* * * * *





There was a faint sound of rattling at the brass knob, and the door was

pushed open a couple of inches. A pause of a few seconds, and it was

pushed open still further. Without a sound of footsteps that was

appreciable to my ears, the two figures glided into the room, and the

man behind gently closed the door after him.



They were alone with me between the four walls. Could they see me

standing there, so still and straight in my corner? Had they, perhaps,

already seen me? My blood surged and sang like the roll of drums in an

orchestra; and though I did my best to suppress my breathing, it sounded

like the rushing of wind through a pneumatic tube.



My suspense as to the next move was soon at an end--only, however, to

give place to a new and keener alarm. The men had hitherto exchanged no

words and no signs, but there were general indications of a movement

across the room, and whichever way they went they would have to pass

round the table. If they came my way they would have to pass within six

inches of my person. While I was considering this very disagreeable

possibility, I perceived that the smaller Indian (smaller by comparison)

suddenly raised his arm and pointed to the ceiling. The other fellow

raised his head and followed the direction of his companion's arm. I

began to understand at last. They were going upstairs, and the room

directly overhead to which they pointed had been until this night my

bedroom. It was the room in which I had experienced that very morning so

strange a sensation of fear, and but for which I should then have been

lying asleep in the narrow bed against the window.



The Indians then began to move silently around the room; they were going

upstairs, and they were coming round my side of the table. So stealthy

were their movements that, but for the abnormally sensitive state of the

nerves, I should never have heard them. As it was, their cat-like tread

was distinctly audible. Like two monstrous black cats they came round

the table toward me, and for the first time I perceived that the smaller

of the two dragged something along the floor behind him. As it trailed

along over the floor with a soft, sweeping sound, I somehow got the

impression that it was a large dead thing with outstretched wings, or a

large, spreading cedar branch. Whatever it was, I was unable to see it

even in outline, and I was too terrified, even had I possessed the power

over my muscles, to move my neck forward in the effort to determine its

nature.



Nearer and nearer they came. The leader rested a giant hand upon the

table as he moved. My lips were glued together, and the air seemed to

burn in my nostrils. I tried to close my eyes, so that I might not see

as they passed me; but my eyelids had stiffened, and refused to obey.

Would they never get by me? Sensation seemed also to have left my legs,

and it was as if I were standing on mere supports of wood or stone.

Worse still, I was conscious that I was losing the power of balance, the

power to stand upright, or even to lean backwards against the wall. Some

force was drawing me forward, and a dizzy terror seized me that I should

lose my balance, and topple forward against the Indians just as they

were in the act of passing me.



Even moments drawn out into hours must come to an end some time, and

almost before I knew it the figures had passed me and had their feet

upon the lower step of the stairs leading to the upper bedrooms. There

could not have been six inches between us, and yet I was conscious only

of a current of cold air that followed them. They had not touched me,

and I was convinced that they had not seen me. Even the trailing thing

on the floor behind them had not touched my feet, as I had dreaded it

would, and on such an occasion as this I was grateful even for the

smallest mercies.



The absence of the Indians from my immediate neighbourhood brought

little sense of relief. I stood shivering and shuddering in my corner,

and, beyond being able to breathe more freely, I felt no whit less

uncomfortable. Also, I was aware that a certain light, which, without

apparent source or rays, had enabled me to follow their every gesture

and movement, had gone out of the room with their departure. An

unnatural darkness now filled the room, and pervaded its every corner so

that I could barely make out the positions of the windows and the glass

doors.



As I said before, my condition was evidently an abnormal one. The

capacity for feeling surprise seemed, as in dreams, to be wholly absent.

My senses recorded with unusual accuracy every smallest occurrence, but

I was able to draw only the simplest deductions.



The Indians soon reached the top of the stairs, and there they halted

for a moment. I had not the faintest clue as to their next movement.

They appeared to hesitate. They were listening attentively. Then I heard

one of them, who by the weight of his soft tread must have been the

giant, cross the narrow corridor and enter the room directly

overhead--my own little bedroom. But for the insistence of that

unaccountable dread I had experienced there in the morning, I should at

that very moment have been lying in the bed with the big Indian in the

room standing beside me.



For the space of a hundred seconds there was silence, such as might

have existed before the birth of sound. It was followed by a long

quivering shriek of terror, which rang out into the night, and ended in

a short gulp before it had run its full course. At the same moment the

other Indian left his place at the head of the stairs, and joined his

companion in the bedroom. I heard the "thing" trailing behind him along

the floor. A thud followed, as of something heavy falling, and then all

became as still and silent as before.



It was at this point that the atmosphere, surcharged all day with the

electricity of a fierce storm, found relief in a dancing flash of

brilliant lightning simultaneously with a crash of loudest thunder. For

five seconds every article in the room was visible to me with amazing

distinctness, and through the windows I saw the tree trunks standing in

solemn rows. The thunder pealed and echoed across the lake and among the

distant islands, and the flood-gates of heaven then opened and let out

their rain in streaming torrents.



The drops fell with a swift rushing sound upon the still waters of the

lake, which leaped up to meet them, and pattered with the rattle of shot

on the leaves of the maples and the roof of the cottage. A moment later,

and another flash, even more brilliant and of longer duration than the

first, lit up the sky from zenith to horizon, and bathed the room

momentarily in dazzling whiteness. I could see the rain glistening on

the leaves and branches outside. The wind rose suddenly, and in less

than a minute the storm that had been gathering all day burst forth in

its full fury.



Above all the noisy voices of the elements, the slightest sounds in the

room overhead made themselves heard, and in the few seconds of deep

silence that followed the shriek of terror and pain I was aware that the

movements had commenced again. The men were leaving the room and

approaching the top of the stairs. A short pause, and they began to

descend. Behind them, tumbling from step to step, I could hear that

trailing "thing" being dragged along. It had become ponderous!



I awaited their approach with a degree of calmness, almost of apathy,

which was only explicable on the ground that after a certain point

Nature applies her own anaesthetic, and a merciful condition of numbness

supervenes. On they came, step by step, nearer and nearer, with the

shuffling sound of the burden behind growing louder as they approached.



They were already half-way down the stairs when I was galvanised afresh

into a condition of terror by the consideration of a new and horrible

possibility. It was the reflection that if another vivid flash of

lightning were to come when the shadowy procession was in the room,

perhaps when it was actually passing in front of me, I should see

everything in detail, and worse, be seen myself! I could only hold my

breath and wait--wait while the minutes lengthened into hours, and the

procession made its slow progress round the room.



The Indians had reached the foot of the staircase. The form of the huge

leader loomed in the doorway of the passage, and the burden with an

ominous thud had dropped from the last step to the floor. There was a

moment's pause while I saw the Indian turn and stoop to assist his

companion. Then the procession moved forward again, entered the room

close on my left, and began to move slowly round my side of the table.

The leader was already beyond me, and his companion, dragging on the

floor behind him the burden, whose confused outline I could dimly make

out, was exactly in front of me, when the cavalcade came to a dead halt.

At the same moment, with the strange suddenness of thunderstorms, the

splash of the rain ceased altogether, and the wind died away into utter

silence.



For the space of five seconds my heart seemed to stop beating, and then

the worst came. A double flash of lightning lit up the room and its

contents with merciless vividness.



The huge Indian leader stood a few feet past me on my right. One leg was

stretched forward in the act of taking a step. His immense shoulders

were turned toward his companion, and in all their magnificent

fierceness I saw the outline of his features. His gaze was directed upon

the burden his companion was dragging along the floor; but his profile,

with the big aquiline nose, high cheek-bone, straight black hair and

bold chin, burnt itself in that brief instant into my brain, never again

to fade.



Dwarfish, compared with this gigantic figure, appeared the proportions

of the other Indian, who, within twelve inches of my face, was stooping

over the thing he was dragging in a position that lent to his person the

additional horror of deformity. And the burden, lying upon a sweeping

cedar branch which he held and dragged by a long stem, was the body of a

white man. The scalp had been neatly lifted, and blood lay in a broad

smear upon the cheeks and forehead.



Then, for the first time that night, the terror that had paralysed my

muscles and my will lifted its unholy spell from my soul. With a loud

cry I stretched out my arms to seize the big Indian by the throat, and,

grasping only air, tumbled forward unconscious upon the ground.



I had recognised the body, and _the face was my own_! . . .



It was bright daylight when a man's voice recalled me to consciousness.

I was lying where I had fallen, and the farmer was standing in the room

with the loaves of bread in his hands. The horror of the night was still

in my heart, and as the bluff settler helped me to my feet and picked up

the rifle which had fallen with me, with many questions and expressions

of condolence, I imagine my brief replies were neither self-explanatory

nor even intelligible.



That day, after a thorough and fruitless search of the house, I left the

island, and went over to spend my last ten days with the farmer; and

when the time came for me to leave, the necessary reading had been

accomplished, and my nerves had completely recovered their balance.



On the day of my departure the farmer started early in his big boat with

my belongings to row to the point, twelve miles distant, where a little

steamer ran twice a week for the accommodation of hunters. Late in the

afternoon I went off in another direction in my canoe, wishing to see

the island once again, where I had been the victim of so strange an

experience.



In due course I arrived there, and made a tour of the island. I also

made a search of the little house, and it was not without a curious

sensation in my heart that I entered the little upstairs bedroom. There

seemed nothing unusual.



Just after I re-embarked, I saw a canoe gliding ahead of me around the

curve of the island. A canoe was an unusual sight at this time of the

year, and this one seemed to have sprung from nowhere. Altering my

course a little, I watched it disappear around the next projecting point

of rock. It had high curving bows, and there were two Indians in it. I

lingered with some excitement, to see if it would appear again round the

other side of the island; and in less than five minutes it came into

view. There were less than two hundred yards between us, and the

Indians, sitting on their haunches, were paddling swiftly in my

direction.



I never paddled faster in my life than I did in those next few minutes.

When I turned to look again, the Indians had altered their course, and

were again circling the island.



The sun was sinking behind the forests on the mainland, and the

crimson-coloured clouds of sunset were reflected in the waters of the

lake, when I looked round for the last time, and saw the big bark canoe

and its two dusky occupants still going round the island. Then the

shadows deepened rapidly; the lake grew black, and the night wind blew

its first breath in my face as I turned a corner, and a projecting bluff

of rock hid from my view both island and canoe.





Permeshwar Dayal Amist, Ba, Ii facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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