“I have just been round the garden,” said Vaughan one morning. “I have been counting those infernal eyes, and I find there are fourteen of them. For heaven’s sake, Dyson, tell me what the meaning of it all is.”
“I should be very sorry to attempt to do so. I may have guessed this or that, but I always make it a principle to keep my guesses to myself. Besides, it is really not worth while anticipating events; you will remember my telling you that we had six days of inaction before us? Well, this is the sixth day, and the last of idleness. To-night, I propose we take a stroll.”
“A stroll! Is that all the action you mean to take?”
“Well, it may show you some very curious things. To be plain, I want you to start with me at nine o’clock this evening for the hills. We may have to be out all night, so you had better wrap up well, and bring some of that brandy.”
“Is it a joke?” asked Vaughan, who was bewildered with strange events and strange surmises.
“No, I don’t think there is much joke in it. Unless I am much mistaken we shall find a very serious explanation of the puzzle. You will come with me, I am sure?”
“Very good. Which way do you want to go?”
“By the path you told me of; the path Annie Trevor is supposed to have taken.”
Vaughan looked white at the mention of the girl’s name.
“I did not think you were on that track,” he said. “I thought it was the affair of those devices in flint and of the eyes on the wall that you were engaged on. It’s no good saying any more, but I will go with you.”
At a quarter to nine that evening the two men set out, taking the path through the wood, and up the hill-side. It was a dark and heavy night, the sky was thick with clouds, and the valley full of mist, and all the way they seemed to walk in a world of shadow and gloom, hardly speaking, and afraid to break the haunted silence. They came out at last on the steep hill-side, and instead of the oppression of the wood there was the long, dim sweep of the turf, and higher, the fantastic limestone rocks hinted horror through the darkness, and the wind sighed as it passed across the mountain to the sea, and in its passage beat chill about their hearts. They seemed to walk on and on for hours, and the dim outline of the hill still stretched before them, and the haggard rocks still loomed through the darkness, when suddenly Dyson whispered, drawing his breath quickly, and coming close to his companion:
“Here,” he said, “we will lie down. I do not think there is anything yet.”
“I know the place,” said Vaughan, after a moment. “I have often been by in the daytime. The country people are afraid to come here, I believe; it is supposed to be a fairies’ castle, or something of the kind. But why on earth have we come here?”
“Speak a little lower,” said Dyson. “It might not do us any good if we are overheard.”
“Overheard here! There is not a soul within three miles of us.”
“Possibly not; indeed, I should say certainly not. But there might be a body somewhat nearer.”
“I don’t understand you in the least,” said Vaughan, whispering to humour Dyson, “but why have we come here?”
“Well, you see this hollow before us is the Bowl. I think we had better not talk even in whispers.”
They lay full length upon the turf; the rock between their faces and the Bowl, and now and again, Dyson, slouching his dark, soft hat over his forehead, put out the glint of an eye, and in a moment drew back, not daring to take a prolonged view. Again he laid an ear to the ground and listened, and the hours went by, and the darkness seemed to blacken, and the faint sigh of the wind was the only sound.
Vaughan grew impatient with this heaviness of silence, this watching for indefinite terror; for to him there was no shape or form of apprehension, and he began to think the whole vigil a dreary farce.
“How much longer is this to last?” he whispered to Dyson, and Dyson who had been holding his breath in the agony of attention put his mouth to Vaughan’s ear and said:
“Will you listen?” with pauses between each syllable, and in the voice with which the priest pronounces the awful words.
Vaughan caught the ground with his hands, and stretched forward, wondering what he was to hear. At first there was nothing, and then a low and gentle noise came very softly from the Bowl, a faint sound, almost indescribable, but as if one held the tongue against the roof of the mouth and expelled the breath. He listened eagerly and presently the noise grew louder, and became a strident and horrible hissing as if the pit beneath boiled with fervent heat, and Vaughan, unable to remain in suspense any longer, drew his cap half over his face in imitation of Dyson, and looked down to the hollow below.
It did, in truth, stir and seethe like an infernal caldron. The whole of the sides and bottom tossed and writhed with vague and restless forms that passed to and fro without the sound of feet, and gathered thick here and there and seemed to speak to one another in those tones of horrible sibilance, like the hissing of snakes, that he had heard. It was as if the sweet turf and the cleanly earth had suddenly become quickened with some foul writhing growth. Vaughan could not draw back his face, though he felt Dyson’s finger touch him, but he peered into the quaking mass and saw faintly that there were things like faces and human limbs, and yet he felt his inmost soul chill with the sure belief that no fellow soul or human thing stirred in all that tossing and hissing host. He looked aghast, choking back sobs of horror, and at length the loathsome forms gathered thickest about some vague object in the middle of the hollow, and the hissing of their speech grew more venomous, and he saw in the uncertain light the abominable limbs, vague and yet too plainly seen, writhe and intertwine, and he thought he heard, very faint, a low human moan striking through the noise of speech that was not of man. At his heart something seemed to whisper ever “the worm of corruption, the worm that dieth not,” and grotesquely the image was pictured to his imagination of a piece of putrid offal stirring through and through with bloated and horrible creeping things. The writhing of the dusky limbs continued, they seemed clustered round the dark form in the middle of the hollow, and the sweat dripped and poured off Vaughan’s forehead, and fell cold on his hand beneath his face.
Then, it seemed done in an instant, the loathsome mass melted and fell away to the sides of the Bowl, and for a moment Vaughan saw in the middle of the hollow the tossing of human arms.
But a spark gleamed beneath, a fire kindled, and as the voice of a woman cried out loud in a shrill scream of utter anguish and terror, a great pyramid of flame spired up like a bursting of a pent fountain, and threw a blaze of light upon the whole mountain. In that instant Vaughan saw the myriads beneath; the things made in the form of men but stunted like children hideously deformed, the faces with the almond eyes burning with evil and unspeakable lusts; the ghastly yellow of the mass of naked flesh and then as if by magic the place was empty, while the fire roared and crackled, and the flames shone abroad.
“You have seen the Pyramid,” said Dyson in his ear, “the Pyramid of fire.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12