, as a
physician in large practice in the southern part of Meirion. Of some of
the cases which he reviewed he had, no doubt, no immediate or first-hand
knowledge; but he judged these instances by their similarity to the
facts which had come under his personal notice. He spoke of the affairs
of the quarry at Llanfihangel on the analogy of the people who were
found dead at the bottom of the cliffs near Porth, and he was no doubt
justified in doing so. He told me that, thinking the whole matter over,
he was hardly more astonished by the terror in itself than by the
strange way in which he had arrived at his conclusions.

"You know," he said, "those certain evidences of animal malevolence
which we knew of, the bees that stung the child to death, the trusted
sheep-dog's turning savage, and so forth. Well, I got no light whatever
from all this; it suggested nothing to me--simply because I had not
got that 'idea' which Coleridge rightly holds necessary in all inquiry;
facts qua facts, as we said, mean nothing and, come to nothing. You do
not believe, therefore you cannot see.

"And then, when the truth at last appeared it was through the whimsical
'coincidence,' as we call such signs, of the moth in my lamp and the
moth on the dead child's forehead. This, I think, is very
extraordinary."

"And there seems to have been one beast that remained faithful: the dog
at Treff Loyne. That is strange."

"That remains a mystery."

It would not be wise, even now, to describe too closely the terrible
scenes that were to be seen in the munition areas of the north and the
Midlands during the black months of the terror. Out of the factories
issued at black midnight the shrouded dead in their coffins, and their
very kinsfolk did not know how they had come by their deaths. All the
towns were full of houses of mourning, were full of dark and terrible
rumours; incredible, as the incredible reality. There were things done
and suffered that perhaps never will be brought to light, memories and
secret traditions of these things will be whispered in families,
delivered from father to son, growing wilder with the passage of the
years, but never growing wilder than the truth.

It is enough to say that the cause of the Allies was for awhile in
deadly peril. The men at the front called in their extremity for guns
and shells. No one told them what was happening in the places where
these munitions were made.

At first the position was nothing less than desperate; men in high
places were almost ready to cry mercy to the enemy. But, after the first
panic, measures were taken such as those described by Merritt in his
account of the matter. The workers were armed with special weapons,
guards were mounted, machine-guns were placed in position, bombs and
liquid flame were ready against the obscene hordes of the enemy, and the
"burning clouds" found a fire fiercer than their own. Many deaths
occurred amongst the airmen; but they, too, were given special guns,
arms that scattered shot broadcast, and so drove away the dark flights
that threatened the airplanes.

And, then, in the winter of 1915-16, the terror ended suddenly as it had
begun. Once more a sheep was a frightened beast that ran instinctively
from a little child; the cattle were again solemn, stupid creatures,
void of harm; the spirit and the convention of malignant design passed
out of the hearts of all the animals. The chains that they had cast off
for a while were thrown again about them.

And, finally, there comes the inevitable "why?" Why did the beasts
who had been humbly and patiently subject to man, or affrighted by his
presence, suddenly know their strength and learn how to league together,
and declare bitter war against their ancient master? It is a most
difficult and obscure question. I give what explanation I have to give
with very great diffidence, and an eminent disposition to be corrected,
if a clearer light can be found.

Some friends of mine, for whose judgment I have very great respect, are
inclined to think that there was a certain contagion of hate. They hold
that the fury of the whole world at war, the great passion of death that
seems driving all humanity to destruction, infected at last these lower
creatures, and in place of their native instinct of submission gave them
rage and wrath and ravening.

This may be the explanation. I cannot say that it is not so, because I
do not profess to understand the working of the universe. But I confess
that the theory strikes me as fanciful.

There may be a contagion of hate as there is a contagion of smallpox; I
do not know, but I hardly believe it.

In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, the source of the great revolt
of the beasts is to be sought in a much subtler region of inquiry. I
believe that the subjects revolted because the king abdicated. Man has
dominated the beasts throughout the ages, the spiritual has reigned over
the rational through the peculiar quality and grace of spirituality that
men possess, that makes a man to be that which he is. And when he
maintained this power and grace, I think it is pretty clear that between
him and the animals there was a certain treaty and alliance. There was
supremacy on the one hand, and submission on the other; but at the same
time there was between the two that cordiality which exists between
lords and subjects in a well-organized state. I know a socialist who
maintains that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales give a picture of true
democracy. I do not know about that, but I see that knight and miller
were able to get on quite pleasantly together, just because the knight
knew that he was a knight and the miller knew that he was a miller. If
the knight had had conscientious objections to his knightly grade, while
the miller saw no reason why he should not be a knight, I am sure that
their intercourse would have been difficult, unpleasant, and perhaps
murderous.

So with man. I believe in the strength and truth of tradition. A learned
man said to me a few weeks ago: "When I have to choose between the
evidence of tradition and the evidence of a document, I always believe
the evidence of tradition. Documents may be falsified, and often are
falsified: tradition is never falsified." This is true; and, therefore,
I think, one may put trust in the vast body of folk-lore which asserts
that there was once a worthy and friendly alliance between man and the
beasts. Our popular tale of Dick Whittington and his cat no doubt
represents the adaptation of a very ancient legend to a comparatively
modern personage, but we may go back into the ages and find the popular
tradition asserting that not only are the animals the subjects, but also
the friends of man, All that was in virtue of that singular spiritual
element in man which the rational animals do not possess. "Spiritual"
does not mean "respectable," it does not even mean "moral," it does not
mean "good" in the ordinary acceptation of the word. It signifies the
royal prerogative of man, differentiating him from the beasts.

For long ages he has been putting off this royal robe, he has been
wiping the balm of consecration from his own breast. He has declared,
again and again, that he is not spiritual, but rational, that is, the
equal of the beasts over whom he was once sovereign. He has vowed that
he is not Orpheus but Caliban.

But the beasts also have within them something which corresponds to
the spiritual quality in men--we are content to call it instinct.
They perceived that the throne was vacant--not even friendship was
possible between them and the self-deposed monarch. If he were not king
he was a sham, an imposter, a thing to be destroyed.

Hence, I think, the terror. They have risen once--they may rise
again.


THE END


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