The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson

V

The Thing in the Pit

“THIS HOUSE IS, as I have said before, surrounded by a huge estate, and wild and uncultivated gardens.

“Away at the back, distant some three hundred yards, is a dark, deep ravine — spoken of as the ‘Pit,’ by the peasantry. At the bottom, runs a sluggish stream, so overhung by trees, as scarcely to be seen from above.

“In passing, I must explain that this river has a subterranean origin, emerging, suddenly, at the East end of the ravine, and disappearing, as abruptly, beneath the cliffs that form its Western extremity.

“It was some months after my vision (if vision it were) of the great Plain, that my attention was particularly attracted to the Pit.

“I happened, one day, to be walking along its Southern edge, when, suddenly, several pieces of rock and shale were dislodged from the face of the cliff, immediately beneath me, and fell, with a sullen crash, through the trees. I heard them splash in the river, at the bottom; and then silence. I should not have given this incident more than a passing thought, had not Pepper, at once, begun to bark, savagely; nor would he be silent when I bade him, which is most unusual behaviour on his part.

“Feeling that there must be some one or something in the Pit, I went back to the house, quickly, for a stick. When I returned, Pepper had ceased his barks, and was growling and smelling, uneasily, along the top.

“Whistling to him, to follow me, I started to descend, cautiously. The depth, to the bottom of the Pit, must be about a hundred and fifty feet, and some time, as well as considerable care, was expended before we reached the bottom in safety.

“Once down, Pepper and I started to explore along the banks of the river. It was very dark there, due to the overhanging trees, and I moved warily, keeping my glance about me, and my stick ready.

“Pepper was quiet now, and kept close to me all the time. Thus, we searched right up one side of the river, without hearing or seeing anything. Then, we crossed over — by the simple method of jumping — and commenced to beat our way back through the under-brush.

“We had accomplished, perhaps, half the distance, when I heard, again, the sound of falling stones on the other side — the side from which we had just come. One large rock came thundering down through the tree-tops, struck the opposite bank, and bounded into the river, driving a great jet of water right over us. At this, Pepper gave out a deep growl; then stopped, and pricked up his ears. I listened, also.

“A second later, a loud, half-human, half-pig-like squeal sounded from among the trees, apparently about half-way up the South cliff. It was answered by a similar note from the bottom of the Pit. At this, Pepper gave a short, sharp bark, and, springing across the little river, disappeared into the bushes.

“Immediately afterwards, I heard his barks increase in depth and number, and, in between, there sounded a noise of confused jabbering. This ceased, and, in the succeeding silence, there rose a semi-human yell of agony. Almost immediately, Pepper gave a long-drawn howl of pain, and then the shrubs were violently agitated, and he came running out, with his tail down, and glancing, as he ran, over his shoulder. As he reached me, I saw that he was bleeding from what appeared to be a great claw wound in the side, that had almost laid bare his ribs.

“Seeing Pepper thus mutilated, a furious feeling of anger seized me, and, whirling my staff, I sprang across, and into the bushes from which Pepper had emerged. As I forced my way through, I thought I heard a sound of breathing. Next instant, I had burst into a little clear space, just in time to see something, livid white in colour, disappear among the bushes on the opposite side. With a shout, I ran towards it; but, though I struck and probed among the bushes with my stick, I neither saw nor heard anything further; and so returned to Pepper. There, after bathing his wound in the river, I bound my wetted handkerchief round his body; having done which, we retreated up the ravine and into the daylight again.

“On reaching the house, my sister inquired what had happened to Pepper, and I told her he had been fighting with a wild cat, of which I had heard there were several about.

“I felt it would be better not to tell her how it had really happened; though, to be sure, I scarcely knew, myself; but this I did know, that the thing I had seen run into the bushes, was no wild cat. It was much too big, and had, so far as I had observed, a skin like a hog’s, only of a dead, unhealthy white colour. And then — it had run upright, or nearly so, upon its hind feet, with a motion somewhat resembling that of a human being. This much, I had noticed in my brief glimpse, and, truth to tell, I felt a good deal of uneasiness, besides curiosity as I turned the matter over in my mind.

“It was in the morning that the above incident had occurred.

“Then, it would be after dinner, as I sat reading, that, happening to look up suddenly, I saw something peering in over the window-ledge the eyes and ears alone showing.

“ ‘A pig, by Jove!’ I said, and rose to my feet. Thus, I saw the thing more completely; but it was no pig — God alone knows what it was. It reminded me, vaguely, of the hideous Thing that had haunted the great arena. It had a grotesquely human mouth and jaw; but with no chin of which to speak. The nose was prolonged into a snout; this it was, that, with the little eyes and queer ears, gave it such an extraordinarily swine-like appearance. Of forehead there was little, and the whole face was of an unwholesome white colour.

“For, perhaps a minute, I stood looking at the thing, with an ever growing feeling of disgust, and some fear. The mouth kept jabbering, inanely, and once emitted a half-swinish grunt. I think it was the eyes that attracted me the most; they seemed to glow, at times, with a horribly human intelligence, and kept flickering away from my face, over the details of the room, as though my stare disturbed it.

“It appeared to be supporting itself, by two claw-like hands upon the window-sill. These claws, unlike the face, were of a clayey brown hue, and bore an indistinct resemblance to human hands, in that they had four fingers and a thumb; though these were webbed up to the first joint, much as are a duck’s. Nails it had also, but so long and powerful that they were more like the talons of an eagle than aught else.

“As I have said, before, I felt some fear; though almost of an impersonal kind. I may explain my feeling better by saying that it was more a sensation of abhorrence; such as one might expect to feel, if brought in contact with something superhumanly foul; something unholy — belonging to some hitherto undreamt of state of existence.

“I cannot say that I grasped these various details of the brute, at the time. I think they seemed to come back to me, afterwards, as though imprinted upon my brain. I imagined more than I saw, as I looked at the thing, and the material details grew upon me later.

“For, perhaps a minute, I stared at the creature; then, as my nerves steadied a little, I shook off the vague alarm that held me, and took a step towards the window. Even as I did so, the thing ducked and vanished. I rushed to the door, and looked round, hurriedly; but only the tangled bushes and shrubs met my gaze.

“I ran back into the house, and, getting my gun, sallied out to search through the gardens. As I went, I asked myself whether the thing I had just seen, was likely to be the same of which I had caught a glimpse in the morning. I inclined to think it was.

“I would have taken Pepper with me; but judged it better to give his wound a chance to heal. Besides, if the creature I had just seen, was, as I imagined, his antagonist of the morning, it was not likely that he would be of much use.

“I began my search, systematically. I was determined, if it were possible, to find and put an end to that swine-thing. This was, at least, a material Horror!

“At first, I searched, cautiously; with the thought of Pepper’s wound in my mind; but, as the hours passed, and not a sign of anything living, showed in the great, lonely gardens, I became less apprehensive. I felt almost as though I would welcome the sight of it. Anything seemed better than this silence, with the ever present feeling, that the creature might be lurking in every bush I passed. Later, I grew careless of danger, to the extent of plunging right through the bushes, probing with my gun-barrel as I went.

“At times, I shouted; but only the echoes answered back. I thought thus, perhaps to frighten or stir the creature to showing itself; but only succeeded in bringing my sister Mary out, to know what was the matter. I told her, that I had seen the wild cat that had wounded Pepper, and that I was trying to hunt it out of the bushes. She seemed only half satisfied, and went back into the house, with an expression of doubt upon her face. I wondered whether she had seen or guessed anything. For the rest of the afternoon, I prosecuted the search, anxiously. I felt that I should be unable to sleep, with that bestial thing haunting the shrubberies, and yet, when evening fell, I had seen nothing. Then, as I turned homewards, I heard a short, unintelligible noise, among the bushes to my right. Instantly, I turned, and, aiming quickly, fired in the direction of the sound. Immediately afterwards, I heard something scuttling away among the bushes. It moved rapidly, and, in a minute, had gone out of hearing. After a few steps, I ceased my pursuit, realising how futile it must be, in the fast gathering gloom; and so, with a curious feeling of depression, I entered the house.

“That night, after my sister had gone to bed, I went round to all the windows and doors on the ground floor; and saw to it, that they were securely fastened. This precaution was scarcely necessary as regards the windows, as all of those on the lower storey are strongly barred; but with the doors — of which there are five — it was wisely thought, as not one was locked.

“Having secured these, I went to my study; yet, somehow, for once, the place jarred upon me; it seemed so huge and echoey. For some time, I tried to read; but, at last, finding it impossible, I carried my book down to the kitchen, where a large fire was burning, and sat there.

“I dare say, I had read for a couple of hours, when, suddenly, I heard a sound that made me lower my book, and listen, intently. It was a noise of something rubbing and fumbling against the back door. Once the door creaked, loudly; as though force were being applied to it. During those few, short moments, I experienced an indescribable feeling of terror, such as I should have believed impossible. My hands shook; a cold sweat broke out on me, and I shivered, violently.

“Gradually, I calmed. The stealthy movements outside, had ceased.

“Then, for an hour, I sat, silent, and watchful. All at once, the feeling of fear took me again. I felt as I imagine an animal must, under the eye of a snake. Yet, now, I could hear nothing. Still, there was no doubting that some unexplained influence was at work.

“Gradually, imperceptibly almost, something stole on my ear — a sound, that resolved itself into a faint murmur. Quickly, it developed, and grew into a muffled, but hideous, chorus of bestial shrieks. It appeared to rise from the bowels of the earth.

“I heard a thud, and realised, in a dull, half comprehending way, that I had dropped my book. After that, I just sat; and thus the daylight found me, when it crept wanly in through the barred, high windows of the great kitchen.

“With the dawning light, the feeling of stupor and fear left me; and I came more into possession of my senses.

“Thereupon, I picked up my book, and crept to the door, to listen. Not a sound broke the chilly silence. For some minutes, I stood there; then, very gradually and cautiously, I drew back the bolt, and, opening the door, peeped out.

“My caution was unneeded. Nothing was to be seen, save the grey vista of dreary, tangled bushes and trees, extending to the distant plantation.

“With a shiver, I closed the door, and made my way, quietly, up to bed.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38