The Thing on the Doorstep, by H.P. Lovecraft

Chapter 5

The next two months were full of rumours. People spoke of seeing Derby more and more in his new energized state, and Asenath was scarcely ever in to her callers. I had only one visit from Edward, when he called briefly in Asenath’s car — duly reclaimed from wherever he had left it in Maine — to get some books he had lent me. He was in his new state, and paused only long enough for some evasively polite remarks. It was plain that he had nothing to discuss with me when in this condition — and I noticed that he did not even trouble to give the old three-and-two signal when ringing the doorbell. As on that evening in the car, I felt a faint, infinitely deep horror which I could not explain; so that his swift departure was a prodigious relief.

In mid-September Derby was away for a week, and some of the decadent college set talked knowingly of the matter — hinting at a meeting with a notorious cult-leader, lately expelled from England, who had established headquarters in New York. For my part I could not get that strange ride from Maine out of my head. The transformation I had witnessed had affected me profoundly, and I caught myself again and again trying to account for the thing — and for the extreme horror it had inspired in me.

But the oddest rumours were those about the sobbing in the old Crowninshield house. The voice seemed to be a woman’s, and some of the younger people thought it sounded like Asenath’s. It was heard only at rare intervals, and would sometimes be choked off as if by force. There was talk of an investigation, but this was dispelled one day when Asenath appeared in the streets and chatted in a sprightly way with a large number of acquaintances — apologizing for her recent absence and speaking incidentally about the nervous breakdown and hysteria of a guest from Boston. The guest was never seen, but Asenath’s appearance left nothing to be said. And then someone complicated matters by whispering that the sobs had once or twice been in a man’s voice.

One evening in mid-October, I heard the familiar three-and-two ring at the front door. Answering it myself, I found Edward on the steps, and saw in a moment that his personality was the old one which I had not encountered since the day of his ravings on that terrible ride from Chesuncook. His face was twitching with a mixture of odd emotions in which fear and triumph seemed to share dominion, and he looked furtively over his shoulder as I closed the door behind him.

Following me clumsily to the study, he asked for some whiskey to steady his nerves. I forbore to question him, but waited till he felt like beginning whatever he wanted to say. At length he ventured some information in a choking voice.

“Asenath has gone, Dan. We had a long talk last night while the servants were out, and I made her promise to stop preying on me. Of course I had certain — certain occult defences I never told you about. She had to give in, but got frightfully angry. Just packed up and started for New York — walked right out to catch the eight-twenty in to Boston. I suppose people will talk, but I can’t help that. You needn’t mention that there was any trouble — just say she’s gone on a long research trip.

“She’s probably going to stay with one of her horrible groups of devotees. I hope she’ll go west and get a divorce — anyhow, I’ve made her promise to keep away and let me alone. It was horrible, Dan — she was stealing my body — crowding me out — making a prisoner of me. I lay low and pretended to let her do it, but I had to be on the watch. I could plan if I was careful, for she can’t read my mind literally, or in detail. All she could read of my planning was a sort of general mood of rebellion — and she always thought I was helpless. Never thought I could get the best of her . . . but I had a spell or two that worked.”

Derby looked over his shoulder and took some more whiskey.

“I paid off those damned servants this morning when they got back. They were ugly about it, and asked questions, but they went. They’re her kin — Innsmouth people — and were hand and glove with her. I hope they’ll let me alone — I didn’t like the way they laughed when they walked away. I must get as many of Dad’s old servants again as I can. I’ll move back home now.

“I suppose you think I’m crazy, Dan — but Arkham history ought to hint at things that back up what I’ve told you — and what I’m going to tell you. You’ve seen one of the changes, too — in your car after I told you about Asenath that day coming home from Maine. That was when she got me — drove me out of my body. The last thing I remember was when I was all worked up trying to tell you what that she-devil is. Then she got me, and in a flash I was back at the house — in the library where those damned servants had me locked up — and in that cursed fiend’s body that isn’t even human . . . You know it was she you must have ridden home with — that preying wolf in my body — You ought to have known the difference!”

I shuddered as Derby paused. Surely, I had known the difference — yet could I accept an explanation as insane as this? But my distracted caller was growing even wilder.

“I had to save myself — I had to, Dan! She’d have got me for good at Hallowmass — they hold a Sabbat up there beyond Chesuncook, and the sacrifice would have clinched things. She’d have got me for good — she’d have been I, and I’d have been she — forever — too late — My body’d have been hers for good — She’d have been a man, and fully human, just as she wanted to be — I suppose she’d have put me out of the way — killed her own ex-body with me in it, damn her, just as she did before — just as she did, or it did before —” Edward’s face was now atrociously distorted, and he bent it uncomfortably close to mine as his voice fell to a whisper.

“You must know what I hinted in the car — that she isn’t Asenath at all, but really old Ephraim himself. I suspected it a year and a half ago, and I know it now. Her handwriting shows it when she goes off guard — sometimes she jots down a note in writing that’s just like her father’s manuscripts, stroke for stroke — and sometimes she says things that nobody but an old man like Ephraim could say. He changed forms with her when he felt death coming — she was the only one he could find with the right kind of brain and a weak enough will — he got her body permanently, just as she almost got mine, and then poisoned the old body he’d put her into. Haven’t you seen old Ephraim’s soul glaring out of that she-devil’s eyes dozens of times — and out of mine when she has control of my body?”

The whisperer was panting, and paused for breath. I said nothing; and when he resumed his voice was nearer normal. This, I reflected, was a case for the asylum, but I would not be the one to send him there. Perhaps time and freedom from Asenath would do its work. I could see that he would never wish to dabble in morbid occultism again.

“I’ll tell you more later — I must have a long rest now. I’ll tell you something of the forbidden horrors she led me into — something of the age-old horrors that even now are festering in out-of-the-way corners with a few monstrous priests to keep them alive. Some people know things about the universe that nobody ought to know, and can do things that nobody ought to be able to do. I’ve been in it up to my neck, but that’s the end. Today I’d burn that damned Necronomicon and all the rest if I were librarian at Miskatonic.

“But she can’t get me now. I must get out of that accursed house as soon as I can, and settle down at home. You’ll help me, I know, if I need help. Those devilish servants, you know — and if people should get too inquisitive about Asenath. You see, I can’t give them her address . . . Then there are certain groups of searchers — certain cults, you know — that might misunderstand our breaking up . . . some of them have damnably curious ideas and methods. I know you’ll stand by me if anything happens — even if I have to tell you a lot that will shock you . . . ”

I had Edward stay and sleep in one of the guest-chambers that night, and in the morning he seemed calmer. We discussed certain possible arrangements for his moving back into the Derby mansion, and I hoped he would lose no time in making the change. He did not call the next evening, but I saw him frequently during the ensuing weeks. We talked as little as possible about strange and unpleasant things, but discussed the renovation of the old Derby house, and the travels which Edward promised to take with my son and me the following summer.

Of Asenath we said almost nothing, for I saw that the subject was a peculiarly disturbing one. Gossip, of course, was rife; but that was no novelty in connection with the strange menage at the old Crowninshield house. One thing I did not like was what Derby’s banker let fall in an over-expansive mood at the Miskatonic Club — about the cheques Edward was sending regularly to a Moses and Abigail Sargent and a Eunice Babson in Innsmouth. That looked as if those evil-faced servants were extorting some kind of tribute from him — yet he had not mentioned the matter to me.

I wished that the summer — and my son’s Harvard vacation — would come, so that we could get Edward to Europe. He was not, I soon saw, mending as rapidly as I had hoped he would; for there was something a bit hysterical in his occasional exhilaration, while his moods of fright and depression were altogether too frequent. The old Derby house was ready by December, yet Edward constantly put off moving. Though he hated and seemed to fear the Crowninshield place, he was at the same time queerly enslaved by it. He could not seem to begin dismantling things, and invented every kind of excuse to postpone action. When I pointed this out to him he appeared unaccountably frightened. His father’s old butler — who was there with other reacquired servants — told me one day that Edward’s occasional prowlings about the house, and especially down cellar, looked odd and unwholesome to him. I wondered if Asenath had been writing disturbing letters, but the butler said there was no mail which could have come from her.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49