Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 184 of 274

“Ebenezer cud read a leetle o’ this–’tis Latin–but I can’t. I had two er three schoolmasters read me a bit, and Passon Clark, him they say got draownded in the pond–kin yew make anything outen it?” I told him that I could, and translated for his benefit a paragraph near the beginning. If I erred, he was not scholar enough to correct me; for he seemed childishly pleased at my English version. His proximity was becoming rather obnoxious, yet I saw no way to escape without offending him. I was amused at the childish fondness of this ignorant old man for the pictures in a book he could not read, and wondered how much better he could read the few books in English which adorned the room. This revelation of simplicity removed much of the ill-defined apprehension I had felt, and I smiled as my host rambled on:

“Queer haow picters kin set a body thinkin’. Take this un here near the front. Hey yew ever seed trees like thet, with big leaves a floppin’ over an’ daown? And them men–them can’t be niggers–they dew beat all. Kinder like Injuns, I guess, even ef they be in Afriky. Some o’ these here critters looks like monkeys, or half monkeys an’ half men, but I never heerd o’ nothin’ like this un.”Here he pointed to a fabulous creature of the artist, which one might describe as a sort of dragon with the head of an alligator.

“But naow I’ll show ye the best un–over here nigh the middle–” The old man’s speech grew a trifle thicker and his eyes assumed a brighter glow; but his fumbling hands, though seemingly clumsier than before, were entirely adequate to their mission. The book fell open, almost of its own accord and as if from frequent consultation at this place, to the repellent twelfth plate showing a butcher’s shop amongst the Anzique cannibals. My sense of restlessness returned, though I did not exhibit it. The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men–the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. But my host seemed to relish the view as much as I disliked it.

“What d’ye think o’ this–ain’t never see the like hereabouts, eh? When I see this I telled Eb Holt, ‘That’s suthin’ ta stir ye up an’ make yer blood tickle.’ When I read in Scripter about slayin’–like them Midianites was slew–I kinder think things, but I ain’t got no picter of it. Here a body kin see all they is to it–I s’pose ’tis sinful, but ain’t we all born an’ livin’ in sin?–Thet feller bein’ chopped up gives me a tickle every time I look at ’im–I hey ta keep lookin’ at ’im–see whar the butcher cut off his feet? Thar’s his head on thet bench, with one arm side of it, an’ t’other arm’s on the other side o’ the meat block.”

As the man mumbled on in his shocking ecstasy the expression on his hairy, spectacled face became indescribable, but his voice sank rather than mounted. My own sensations can scarcely be recorded. All the terror I had dimly felt before rushed upon me actively and vividly, and I knew that I loathed the ancient and abhorrent creature so near me with an infinite intensity. His madness, or at least his partial perversion, seemed beyond dispute. He was almost whispering now, with a huskiness more terrible than a scream, and I trembled as I listened.

“As I says, ’tis queer haow picters sets ye thinkin’. D’ye know, young Sir, I’m right sot on this un here. Arter I got the book off Eb I uster look at it a lot, especial when I’d heerd Passon Clark rant o’ Sundays in his big wig. Onct I tried suthin’ funny–here, young Sir, don’t git skeert–all I done was ter look at the picter afore I kilt the sheep for market–killin’ sheep was kinder more fun arter lookin’ at it–” The tone of the old man now sank very low, sometimes becoming so faint that his words were hardly audible. I listened to the rain, and to the rattling of the bleared, small-paned windows, and marked a rumbling of approaching thunder quite unusual for the season. Once a terrific flash and peal shook the frail house to its foundations, but the whisperer seemed not to notice it.

“Killin’ sheep was kinder more fun–but d’ye know, ’twan’t quite satisfyin’. Queer haow a cravin’ gits a holt on ye–As ye love the Almighty, young man, don’t tell nobody, but I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun to make me hungry fer victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy–here, set still, what’s ailin’ ye?–I didn’t do nothin’, only I wondered haow ’twud be ef I did–They say meat makes blood an’ flesh, an’ gives ye new life, so I wondered ef ’twudn’t make a man live longer an’ longer ef ’twas more the same–” But the whisperer never continued. The interruption was not produced by my fright, nor by the rapidly increasing storm amidst whose fury I was presently to open my eyes on a smoky solitude of blackened ruins. It was produced by a very simple though somewhat unusual happening.

The open book lay flat between us, with the picture staring repulsively upward. As the old man whispered the words “more the same” a tiny splattering impact was heard, and something showed on the yellowed paper of the upturned volume. I thought of the rain and of a leaky roof, but rain is not red. On the butcher’s shop of the Anzique cannibals a small red spattering glistened picturesquely, lending vividness to the horror of the engraving. The old man saw it, and stopped whispering even before my expression of horror made it necessary; saw it and glanced quickly toward the floor of the room he had left an hour before. I followed his glance, and beheld just above us on the loose plaster of the ancient ceiling a large irregular spot of wet crimson which seemed to spread even as I viewed it. I did not shriek or move, but merely shut my eyes. A moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blasting that accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alone saved my mind.

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