Collected Stories – Part 1 – Day 121 of 276

I was steering my course by the map the grocery boy had prepared, and was aiming for the wholly abandoned stretch of southern waterfront which I had previously visited. The only people in sight there had been the fishermen on the distant breakwater; and by going a few squares south I could get beyond the range of these, finding a pair of seats on some abandoned wharf and being free to question old Zadok unobserved for an indefinite time. Before I reached Main Street I could hear a faint and wheezy “Hey, Mister!” behind me and I presently allowed the old man to catch up and take copious pulls from the quart bottle.

I began putting out feelers as we walked amidst the omnipresent desolation and crazily tilted ruins, but found that the aged tongue did not loosen as quickly as I had expected. At length I saw a grass-grown opening toward the sea between crumbling brick walls, with the weedy length of an earth-and-masonry wharf projecting beyond. Piles of moss-covered stones near the water promised tolerable seats, and the scene was sheltered from all possible view by a ruined warehouse on the north. Here, I thought was the ideal place for a long secret colloquy; so I guided my companion down the lane and picked out spots to sit in among the mossy stones. The air of death and desertion was ghoulish, and the smell of fish almost insufferable; but I was resolved to let nothing deter me.

About four hours remained for conversation if I were to catch the eight o’clock coach for Arkham, and I began to dole out more liquor to the ancient tippler; meanwhile eating my own frugal lunch. In my donations I was careful not to overshoot the mark, for I did not wish Zadok’s vinous garrulousness to pass into a stupor. After an hour his furtive taciturnity shewed signs of disappearing, but much to my disappointment he still sidetracked my questions about Innsmouth and its shadow-haunted past. He would babble of current topics, revealing a wide acquaintance with newspapers and a great tendency to philosophise in a sententious village fashion.

Toward the end of the second hour I feared my quart of whiskey would not be enough to produce results, and was wondering whether I had better leave old Zadok and go back for more. Just then, however, chance made the opening which my questions had been unable to make; and the wheezing ancient’s rambling took a turn that caused me to lean forward and listen alertly. My back was toward the fishy-smelling sea, but he was facing it and something or other had caused his wandering gaze to light on the low, distant line of Devil Reef, then showing plainly and almost fascinatingly above the waves. The sight seemed to displease him, for he began a series of weak curses which ended in a confidential whisper and a knowing leer. He bent toward me, took hold of my coat lapel, and hissed out some hints that could not be mistaken,

“Thar’s whar it all begun–that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o’ hell–sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin’-line kin tech. Ol’ Cap’n Obed done it–him that faound aout more’n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.

“Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin’ off, mills losin’ business–even the new ones–an’ the best of our menfolks kilt aprivateerin’ in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an’ the Ranger scow–both on ’em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat–brigantine Columby, brig Hefty, an’ barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep’ on with the East-Injy an’ Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin’s barkentine Malay Bride made a venter as late as twenty-eight.

“Never was nobody like Cap’n Obed–old limb o’ Satan! Heh, heh! I kin mind him a-tellin’ abaout furren parts, an’ callin’ all the folks stupid for goin’ to Christian meetin’ an’ bearin’ their burdens meek an’ lowly. Says they’d orter git better gods like some o’ the folks in the Injies–gods as ud bring ’em good fishin’ in return for their sacrifices, an’ ud reely answer folks’s prayers.

“Matt Eliot, his fust mate, talked a lot too, only he was again’ folks’s doin’ any heathen things. Told abaout an island east of Othaheite whar they was a lot o’ stone ruins older’n anybody knew anything abaout, kind o’ like them on Ponape, in the Carolines, but with carven’s of faces that looked like the big statues on Easter Island. Thar was a little volcanic island near thar, too, whar they was other ruins with diff’rent carvin’–ruins all wore away like they’d ben under the sea onct, an’ with picters of awful monsters all over ’em.

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