StrangeArk blog
Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

Manmat'ha.

Charles De Kay

One day the breeze was talking of grand and simple things in the pines that look across the lower bay at Sandy Hook. The great water spaces were a delicious blue, dotted with the white tops of crushed waves; to the left, Coney Island lay mapped out in bleached surfaces, while beyond and seaward, from the purple sleeve formed by the hills of the Navesink, the Hook ran a brown finger eastward. A hawk which nests among the steep inclines of Todt Hill shot out from a neighboring ravine and hung motionless, but never quiet, in the middle distance.

Birds and beasts will make closer approach to a person clothed in dun-colored garments; therefore it was not odd that the hawk should not notice my presence on the pine needles near the crest of the hill. After steering without visible rustle of a feather through the lake of air before me, he stooped all at once, grasped a hedge-sparrow that had been shaking the top of a bush far down the slope, and, rising, bore it to the low branch of a pine not far from my resting-place.

The sun had fallen in a Titanic tragedy of color beyond Prince's Bay. The fierce bird, leisurely occupied in tearing to pieces the little twitterer, was a suitable accompaniment to the bloody drama in the clouds. Watching keenly, I gradually began to picture to myself the sensation of walking unseen to the murderous fowl and suddenly clasping his smooth back with both hands. How startled he would be! But in truth the thought was only a continuation of another that had been floating through my mind while the hawk was wheeling. Unconsciously I had been mumbling to myself from the Nibelungen,—

"About the tameless dwarf-kin I have heard it said,
They dwell in hollow mountains; for safety are arrayed
In what is termed a tarn-kap, of wondrous quality;
Who hath it on his body preserved is said to be
From cuttings and from thrustings; of him is none aware
When he therein is clothed. Both see can he, and hear
According as he wishes, yet no one him perceives."

The magic cloak, the tarn-kap, I reasoned, with my eyes on the cruel bird, was only a symbol after all, something physical to make real that invisibility which we cannot readily conceive. But suddenly—could my wish have been felt?—the hawk gave a hoarse croak of fright, dropped his prey, and, springing heavily into the air, was gone.

He had not looked at me, he had not seen or heard me, nor could I see, far or near, the slightest cause for his terror. But I heard! Sh-sh-sh—I was aware of a light step in the needles under the tree he had left. Straining my eyes to watch the ground, surely, surely, in a line passing close to my couch, the needles and thin grass were pressed down, as if by a weight applied at even distances! I had remained motionless as a figure of stone, but when a tuft of hepatica, blooming late where the shade was deepest, fell crushed near my hand, I reached out. As luck would have it I was too conscious, too much ashamed at my own folly to act decisively. I did not grasp, I reached out—and touched a living thing.

On such occasions there comes at first the exuberance of joy; then doubt. I had long debated the possibility of invisibles. As far back as I can remember, elfin tales produced an awful wonderment upon my imagination. On long May nights have I not often stolen from the house to watch for elves? A moon after a rain was to my thinking the best for such mysterious beings, when everything was hazy with an imperceptible mist, when the dogwoods had flooded the landscape with sheets of reflected white, and somebody was drawing one veil after another slowly past a golden shield in the sky. On such nights, more than once, a boy might have been seen creeping on tiptoe through the open woods, over the great clearing, to the hilltop, where, if anywhere, brownies must play. But none did he espy, nor did the chance-flung cap ever fall upon his eager, outstretched hands. And if in later years the subject still fascinated me, it made me feel what the grown man realizes always more clearly, that fables and fairy tales rest on a solid groundwork of fact. Why, when so many other legends have been verified, should this universal tradition of vanishers and invisibles prove entirely false?

It occurs to one very soon that animal life does exist of so transparent a texture that to all intents and purposes it is invisible. The spawn of frogs, the larvæ of certain fresh-water insects, many marine animals, are of so clear a tissue that they are seen with difficulty. In the tropics a particular inhabitant of smooth seas is as invisible as a piece of glass, and can be detected only in the love season by the color which then mingles in its eyes. On reflection a thousand instances arise of assimilation of animal life to their surroundings, of mimicry of nature with a view to safety. Why, then, by survival of the most transparent, should not some invisible life of a high grade hold a secure position on the earth?

Pondering thus, I had been startled not a little by coming now and again on facts that seemed to bear this out. Strange tracks through untrodden grass suggested footsteps of the unseen. Flattened spaces of peculiar shape in the standing rye, where human beings could not have intruded, looked marvellously like human visitation. Or I lay concealed and watched the crows in a road-side field. What was it caused them to look up suddenly and flap away on sooty-fringed wings? No bird, beast, or man came. Then the rats, scampering about under a dock like so many gaunt Virginia swine: all at once came a flurry of whisking tails, and they were off! Yet I had not stirred, nor did anything move on the dock above. Nevertheless all seemed to realize a common danger, a noise of some kind,—perhaps a step? Again, you sit like a block while a snake basks unconscious in the sun, and may watch many hours without event; but sometimes it happens that he raises his head, quivers for an instant his double tongue, and slides off the stump into a bush. At such times put your ear to the earth. Do you not distinguish—or is it all imagination—a sound, a brushing?

It availed me little, then, that I should have considered the subject, or have even gone the length of debating how a man might attain invisibility. Now that I had a tangible proof of the existence of such beings, I was crushed by misgivings. Like many a man before the supposed impossible, I questioned my own sanity. As to the impression, however, the object I had touched or fancied I had touched was at once hard and soft, smooth and rough; I recalled it as each of these in turn, for it was moving, and at the moment of contact bounded away as if at the shock of a galvanic current. To my excited mind the dusky woods were becoming oppressive, and so, like the hawk, but slowly and pondering, I betook myself home.

Who that has walked or run through autumn woods at night has not sometimes looked curiously over his shoulder at the sound of following steps? It always proves to be dry leaves whirled after you in your rapid course; but this evening my gait was slow, and the leaves of last year were hard to find; nor could I account, except on the ground of nervous illusion, for the pattering that followed in my rear. Yet there it was, albeit so gentle that had I not stretched every sense to the utmost I am confident no sound would have penetrated to my consciousness. And it was evident that I was thoroughly imposed upon by it, for when the small, irregular pond was reached, which, with a cypress-scattered hillock, occupies the highest point of the main hill to the westward, I halted a moment and considered. How, thought I, will this unseen attendant cross a piece of water? Throwing off my shoes I waded over a shallow arm of the pond, and sat down to watch. Presently in the twilight two wedges of ruffled water were discerned advancing swiftly across the surface,—just such tracks as serpents make in swimming,—a light touch was heard on the bank, and all was still. But then a sudden disgust, unreasoning and childish, mastered me completely; a wave of doubt greater than before filled me with disdain of my own imbecility, and I hastened through the orchard to my home, and flung myself into an arm-chair near the window.

The place I had selected long ago as a quiet refuge was a low veranda farm-house, hidden away from north winds under the crest of a hill, and crept over by many rods of honey- suckle. Events had so affected me that I considered nothing left in life but an alternation of hard work and of utter retreat from humanity, and had disposed me favorably toward the ancient apple orchard, and the meagre vegetable and flower garden, which alone remained of a former farm. The barns, the plowed lands, and the fences had disappeared. Only a heavy stone wall with flagged top, which protected the garden from the road, reminded one of a former powerful owner. From the veranda no house was visible; the eye had to travel many miles across the flat lower country to the bay before the distant ships recalled a busy world.

Here, beside myself, lived no one save Rachel, a woman whose Indian origin made it impossible to guess her age. Although she claimed for herself the purest descent from an Indian tribe of a headland a hundred miles to the eastward, and although her features were not without strong marks of her claim, yet in strict truth she was so much mixed with African blood that with most persons she would pass for a negress. Rachel had a talent for cooking breakfasts and suppers from little apparent supply; she was taciturn to speechlessness, hence our intercourse was never marred by discord; and while her box was kept supplied with strong tobacco, a slender meal of some kind was never wanting; and it was served in silence.

For two years Rachel and I had lived in this silent, limited partnership. My home was cool and soundless as the grave, a place in which the mind could stretch its shriveled wings, where everything could be done mechanically and without fear of a sudden jar into disagreeable reality. When of an afternoon I stepped from the hurrying world into the first quiet woods on the way to my home, a great door swung to behind me and another life began, in which Rachel's figure and swarthy, heavy-featured face had long ceased to interfere with my meditation.

This night, however, before the meal was served, the kitchen door opened and my housekeeper's inscrutable dull eyes rolled around the walls of the room; then it closed. What had happened? Why on this night had Rachel noticed my arrival? At supper I broke our unspoken compact and addressed her.

"Rachel, what made you look in just now? Has anything happened?"

The woman made no reply, yet there was evidence in her manner that she was groping for an answer. Presently to a second demand she made a reply that startled me:

"Heard two of you."

So, another ear had detected the steps as well as my own! Then the being, whatever it was, must be in the room, possibly at my elbow; or, seated perchance on that chair before me, was regarding me steadfastly! Except for the excitement bred of a new sensation, it was not a pleasant thought; nevertheless, I pulled a second chair to the table and filled a second plate with food; then, with my eyes fixed on the plate, continued the meal. It was all in vain. Nothing further was seen or heard.

This was my first definite encounter with that unseen which I would have called a spirit had I been a spiritualist. But I could not force myself to the gross materialism of calling this invisible existence a spirit, for tangibility was a quality I could not associate with pure spirit, and I had touched it.

Having once followed me, it seemed thenceforth to take up quarters in my house, at least for the evening and morning hours of the day, and strange as it was, I soon learned to regard the presence of a third person as an established fact; indeed, I came to believe that in some instances a faint breathing might be detected. Nevertheless I would not leave anything to the possibilities of imagination, but was always experimenting, with a view to prove still more clearly that there was no illusion possible. To this end a brass and steel rod, fitted between the floor and a projection from the wall, was connected with an indicator which moved in a large are when the slightest touch shook the floor. By this means my ears were reinforced by sight.

I also began systematically to conceal from the unknown guest the fact that I suspected its presence; but at last the point was reached where, to protect my own reason, it must be settled whether it was all a series of illusions or a sober truth.

For by dint of thought a scheme had been perfected, and on a Sunday morning, when as usual Rachel had disappeared, no man has ever known whither; when, according to its custom, the strange visitant had also, to all appearance, withdrawn,—on a Sunday morning I hastened to put my plan in action. On the main floor in the rear of the house was a chamber, into which the sounds had sometimes intruded, which was small, bare, and lighted by one deep window looking directly out on the orchard. This window I had grated strongly with heavy wire on the outside, where the orchard hill rose steeply from the house; and over against the window, in the wall between chamber and dining-room, was a high closet, in which I had stored a strong net, such as fishermen use for their seines. Fastening stout wires to the ceiling from one end of the room to the other, to be used for slides, and rigging several small blocks above the window and near the floor, I stretched the necessary ropes from closet to blocks and back again, laid everything ready for instant use, cleared the room of furniture, and awaited events.

There was no fear of interruption from Rachel, for during the years we had lived together I had never seen her on a Sabbath. Every Monday she was at her post, although laboring under some excitement, which showed itself in mutterings and a certain wild gesture that I had learned to attach no importance to. There was no fear that I should not have the invisible to myself.

Evening came to close a sultry day with growls of distant thunder and sudden flares of light behind Navesink Hills; the bushes drooped languidly; only the tree-toads were clamorous, and their jubilee was a mournful one on every side. I was sitting by the west window with my head on my breast, and, now that the crisis had come, almost apathetic to the presence itself, when its approach took place. It seemed to stop near my chair, as if it regarded me closely. I had been before in singular predicaments, but it seemed to me this was the most trying. I felt that I must look very pale, but with an affectation of indifference I arose, walked across the room and entered the bed-chamber. In a moment I understood that the unseen had likewise passed the sill and had entered the room; then I slammed the door, locked it, and put the key in my pocket.

Everything had been made ready to cope with a material and not a supernatural being; still it was purely a venture, and at no previous time had there seemed so little hope of success. Nevertheless not a moment was lost in hauling out the net and placing it in position across the room so that it hung straight, filling the space between wall and wall, and ceiling and floor. Then I began to draw it down the room by means of the ropes, and on the axis of the chamber, so that its edges passed smoothly along ceiling, walls, and floor. The anxious moment was at hand.

All the running gear had to be worked evenly; at the same time every nerve was strained in order to detect the slightest bulge in the upright net, should it come in contact with a tangible body.

Until three quarters of the room had been sifted nothing occurred. Then I saw the edge against the left-hand wall carefully drawn aside; to spring forward and close the opening was the instinctive work of a second. Terror combining with a fierce delight lent me an extraordinary force; I drew with convulsive power on the ropes. Every moment an invisible hand seemed to lift the net at some point, but each attempt was luckily frustrated. At last the movements ceased, and I drew the net flat against the farther wall. With feverish haste my hand travelled over its entire surface; the net was scanned in profile for the impression of a body, but there was none. The game had either escaped or withdrawn into the deep window-seat.

Now came a moment for breath, and for reflection. Again the cynical cloud of doubt folded me in. Dupe of my own morbid imagination, I should stand convicted of monomania in the eyes of any reasonable being who should see my actions. Then it was best, was it not? to tear the net away; or should I deliberately pursue to the utmost a plan begun? Never before had I so clearly felt a dual existence urging to opposite courses of action, as if the body's instinct commanded an advance, while the mind, assailing the whole proceeding with ridicule, was for giving up the game. But for all that it was a good sign that I began to feel a slight awe at the near possibility of a discovery. For I retreated to the door, unlocked it, and stood irresolute; then returned again to the window, without strength to come to a decision.

But while I pondered, a low, chuckling noise startled me, and Rachel stood by my side, erect and with features full of energy, her dull eyes blazing, and her short straight hair tossed about; in her hand she brandished with exultation a carved rod hung with bright claws and shells, with lappets of fur and hair; and at her and it I gazed with speechless amazement. Had she too gone mad? She took a few steps, as if in a rude dance, and shook the stick, and while her eyes glared into mine she nodded her head to the time.

`'Bad spirit!" she muttered. "I have known, I have heard. But this is strong Wabeno."

As she shook the talisman, which clinked and rattled like the toy of a devil, I snatched the medicine stick from her hand and motioned her to the door. Thither she retreated, muttering words of an unknown tongue, and when it closed upon her I flung the stick angrily on the floor. But hope had come, and decision as well, although from a despised quarter; I was resolved to finish the undertaking at all hazards.

The wild flames of the distant storm still lighted everything at intervals with an intensity now greater and now less. When the sheet lightning flashed strong, the square cage formed by the wire outside the window-seat and the fish-net within stood out clear against the northern sky. With dilated pupils I began to examine the inclosed cube of air. During one particularly long and vivid flash,—there, in that corner, was there not a heap, a translucent shape, indistinguishable in quality or form? It was enough. Swiftly as wild beasts when they spring, I raised the net, leaped into the window, and grasped toward the corner where I thought I saw the mass.

 

II.

A thrill runs through the nerves of an entomologist when he puts his hand on a specimen unknown, undescribed. The hunter trembles when he espies in the thicket the royal hart whose existence has been called a fable. My emotion was all of this, intensified; nearer, perhaps, to the feeling of the elected mortal who has discovered a new continent. For I had discovered a new world.

Had I not cause for exultation? I sat on the window-seat in the alternate light and darkness, with one hand clenched, the other arm curved in the air; my left held fast a slender wrist, while my right was cast about a pair of delicate shoulders; the invisible but tangible figure was crouched away into the smallest space in the corner of the window.

With awe I now realized that my capture was a woman. The delicate moulding of the shoulders and hand was proof enough, but I also felt on my arm a light flood of the silkiest hair. This was a shock to one who had lived apart from women for several years, and had good cause to expect nothing but disaster from their influence. For a moment the impulse was strong to release the captive; luckily reason prevailed, and I tightened my grip on the frail prize, whose frame was shaken with sobs and whose bearing denoted the most abject despair. I gave many timid reassurances by word and hand before the sobs came slower and fear began to loose its hold. As she raised her head I took occasion to pass my right hand lightly over her face. Rendered sensitive by strong excitement, my palm read her features as the blind read the raised print of their books, and of this at least I was sure: the features were human, straight, the eyes large; a full chin and a mouth of unspeakable fineness were divined rather than felt by my flying touch; but I found no trace of tears.

After this I do not know how long we sat. It seemed peaceful and homelike, so that I wondered how it was possible so quickly to forget wonder. A protective warmth toward the creature whose soft breathing came and went; slower and slower near my face took a quiet hold on all my senses. At last the gentle head drooped like a tired child's, the delicate shoulders heaved in a long, peaceful sigh, and to my amazement the strange captive fell asleep in my arms.

So while she slept I sat motionless and thinking, thinking. Who was she? whence and of what order of beings? What was her language; how and how long did she live. Was she really alive in our sense of the word, that is, human with the exception of her transparency? and was her shape like that of ordinary mortals, or did she end in some monstrosity like a mermaid? Such were the questions agitating me when interruption came with a knock at the door. My captive awoke and instinctively started away, at the same time giving a low, articulate cry; but I held her firmly, and called to Rachel to bring me a certain relic of slavery which had been brought from the South. I had profited by the discovery my prisoner's awakening furnished: the invisible, I argued, could articulate, then why should she not understand and speak the language of the people among whom she was found? Accordingly a few rapid questions were put to her, which were unanswered. Then I bethought me of a proof that at any rate she understood my words.

"My dear child, it is mere perverseness in you to refuse an answer. I am sure you understand. You are in my power for good or evil, and if you refuse to speak I must consider you worthy of the following treatment: you shall be made an example to the crowd of the reality of invisible life."

Under cruel treatment of this kind, conjecture became certainty; I felt her shudder at the idea, and she laid her hand appealingly on mine. This was all I wanted; speech was now a mere affair of time.

Rachel entered with the rusty handcuffs and handed them to me as if she were conscious and acquiescent in what I did. Not a feature moved, only her eyes shone with inner excitement, in a way I had seen before, while I clasped one link about the unseen wrist.

"Pardon," I whispered, "I do not know you yet. I cannot trust you."

My daily work ceased. To the few inquiries from the great city Rachel had evasive answers ready; they were soon over, and I was left to experience the fascination of a beautiful woman whom I had never seen nor could hope ever to see. To be sure, in certain lights and under certain angles of reflection an indistinct outline of a not large, slender girl, which told of pure contours, could be made out, but this was like following the glassy bells that pulsate far down in the waves of northern seas, or the endeavor to catch the real surface of a mirror. Moreover, the slim captive herself resented any attempt to gain acquaintance with her through the eyes. But by degrees the reserve which had taken the place of her terror melted away before gentle and respectful management, and from her own lips I learned much concerning her marvelous race, before the love which presently overwhelmed us put an end to the cooler interests of reason. Thus she astonished me by speaking of her race as widely spread through almost every inhabited land. They never work or educate their children; their food, which is chiefly in liquid form, is taken from the stores laid up by human beings, and such education as they get is picked up by continual contact with mortals. While their passions would seem to be calm, their only laws relate to the observance of secrecy as to their presence on the earth. To secure this end they meet at stated periods and renew their solemn vows, keep a watch upon each other, and disperse again to a settled or wandering life, but one always dependent on the labors of other beings. This alone would explain the paramount importance attaching to secrecy. And as it is impossible to keep always all hint of their existence from human beings, the penalties for disclosure in the latest days have increased to far greater severity than was used in simpler ages; Manmat'ha could not be brought to tell me the fate which awaited her should it be discovered that she had revealed the great secret of her nation, and the very quiet with which she gave me to understand how vast was the danger impressed me more than the most violent words.

It must have been the pain that the thought of any harm befalling her produced in me, which opened my eyes to the strength of my passion. The time for questions had passed, and the days were long only that we might love. One day glided after another unheeded, while we strolled about the neighboring woody hills to catch a broad glimpse of the sea from this point, or to examine in that swampy valley the minute wonders of life in plants and insects. At an early stage of our intimacy I had begged to free her wrist from the handcuffs, but she had implored me to continue at least the appearance of slavery, to serve, in case of need, as a partial excuse for violation of her vows. This did not prevent her daily disappearance during the middle hours when the sun was strongest; but these absences only served to give a time for reflection on her beauties and to involve me deeper in the love which now mastered all my thoughts. There was one subject which was long in broaching, but when the necessary courage was summoned, found in Manmat'ha neither objection nor response. She did not comprehend its force. The subject was our marriage.

I had resolved on legal marriage, even if it were necessary to be content with only one witness to the ceremony; that witness could be no one except Rachel. My housekeeper had regarded my preparations and subsequent conduct with a consistent interest and without the least shadow of surprise, and once I remarked that she had caught sight in the twilight of a cup raised without hands; yet no hint fell from her lips to make me feel she was intruding on my affairs. The old blur was in her eyes; the only change in manner was her treatment of me: she regarded me with a kind of awe. And after it had proved abortive to tell her something and not all, because the pleasure of unbosoming myself of so much love was too great to restrain, I found Rachel not only full of faith, but even surpassing me. She looked upon Manmat'ha as a supernatural being, and plainly invested me with reflected holiness. Some sort of worship she thought due to Manmat'ha, whilst I, as high priest and mortal consort, was entitled to a share; and indeed it was with some difficulty that I persuaded her not to show her faith by uncouth rites. It was as if her life had been a preparation for some such affair as this, and found her enthusiastic, but not astonished.

Our favorite resort was the couch of pine needles looking south from the hillside where we first met. The same hawk, to me the most blessed of birds, would often sail as before in the middle distance, or night-hawks would cut their strange curves in the evening sky. Far out beyond, sea-gulls, mere specks of white, would wheel and plunge into the bay, and at our backs the woodcock, shy enough in any other presence, would whir fantastically through the woods. All nature was the same, but I was no longer its solitary admirer, for I held in my arms a gentle framework of delight such as no other man before or since has known. She was finer than the finest silk, smoother than the smoothest glass, as if the rays of light, falling on the amazing texture of her skin, found no inequalities from which to reflect.

One evening we had been drawing in long breaths of that delight of which the woods and the great bowl of landscape before us were so full, and I had been trying to convince Manmat'ha of the importance of the marriage ceremony. "What," I asked with some trouble in my heart, "what will they do to you in case members of your nation discover your position? I do not mean to ask you what you would not tell me before, but what would be their first step?"

"They would imprison me somewhere under a guard," said Manmat'ha. "It would be many months before a tribunal could be collected together, and still longer before I should be judged. What my fate would be then, it is not well to say."

Had I desired, there is little doubt that I could have compelled Manmat'ha to tell me all she knew, for I had found that my will was much the stronger. But what was curiosity compared with the delight of warming her into responsive love? When I now covered her delicious lips with kisses, she returned the pressure, instead of merely suffering me, as at first, with a mild surprise.

"My first love and my last!" I whispered. "They shall not get you from me while I am alive, if they will only give us warning; but if they rob me of you, I shall follow your trace and rescue you, if it be to the bottom of the sea!"

Manmat'ha laughed a pleased laugh. We both started at an echo, a moment after, which seemed to come from the lower hill, below where we sat. There was no echo possible in that direction.

"Manmat'ha!" I whispered, "tell me quickly! Is some one coming?"

She sat apparently unable to speak, but trembling and cold to the touch. I had enough presence of mind to take her up and place her on the other side of the pine, on the ground, and throw my coat carelessly over her. As once before I heard passing steps, but now my more practiced ear caught them distinctly. They came lightly up the steep hill and stopped a moment at a little distance from the tree. With eyes fixed on the ocean I waited in an agony of suspense, assuming the most unconscious air of which I was capable. The steps hesitated only a moment; then they passed lower and lower into the upper wood. For half an hour neither of us moved; at last, taking heart, we stole home.

The event set me thinking. If at any moment we were liable to be discovered and separated, the marriage must take place at once. A consumptive hastens his wedding, a wounded tree is quick to bear, and the night we had experienced taught me how slight was the thread on which my happiness hung; but Manmat'ha was calm with a maidenly content with little, which in my hasty resentment at even a suspicion of opposition to my plan, I was ready to call indifference.

When we entered I could tell by the unfailing sign of Rachel's eye that she was agitated. Later in the evening I heard her chanting in a discordant undertone an ancient formula of her savage ancestors, and therefore it was with some misgivings that I called and informed her that to-night she was to be the sole witness, by touch, if not by sight, of the lawful ceremony of wedlock between Manmat'ha and me. She listened in an awestruck silence, and left the room abruptly. As no calling was of any avail, we were compelled to wait her pleasure, which I did with great impatience; and when at last she did return, it was in a shape grotesque almost beyond recognition. Her face and arms were painted white and red in broad bands of coarse pigments; an old embroidered robe fastened over one shoulder, with a close-fitting skirt of buckskin, formed her whole attire. She had put feathers in her hair, and with flaming eyes shook her favorite talisman, the medicine-stick. At one bound she had returned to her ancient state of savagery.

Finding Manmat'ha regarding her with interest, I did not oppose the further proceedings. It struck me that it was not displeasing to my invisible love to receive divine honors even in this wild rite, so I held my peace. She seemed to receive them as her due.

The moon had risen, and gave light to the room through window and open door; flooded by its rays, Rachel moved slowly across the room, uttering in guttural tones a broken chant whose meaning I might have once interpreted, but could not now. On a different occasion I might not have been an entirely unsympathetic observer of the singular sight, but here passion had overcome curiosity. I was an impatient lover. With my arm about Manmat'ha, and filled with earnest emotions, I could not help a feeling of disgust at the monotonous discord and frantic gestures of the last of a superstitious race.

"This must end, Manmat'ha," I groaned. "I can wait no longer."

As I spoke, the Indian woman grew ungovernable in wild excitement.

"They are on you! They are here!" she screamed.

I felt Manmat'ha stiffen in my arms with deadly terror. Resistless hands dragged us apart and held me absolutely motionless in spite of the deadly agony which filled me, while Manmat'ha's stifled shriek arose from midway across the room.

"Rachel!" I cried. "For God's sake, Rachel, bar the door!"

My cry roused the woman from a stupor; she sprang to the door. I heard the noise of many light feet, the sound of a blow, a heavy fall; then a deep silence came.

Bounding from the spot to which unseen hands up to that moment had pressed me, I sprang from the room and followed into the night. The earth reeled past me in my swift flight, until I suddenly stopped myself to ask where I was going. Where indeed? As well follow the wind. Wild as was the hope that moved me to return, I hurried back again to the house. Rachel alone, clad in her poor Indian finery, the medicine-stick broken by her side, lay stretched out dead in the moonlight.

 

Back to Cryptofiction
In the Avu Observatory | "An No Bird Sings" | The Ancient Horror | The Black Seal | Danger | De Profundis | Horror of the Heights | The Horror-Horn | Last Haunt of the Dinosaur | Kraken | Lizard
Wildmen

Cryptofiction

Bug Cryptofiction

Sea Monster Cryptofiction

Dino Cryptofiction

Sign of the Spider

Beyond the Great South Wall

Killer Plants

Chambers' Cryptofiction

Lost Worlds, Strange Beasts