Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 84

Several causes — Frogs and eftes — Gloom and twilight — What should I do? — ‘Our Father’ — Fellow-men — What a mercy! — Almost calm — Fresh store — History of Saul — Pitch dark.

Heaviness had suddenly come over me, heaviness of heart, and of body also. I had accomplished the task which I had imposed upon myself, and now that nothing more remained to do, my energies suddenly deserted me, and I felt without strength, and without hope. Several causes, perhaps, co-operated to bring about the state in which I then felt myself. It is not improbable that my energies had been overstrained during the work the progress of which I have attempted to describe; and every one is aware that the results of overstrained energies are feebleness and lassitude — want of nourishment might likewise have something to do with it. During my sojourn in the dingle, my food had been of the simplest and most unsatisfying description, by no means calculated to support the exertion which the labour I had been engaged upon required; it had consisted of coarse oaten cakes and hard cheese, and for beverage I had been indebted to a neighbouring pit, in which, in the heat of the day, I frequently saw, not golden or silver fish, but frogs and eftes swimming about. I am, however, inclined to believe that Mrs. Herne’s cake had quite as much to do with the matter as insufficient nourishment. I had never entirely recovered from the effects of its poison, but had occasionally, especially at night, been visited by a grinding pain in the stomach, and my whole body had been suffused with cold sweat; and indeed these memorials of the drow have never entirely disappeared — even at the present time they display themselves in my system, especially after much fatigue of body and excitement of mind. So there I sat in the dingle upon my stone, nerveless and hopeless, by whatever cause or causes that state had been produced — there I sat with my head leaning upon my hand, and so I continued a long, long time. At last I lifted my head from my hand, and began to cast anxious, unquiet looks about the dingle — the entire hollow was now enveloped in deep shade — I cast my eyes up; there was a golden gleam on the tops of the trees which grew towards the upper parts of the dingle; but lower down all was gloom and twilight — yet, when I first sat down on my stone, the sun was right above the dingle, illuminating all its depths by the rays which it cast perpendicularly down — so I must have sat a long, long time upon my stone. And now, once more, I rested my head upon my hand, but almost instantly lifted it again in a kind of fear, and began looking at the objects before me — the forge, the tools, the branches of the trees, endeavouring to follow their rows, till they were lost in the darkness of the dingle; and now I found my right hand grasping convulsively the three fore-fingers of the left, first collectively, and then successively, wringing them till the joints cracked; then I became quiet, but not for long.

Suddenly I started up, and could scarcely repress the shriek which was rising to my lips. Was it possible? Yes, all too certain; the evil one was upon me; the inscrutable horror which I had felt in my boyhood had once more taken possession of me. I had thought that it had forsaken me — that it would never visit me again; that I had outgrown it; that I might almost bid defiance to it; and I had even begun to think of it without horror, as we are in the habit of doing of horrors of which we conceive we run no danger; and lo! when least thought of, it had seized me again. Every moment I felt it gathering force, and making me more wholly its own. What should I do? — resist, of course; and I did resist. I grasped, I tore, and strove to fling it from me; but of what avail were my efforts? I could only have got rid of it by getting rid of myself: it was a part of myself, or rather it was all myself. I rushed amongst the trees, and struck at them with my bare fists, and dashed my head against them, but I felt no pain. How could I feel pain with that horror upon me? And then I flung myself on the ground, gnawed the earth, and swallowed it; and then I looked round; it was almost total darkness in the dingle, and the darkness added to my horror. I could no longer stay there; up I rose from the ground, and attempted to escape. At the bottom of the winding path which led up the acclivity I fell over something which was lying on the ground; the something moved, and gave a kind of whine. It was my little horse, which had made that place its lair; my little horse; my only companion and friend in that now awful solitude. I reached the mouth of the dingle; the sun was just sinking in the far west behind me, the fields were flooded with his last gleams. How beautiful everything looked in the last gleams of the sun! I felt relieved for a moment; I was no longer in the horrid dingle. In another minute the sun was gone, and a big cloud occupied the place where he had been: in a little time it was almost as dark as it had previously been in the open part of the dingle. My horror increased; what was I to do? — it was of no use fighting against the horror — that I saw; the more I fought against it, the stronger it became. What should I do: say my prayers? Ah! why not? So I knelt down under the hedge, and said, ‘Our Father’; but that was of no use; and now I could no longer repress cries — the horror was too great to be borne. What should I do? run to the nearest town or village, and request the assistance of my fellow-men? No! that I was ashamed to do; notwithstanding the horror was upon me, I was ashamed to do that. I knew they would consider me a maniac, if I went screaming amongst them; and I did not wish to be considered a maniac. Moreover, I knew that I was not a maniac, for I possessed all my reasoning powers, only the horror was upon me — the screaming horror! But how were indifferent people to distinguish between madness and the screaming horror? So I thought and reasoned; and at last I determined not to go amongst my fellow-men, whatever the result might be. I went to the mouth of the dingle, and there, placing myself on my knees, I again said the Lord’s Prayer; but it was of no use — praying seemed to have no effect over the horror; the unutterable fear appeared rather to increase than diminish, and I again uttered wild cries, so loud that I was apprehensive they would be heard by some chance passenger on the neighbouring road; I therefore went deeper into the dingle. I sat down with my back against a thorn bush; the thorns entered my flesh, and when I felt them, I pressed harder against the bush; I thought the pain of the flesh might in some degree counteract the mental agony; presently I felt them no longer — the power of the mental horror was so great that it was impossible, with that upon me, to feel any pain from the thorns. I continued in this posture a long time, undergoing what I cannot describe, and would not attempt if I were able. Several times I was on the point of starting up and rushing anywhere; but I restrained myself, for I knew I could not escape from myself, so why should I not remain in the dingle? So I thought and said to myself, for my reasoning powers were still uninjured. At last it appeared to me that the horror was not so strong, not quite so strong, upon me. Was it possible that it was relaxing its grasp, releasing its prey? Oh what a mercy! but it could not be; and yet — I looked up to heaven, and clasped my hands, and said, ‘Our Father.’ I said no more — I was too agitated; and now I was almost sure that the horror had done its worst.

After a little time I arose, and staggered down yet farther into the dingle. I again found my little horse on the same spot as before. I put my hand to his mouth — he licked my hand. I flung myself down by him, and put my arms round his neck; the creature whinnied, and appeared to sympathise with me. What a comfort to have any one, even a dumb brute, to sympathise with me at such a moment! I clung to my little horse, as if for safety and protection. I laid my head on his neck, and felt almost calm. Presently the fear returned, but not so wild as before; it subsided, came again, again subsided; then drowsiness came over me, and at last I fell asleep, my head supported on the neck of the little horse. I awoke; it was dark, dark night — not a star was to be seen — but I felt no fear, the horror had left me. I arose from the side of the little horse, and went into my tent, lay down, and again went to sleep.

I awoke in the morning weak and sore, and shuddering at the remembrance of what I had gone through on the preceding day; the sun was shining brightly, but it had not yet risen high enough to show its head above the trees which fenced the eastern side of the dingle, on which account the dingle was wet and dank from the dews of the night. I kindled my fire, and, after sitting by it for some time to warm my frame, I took some of the coarse food which I have already mentioned; notwithstanding my late struggle, and the coarseness of the fare, I ate with appetite. My provisions had by this time been very much diminished, and I saw that it would be speedily necessary, in the event of my continuing to reside in the dingle, to lay in a fresh store. After my meal, I went to the pit and filled a can with water, which I brought to the dingle, and then again sat down on my stone. I considered what I should next do: it was necessary to do something, or my life in this solitude would be insupportable. What should I do? rouse up my forge and fashion a horse-shoe? But I wanted nerve and heart for such an employment; moreover, I had no motive for fatiguing myself in this manner; my own horse was shod, no other was at hand, and it is hard to work for the sake of working. What should I do? read? Yes, but I had no other book than the Bible which the Welsh Methodist had given me. Well, why not read the Bible? I was once fond of reading the Bible; ay, but those days were long gone by. However, I did not see what else I could well do on the present occasion — so I determined to read the Bible — it was in Welsh; at any rate it might amuse me. So I took the Bible out of the sack, in which it was lying in the cart, and began to read at the place where I chanced to open it. I opened it at that part where the history of Saul commences. At first I read with indifference, but after some time my attention was riveted, and no wonder, I had come to the visitations of Saul — those dark moments of his, when he did and said such unaccountable things; it almost appeared to me that I was reading of myself; I, too, had my visitations, dark as ever his were. Oh, how I sympathised with Saul, the tall dark man! I had read his life before, but it had made no impression on me; it had never occurred to me that I was like him; but I now sympathised with Saul, for my own dark hour was but recently passed, and, perhaps, would soon return again; the dark hour came frequently on Saul.

Time wore away; I finished the book of Saul, and, closing the volume, returned it to its place. I then returned to my seat on the stone, and thought of what I had read, and what I had lately undergone. All at once I thought I felt well-known sensations, a cramping of the breast, and a tingling of the soles of the feet; they were what I had felt on the preceding day — they were the forerunners of the fear. I sat motionless on my stone, the sensations passed away, and the fear came not. Darkness was now coming again over the earth; the dingle was again in deep shade; I roused the fire with the breath of the bellows, and sat looking at the cheerful glow; it was cheering and comforting. My little horse came now and lay down on the ground beside the forge; I was not quite deserted. I again ate some of the coarse food, and drank plentifully of the water which I had fetched in the morning. I then put fresh fuel on the fire, and sat for a long time looking on the blaze; I then went into my tent.

I awoke, on my own calculation, about midnight — it was pitch dark, and there was much fear upon me.

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