Collected Stories – Part 1 – Day 124 of 276

“Well, come abaout thutty-eight–when I was seven year’ old–Obed he faound the island people all wiped aout between v’yages. Seems the other islanders had got wind o’ what was goin’ on, and had took matters into their own hands. S’pose they must a had, after all, them old magic signs as the sea things says was the only things they was afeard of. No tellin’ what any o’ them Kanakys will chance to git a holt of when the sea-bottom throws up some island with ruins older’n the deluge. Pious cusses, these was–they didn’t leave nothin’ standin’ on either the main island or the little volcanic islet excep’ what parts of the ruins was too big to knock daown. In some places they was little stones strewed abaout–like charms–with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs. Folks all wiped aout no trace o’ no gold-like things an’ none the nearby Kanakys ud breathe a word abaout the matter. Wouldn’t even admit they’d ever ben any people on that island.

“That naturally hit Obed pretty hard, seein’ as his normal trade was doin’ very poor. It hit the whole of Innsmouth, too, because in seafarint days what profited the master of a ship gen’lly profited the crew proportionate. Most of the folks araound the taown took the hard times kind o’ sheep-like an’ resigned, but they was in bad shape because the fishin’ was peterin’ aout an’ the mills wan’t doin’ none too well.

“Then’s the time Obed he begun a-cursin’ at the folks fer bein’ dull sheep an’ prayin’ to a Christian heaven as didn’t help ’em none. He told ’em he’d knowed o’ folks as prayed to gods that give somethin’ ye reely need, an’ says ef a good bunch o’ men ud stand by him, he cud mebbe get a holt o’ sarten paowers as ud bring plenty o’ fish an’ quite a bit of gold. O’ course them as sarved on the Sumatry Queen, an’ seed the island knowed what he meant, an’ wa’n’t none too anxious to get clost to sea-things like they’d heard tell on, but them as didn’t know what ’twas all abaout got kind o’ swayed by what Obed had to say, and begun to ast him what he cud do to sit ’em on the way to the faith as ud bring ’em results.”

Here the old man faltered, mumbled, and lapsed into a moody and apprehensive silence; glancing nervously over his shoulder and then turning back to stare fascinatedly at the distant black reef. When I spoke to him he did not answer, so I knew I would have to let him finish the bottle. The insane yarn I was hearing interested me profoundly, for I fancied there was contained within it a sort of crude allegory based upon the strangeness of Innsmouth and elaborated by an imagination at once creative and full of scraps of exotic legend. Not for a moment did I believe that the tale had any really substantial foundation; but none the less the account held a hint of genuine terror if only because it brought in references to strange jewels clearly akin to the malign tiara I had seen at Newburyport. Perhaps the ornaments had, after all, come from some strange island; and possibly the wild stories were lies of the bygone Obed himself rather than of this antique toper.

I handed Zadok the bottle, and he drained it to the last drop. It was curious how he could stand so much whiskey, for not even a trace of thickness had come into his high, wheezy voice. He licked the nose of the bottle and slipped it into his pocket, then beginning to nod and whisper softly to himself. I bent close to catch any articulate words he might utter, and thought I saw a sardonic smile behind the stained bushy whiskers. Yes–he was really forming words, and I could grasp a fair proportion of them.

“Poor Matt–Matt he allus was agin it–tried to line up the folks on his side, an’ had long talks with the preachers–no use–they run the Congregational parson aout o’ taown, an’ the Methodist feller quit–never did see Resolved Babcock, the Baptist parson, agin–Wrath o’ Jehovy–I was a mightly little critter, but I heerd what I heerd an, seen what I seen–Dagon an’ Ashtoreth–Belial an’ Beelzebub–Golden Caff an’ the idols o’ Canaan an’ the Philistines–Babylonish abominations–Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin–.”

He stopped again, and from the look in his watery blue eyes I feared he was close to a stupor after all. But when I gently shook his shoulder he turned on me with astonishing alertness and snapped out some more obscure phrases.

“Dun’t believe me, hey? Hey, heh, heh–then jest tell me, young feller, why Cap’n Obed an’ twenty odd other folks used to row aout to Devil Reef in the dead o’ night an’ chant things so laoud ye cud hear ’em all over taown when the wind was right? Tell me that, hey? An’ tell me why Obed was allus droppin’ heavy things daown into the deep water t’other side o’ the reef whar the bottom shoots daown like a cliff lower’n ye kin saound? Tell me what he done with that funny-shaped lead thingumajig as Walakea give him? Hey, boy? An’ what did they all haowl on May-Eve, an, agin the next Hallowe’en? An’ why’d the new church parsons–fellers as used to be sailors–wear them queer robes an’ cover their-selves with them gold-like things Obed brung? Hey?”

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