Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 235 of 274

I had faltered only a moment, but before another moment was over my companion had seized the wheel and forced me to change places with him. The dusk was now very thick, and the lights of Portland far behind, so I could not see much of his face. The blaze of his eyes, though, was phenomenal; and I knew that he must now be in that queerly energized state–so unlike his usual self–which so many people had noticed. It seemed odd and incredible that listless Edward Derby–he who could never assert himself, and who had never learned to drive–should be ordering me about and taking the wheel of my own car, yet that was precisely what had happened. He did not speak for some time, and in my inexplicable horror I was glad he did not.

In the lights of Biddeford and Saco I saw his firmly set mouth, and shivered at the blaze of his eyes. The people were right–he did look damnably like his wife and like old Ephraim when in these moods. I did not wonder that the moods were disliked–there was certainly something unnatural in them, and I felt the sinister element all the more because of the wild ravings I had been hearing. This man, for all my lifelong knowledge of Edward Pickman Derby, was a stranger–an intrusion of some sort from the black abyss.

He did not speak until we were on a dark stretch of road, and when he did his voice seemed utterly unfamiliar. It was deeper, firmer, and more decisive than I had ever known it to be; while its accent and pronunciation were altogether changed–though vaguely, remotely, and rather disturbingly recalling something I could not quite place. There was, I thought, a trace of very profound and very genuine irony in the timbre–not the flashy, meaninglessly jaunty pseudo-irony of the callow “sophisticate,” which Derby had habitually affected, but something grim, basic, pervasive, and potentially evil. I marvelled at the self-possession so soon following the spell of panic-struck muttering.

“I hope you’ll forget my attack back there, Upton,” he was saying. “You know what my nerves are, and I guess you can excuse such things. I’m enormously grateful, of course, for this lift home.

“And you must forget, too, any crazy things I may have been saying about my wife–and about things in general. That’s what comes from overstudy in a field like mine. My philosophy is full of bizarre concepts, and when the mind gets worn out it cooks up all sorts of imaginary concrete applications. I shall take a rest from now on–you probably won’t see me for some time, and you needn’t blame Asenath for it.

“This trip was a bit queer, but it’s really very simple. There are certain Indian relics in the north wood–standing stones, and all that–which mean a good deal in folklore, and Asenath and I are following that stuff up. It was a hard search, so I seem to have gone off my head. I must send somebody for the car when I get home. A month’s relaxation will put me on my feet.”

I do not recall just what my own part of the conversation was, for the baffling alienage of my seatmate filled all my consciousness. With every moment my feeling of elusive cosmic horror increased, till at length I was in a virtual delirium of longing for the end of the drive. Derby did not offer to relinquish the wheel, and I was glad of the speed with which Portsmouth and Newburyport flashed by.

At the junction where the main highway runs inland and avoids Innsmouth, I was half-afraid my driver would take the bleak shore road that goes through that damnable place. He did not, however, but darted rapidly past Rowley and Ipswich toward our destination. We reached Arkham before midnight, and found the lights still on at the old Crowninshield house. Derby left the car with a hasty repetition of his thanks, and I drove home alone with a curious feeling of relief. It had been a terrible drive–all the more terrible because I could not quite tell why–and I did not regret Derby’s forecast of a long absence from my company.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)