Collected Stories – Part 1 – Day 47 of 276

The man paused, and another of the crowd spoke.

‘That’s all–not a saound nor squeak over the ’phone arter that. Jest still-like. We that heerd it got aout Fords an’ wagons an’ rounded up as many able-bodied men-folks as we could git, at Corey’s place, an’ come up here ter see what yew thought best ter dew. Not but what I think it’s the Lord’s jedgment fer our iniquities, that no mortal kin ever set aside.’

Armitage saw that the time for positive action had come, and spoke decisively to the faltering group of frightened rustics.

‘We must follow it, boys.’ He made his voice as reassuring as possible. ‘I believe there’s a chance of putting it out of business. You men know that those Whateleys were wizards–well, this thing is a thing of wizardry, and must be put down by the same means. I’ve seen Wilbur Whateley’s diary and read some of the strange old books he used to read; and I think I know the right kind of spell to recite to make the thing fade away. Of course, one can’t be sure, but we can always take a chance. It’s invisible–I knew it would be–but there’s powder in this long-distance sprayer that might make it show up for a second. Later on we’ll try it. It’s a frightful thing to have alive, but it isn’t as bad as what Wilbur would have let in if he’d lived longer. You’ll never know what the world escaped. Now we’ve only this one thing to fight, and it can’t multiply. It can, though, do a lot of harm; so we mustn’t hesitate to rid the community of it.

‘We must follow it–and the way to begin is to go to the place that has just been wrecked. Let somebody lead the way–I don’t know your roads very well, but I’ve an idea there might be a shorter cut across lots. How about it?’

The men shuffled about a moment, and then Earl Sawyer spoke softly, pointing with a grimy finger through the steadily lessening rain.

‘I guess ye kin git to Seth Bishop’s quickest by cuttin’ across the lower medder here, wadin’ the brook at the low place, an’ climbin’ through Carrier’s mowin’ an’ the timber-lot beyont. That comes aout on the upper rud mighty nigh Seth’s–a leetle t’other side.’

Armitage, with Rice and Morgan, started to walk in the direction indicated; and most of the natives followed slowly. The sky was growing lighter, and there were signs that the storm had worn itself away. When Armitage inadvertently took a wrong direction, Joe Osborn warned him and walked ahead to show the right one. Courage and confidence were mounting, though the twilight of the almost perpendicular wooded hill which lay towards the end of their short cut, and among whose fantastic ancient trees they had to scramble as if up a ladder, put these qualities to a severe test.

At length they emerged on a muddy road to find the sun coming out. They were a little beyond the Seth Bishop place, but bent trees and hideously unmistakable tracks showed what had passed by. Only a few moments were consumed in surveying the ruins just round the bend. It was the Frye incident all over again, and nothing dead or living was found in either of the collapsed shells which had been the Bishop house and barn. No one cared to remain there amidst the stench and tarry stickiness, but all turned instinctively to the line of horrible prints leading on towards the wrecked Whateley farmhouse and the altar-crowned slopes of Sentinel Hill.

As the men passed the site of Wilbur Whateley’s abode they shuddered visibly, and seemed again to mix hesitancy with their zeal. It was no joke tracking down something as big as a house that one could not see, but that had all the vicious malevolence of a daemon. Opposite the base of Sentinel Hill the tracks left the road, and there was a fresh bending and matting visible along the broad swath marking the monster’s former route to and from the summit.

Armitage produced a pocket telescope of considerable power and scanned the steep green side of the hill. Then he handed the instrument to Morgan, whose sight was keener. After a moment of gazing Morgan cried out sharply, passing the glass to Earl Sawyer and indicating a certain spot on the slope with his finger. Sawyer, as clumsy as most non-users of optical devices are, fumbled a while; but eventually focused the lenses with Armitage’s aid. When he did so his cry was less restrained than Morgan’s had been.

‘Gawd almighty, the grass an’ bushes is a’movin’! It’s a-goin’ up–slow-like–creepin’–up ter the top this minute, heaven only knows what fur!’

Then the germ of panic seemed to spread among the seekers. It was one thing to chase the nameless entity, but quite another to find it. Spells might be all right–but suppose they weren’t? Voices began questioning Armitage about what he knew of the thing, and no reply seemed quite to satisfy. Everyone seemed to feel himself in close proximity to phases of Nature and of being utterly forbidden and wholly outside the sane experience of mankind.

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