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Tales of Terror

My Friend The Murderer
The Case Of Lady Sannox
The Horror Of The Heights
The Leather Funnel
The New Catacomb
The Terror Of Blue John Gap

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Scandal In Bohemia
A Case Of Identity
His Last Bow
My Friend The Murderer
Silver Blaze
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet
The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Second Stain
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Speckled Band
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Beetle-hunter
The Black Doctor
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Brazilian Cat
The Case Of Lady Sannox
The Crooked Man
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Final Problem
The Five Orange Pips
The Gloria Scott
The Greek Interpreter
The Horror Of The Heights
The Japanned Box
The Jew's Breastplate
The Leather Funnel
The Lost Special
The Man With The Twisted Lip
The Man With The Watches
The Musgrave Ritual
The Naval Treaty
The New Catacomb
The Red-headed League
The Reigate Puzzle
The Resident Patient
The Stock-broker's Clerk
The Terror Of Blue John Gap
The Yellow Face



The Terror Of Blue John Gap








The following narrative was found among the papers of Dr. James
Hardcastle, who died of phthisis on February 4th, 1908, at 36,
Upper Coventry Flats, South Kensington. Those who knew him best,
while refusing to express an opinion upon this particular
statement, are unanimous in asserting that he was a man of a sober
and scientific turn of mind, absolutely devoid of imagination, and
most unlikely to invent any abnormal series of events. The paper
was contained in an envelope, which was docketed, "A Short Account
of the Circumstances which occurred near Miss Allerton's Farm in
North-West Derbyshire in the Spring of Last Year." The envelope
was sealed, and on the other side was written in pencil--

DEAR SEATON,--

"It may interest, and perhaps pain you, to know that the
incredulity with which you met my story has prevented me from ever
opening my mouth upon the subject again. I leave this record after
my death, and perhaps strangers may be found to have more
confidence in me than my friend."


Inquiry has failed to elicit who this Seaton may have been. I
may add that the visit of the deceased to Allerton's Farm, and the
general nature of the alarm there, apart from his particular
explanation, have been absolutely established. With this foreword
I append his account exactly as he left it. It is in the form of
a diary, some entries in which have been expanded, while a few have
been erased.


April 17.--Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful
upland air. The farm of the Allertons lies fourteen hundred and
twenty feet above sea-level, so it may well be a bracing climate.
Beyond the usual morning cough I have very little discomfort, and,
what with the fresh milk and the home-grown mutton, I have
every chance of putting on weight. I think Saunderson will be
pleased.

The two Miss Allertons are charmingly quaint and kind, two dear
little hard-working old maids, who are ready to lavish all the
heart which might have gone out to husband and to children upon an
invalid stranger. Truly, the old maid is a most useful person, one
of the reserve forces of the community. They talk of the
superfluous woman, but what would the poor superfluous man do
without her kindly presence? By the way, in their simplicity they
very quickly let out the reason why Saunderson recommended their
farm. The Professor rose from the ranks himself, and I believe
that in his youth he was not above scaring crows in these very
fields.

It is a most lonely spot, and the walks are picturesque in the
extreme. The farm consists of grazing land lying at the bottom of
an irregular valley. On each side are the fantastic limestone
hills, formed of rock so soft that you can break it away with your
hands. All this country is hollow. Could you strike it with some
gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum, or possibly cave in
altogether and expose some huge subterranean sea. A great sea
there must surely be, for on all sides the streams run into the
mountain itself, never to reappear. There are gaps everywhere amid
the rocks, and when you pass through them you find yourself in
great caverns, which wind down into the bowels of the earth. I
have a small bicycle lamp, and it is a perpetual joy to me to carry
it into these weird solitudes, and to see the wonderful silver and
black effect when I throw its light upon the stalactites which
drape the lofty roofs. Shut off the lamp, and you are in the
blackest darkness. Turn it on, and it is a scene from the Arabian
Nights.

But there is one of these strange openings in the earth which
has a special interest, for it is the handiwork, not of nature, but
of man. I had never heard of Blue John when I came to these parts.
It is the name given to a peculiar mineral of a beautiful purple
shade, which is only found at one or two places in the world. It
is so rare that an ordinary vase of Blue John would be valued at a
great price. The Romans, with that extraordinary instinct of
theirs, discovered that it was to be found in this valley, and sank
a horizontal shaft deep into the mountain side. The opening of
their mine has been called Blue John Gap, a clean-cut arch in
the rock, the mouth all overgrown with bushes. It is a goodly
passage which the Roman miners have cut, and it intersects some of
the great water-worn caves, so that if you enter Blue John Gap you
would do well to mark your steps and to have a good store of
candles, or you may never make your way back to the daylight again.
I have not yet gone deeply into it, but this very day I stood at
the mouth of the arched tunnel, and peering down into the black
recesses beyond, I vowed that when my health returned I would
devote some holiday to exploring those mysterious depths and
finding out for myself how far the Roman had penetrated into the
Derbyshire hills.

Strange how superstitious these countrymen are! I should have
thought better of young Armitage, for he is a man of some education
and character, and a very fine fellow for his station in life. I
was standing at the Blue John Gap when he came across the field to
me.

"Well, doctor," said he, "you're not afraid, anyhow."

"Afraid!" I answered. "Afraid of what?"

"Of it," said he, with a jerk of his thumb towards the black
vault, "of the Terror that lives in the Blue John Cave."

How absurdly easy it is for a legend to arise in a lonely
countryside! I examined him as to the reasons for his weird
belief. It seems that from time to time sheep have been missing
from the fields, carried bodily away, according to Armitage. That
they could have wandered away of their own accord and disappeared
among the mountains was an explanation to which he would not
listen. On one occasion a pool of blood had been found, and some
tufts of wool. That also, I pointed out, could be explained in a
perfectly natural way. Further, the nights upon which sheep
disappeared were invariably very dark, cloudy nights with no moon.
This I met with the obvious retort that those were the nights which
a commonplace sheep-stealer would naturally choose for his work.
On one occasion a gap had been made in a wall, and some of
the stones scattered for a considerable distance. Human agency
again, in my opinion. Finally, Armitage clinched all his arguments
by telling me that he had actually heard the Creature--indeed, that
anyone could hear it who remained long enough at the Gap. It was
a distant roaring of an immense volume. I could not but smile
at this, knowing, as I do, the strange reverberations which come
out of an underground water system running amid the chasms of a
limestone formation. My incredulity annoyed Armitage so that he
turned and left me with some abruptness.

And now comes the queer point about the whole business. I was
still standing near the mouth of the cave turning over in my mind
the various statements of Armitage, and reflecting how readily they
could be explained away, when suddenly, from the depth of the
tunnel beside me, there issued a most extraordinary sound. How
shall I describe it? First of all, it seemed to be a great
distance away, far down in the bowels of the earth. Secondly, in
spite of this suggestion of distance, it was very loud. Lastly, it
was not a boom, nor a crash, such as one would associate with
falling water or tumbling rock, but it was a high whine, tremulous
and vibrating, almost like the whinnying of a horse. It was
certainly a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment,
I must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words. I
waited by the Blue John Gap for half an hour or more, but there was
no return of the sound, so at last I wandered back to the
farmhouse, rather mystified by what had occurred. Decidedly I
shall explore that cavern when my strength is restored. Of course,
Armitage's explanation is too absurd for discussion, and yet that
sound was certainly very strange. It still rings in my ears as I
write.

April 20.--In the last three days I have made several
expeditions to the Blue John Gap, and have even penetrated some
short distance, but my bicycle lantern is so small and weak that I
dare not trust myself very far. I shall do the thing more
systematically. I have heard no sound at all, and could almost
believe that I had been the victim of some hallucination suggested,
perhaps, by Armitage's conversation. Of course, the whole idea is
absurd, and yet I must confess that those bushes at the entrance of
the cave do present an appearance as if some heavy creature had
forced its way through them. I begin to be keenly interested. I
have said nothing to the Miss Allertons, for they are quite
superstitious enough already, but I have bought some candles, and
mean to investigate for myself.

I observed this morning that among the numerous tufts of
sheep's wool which lay among the bushes near the cavern there
was one which was smeared with blood. Of course, my reason tells
me that if sheep wander into such rocky places they are likely to
injure themselves, and yet somehow that splash of crimson gave me
a sudden shock, and for a moment I found myself shrinking back in
horror from the old Roman arch. A fetid breath seemed to ooze from
the black depths into which I peered. Could it indeed be possible
that some nameless thing, some dreadful presence, was lurking down
yonder? I should have been incapable of such feelings in the days
of my strength, but one grows more nervous and fanciful when one's
health is shaken.

For the moment I weakened in my resolution, and was ready to
leave the secret of the old mine, if one exists, for ever unsolved.
But tonight my interest has returned and my nerves grown more
steady. Tomorrow I trust that I shall have gone more deeply into
this matter.

April 22.--Let me try and set down as accurately as I can
my extraordinary experience of yesterday. I started in the
afternoon, and made my way to the Blue John Gap. I confess that my
misgivings returned as I gazed into its depths, and I wished that
I had brought a companion to share my exploration. Finally, with
a return of resolution, I lit my candle, pushed my way through the
briars, and descended into the rocky shaft.

It went down at an acute angle for some fifty feet, the floor
being covered with broken stone. Thence there extended a long,
straight passage cut in the solid rock. I am no geologist, but the
lining of this corridor was certainly of some harder material than
limestone, for there were points where I could actually see the
tool-marks which the old miners had left in their excavation, as
fresh as if they had been done yesterday. Down this strange, old-
world corridor I stumbled, my feeble flame throwing a dim circle of
light around me, which made the shadows beyond the more threatening
and obscure. Finally, I came to a spot where the Roman tunnel
opened into a water-worn cavern--a huge hall, hung with long white
icicles of lime deposit. From this central chamber I could dimly
perceive that a number of passages worn by the subterranean streams
wound away into the depths of the earth. I was standing there
wondering whether I had better return, or whether I dare venture
farther into this dangerous labyrinth, when my eyes fell upon
something at my feet which strongly arrested my attention.

The greater part of the floor of the cavern was covered with
boulders of rock or with hard incrustations of lime, but at this
particular point there had been a drip from the distant roof, which
had left a patch of soft mud. In the very centre of this there was
a huge mark--an ill-defined blotch, deep, broad and irregular, as
if a great boulder had fallen upon it. No loose stone lay near,
however, nor was there anything to account for the impression. It
was far too large to be caused by any possible animal, and besides,
there was only the one, and the patch of mud was of such a size
that no reasonable stride could have covered it. As I rose from
the examination of that singular mark and then looked round into
the black shadows which hemmed me in, I must confess that I felt
for a moment a most unpleasant sinking of my heart, and that, do
what I could, the candle trembled in my outstretched hand.

I soon recovered my nerve, however, when I reflected how absurd
it was to associate so huge and shapeless a mark with the track of
any known animal. Even an elephant could not have produced it. I
determined, therefore, that I would not be scared by vague and
senseless fears from carrying out my exploration. Before
proceeding, I took good note of a curious rock formation in the
wall by which I could recognize the entrance of the Roman tunnel.
The precaution was very necessary, for the great cave, so far as I
could see it, was intersected by passages. Having made sure of my
position, and reassured myself by examining my spare candles and my
matches, I advanced slowly over the rocky and uneven surface of the
cavern.

And now I come to the point where I met with such sudden and
desperate disaster. A stream, some twenty feet broad, ran across
my path, and I walked for some little distance along the bank to
find a spot where I could cross dry-shod. Finally, I came to a
place where a single flat boulder lay near the centre, which I
could reach in a stride. As it chanced, however, the rock had been
cut away and made top-heavy by the rush of the stream, so that
it tilted over as I landed on it and shot me into the ice-cold
water. My candle went out, and I found myself floundering about in
utter and absolute darkness.

I staggered to my feet again, more amused than alarmed by my
adventure. The candle had fallen from my hand, and was lost in the
stream, but I had two others in my pocket, so that it was of no
importance. I got one of them ready, and drew out my box of
matches to light it. Only then did I realize my position. The box
had been soaked in my fall into the river. It was impossible to
strike the matches.

A cold hand seemed to close round my heart as I realized my
position. The darkness was opaque and horrible. It was so utter
one put one's hand up to one's face as if to press off something
solid. I stood still, and by an effort I steadied myself. I tried
to reconstruct in my mind a map of the floor of the cavern as I had
last seen it. Alas! the bearings which had impressed themselves
upon my mind were high on the wall, and not to be found by touch.
Still, I remembered in a general way how the sides were situated,
and I hoped that by groping my way along them I should at last come
to the opening of the Roman tunnel. Moving very slowly, and
continually striking against the rocks, I set out on this desperate
quest.

But I very soon realized how impossible it was. In that black,
velvety darkness one lost all one's bearings in an instant. Before
I had made a dozen paces, I was utterly bewildered as to my
whereabouts. The rippling of the stream, which was the one sound
audible, showed me where it lay, but the moment that I left its
bank I was utterly lost. The idea of finding my way back in
absolute darkness through that limestone labyrinth was clearly an
impossible one.

I sat down upon a boulder and reflected upon my unfortunate
plight. I had not told anyone that I proposed to come to the Blue
John mine, and it was unlikely that a search party would come after
me. Therefore I must trust to my own resources to get clear of the
danger. There was only one hope, and that was that the matches
might dry. When I fell into the river, only half of me had got
thoroughly wet. My left shoulder had remained above the water. I
took the box of matches, therefore, and put it into my left armpit.
The moist air of the cavern might possibly be counteracted by
the heat of my body, but even so, I knew that I could not hope to
get a light for many hours. Meanwhile there was nothing for it but
to wait.

By good luck I had slipped several biscuits into my pocket
before I left the farm-house. These I now devoured, and washed
them down with a draught from that wretched stream which had been
the cause of all my misfortunes. Then I felt about for a
comfortable seat among the rocks, and, having discovered a place
where I could get a support for my back, I stretched out my legs
and settled myself down to wait. I was wretchedly damp and cold,
but I tried to cheer myself with the reflection that modern science
prescribed open windows and walks in all weather for my disease.
Gradually, lulled by the monotonous gurgle of the stream, and by
the absolute darkness, I sank into an uneasy slumber.

How long this lasted I cannot say. It may have been for an
hour, it may have been for several. Suddenly I sat up on my rock
couch, with every nerve thrilling and every sense acutely on the
alert. Beyond all doubt I had heard a sound--some sound very
distinct from the gurgling of the waters. It had passed, but the
reverberation of it still lingered in my ear. Was it a search
party? They would most certainly have shouted, and vague as this
sound was which had wakened me, it was very distinct from the human
voice. I sat palpitating and hardly daring to breathe. There it
was again! And again! Now it had become continuous. It was a
tread--yes, surely it was the tread of some living creature.
But what a tread it was! It gave one the impression of enormous
weight carried upon sponge-like feet, which gave forth a muffled
but ear-filling sound. The darkness was as complete as ever, but
the tread was regular and decisive. And it was coming beyond all
question in my direction.

My skin grew cold, and my hair stood on end as I listened to
that steady and ponderous footfall. There was some creature there,
and surely by the speed of its advance, it was one which could see
in the dark. I crouched low on my rock and tried to blend myself
into it. The steps grew nearer still, then stopped, and presently
I was aware of a loud lapping and gurgling. The creature was
drinking at the stream. Then again there was silence, broken by a
succession of long sniffs and snorts of tremendous volume and
energy. Had it caught the scent of me? My own nostrils were
filled by a low fetid odour, mephitic and abominable. Then I heard
the steps again. They were on my side of the stream now. The
stones rattled within a few yards of where I lay. Hardly daring to
breathe, I crouched upon my rock. Then the steps drew away. I
heard the splash as it returned across the river, and the sound
died away into the distance in the direction from which it had
come.

For a long time I lay upon the rock, too much horrified to
move. I thought of the sound which I had heard coming from the
depths of the cave, of Armitage's fears, of the strange impression
in the mud, and now came this final and absolute proof that there
was indeed some inconceivable monster, something utterly unearthly
and dreadful, which lurked in the hollow of the mountain. Of its
nature or form I could frame no conception, save that it was both
light-footed and gigantic. The combat between my reason, which
told me that such things could not be, and my senses, which told me
that they were, raged within me as I lay. Finally, I was almost
ready to persuade myself that this experience had been part of some
evil dream, and that my abnormal condition might have conjured up
an hallucination. But there remained one final experience which
removed the last possibility of doubt from my mind.

I had taken my matches from my armpit and felt them. They
seemed perfectly hard and dry. Stooping down into a crevice of the
rocks, I tried one of them. To my delight it took fire at once.
I lit the candle, and, with a terrified backward glance into the
obscure depths of the cavern, I hurried in the direction of the
Roman passage. As I did so I passed the patch of mud on which I
had seen the huge imprint. Now I stood astonished before it, for
there were three similar imprints upon its surface, enormous in
size, irregular in outline, of a depth which indicated the
ponderous weight which had left them. Then a great terror surged
over me. Stooping and shading my candle with my hand, I ran in a
frenzy of fear to the rocky archway, hastened up it, and never
stopped until, with weary feet and panting lungs, I rushed up the
final slope of stones, broke through the tangle of briars, and
flung myself exhausted upon the soft grass under the peaceful light
of the stars. It was three in the morning when I reached the farm-
house, and today I am all unstrung and quivering after my
terrific adventure. As yet I have told no one. I must move warily
in the matter. What would the poor lonely women, or the uneducated
yokels here think of it if I were to tell them my experience? Let
me go to someone who can understand and advise.

April 25.--I was laid up in bed for two days after my
incredible adventure in the cavern. I use the adjective with a
very definite meaning, for I have had an experience since which has
shocked me almost as much as the other. I have said that I was
looking round for someone who could advise me. There is a Dr. Mark
Johnson who practices some few miles away, to whom I had a note of
recommendation from Professor Saunderson. To him I drove,
when I was strong enough to get about, and I recounted to him my
whole strange experience. He listened intently, and then carefully
examined me, paying special attention to my reflexes and to the
pupils of my eyes. When he had finished, he refused to discuss my
adventure, saying that it was entirely beyond him, but he gave me
the card of a Mr. Picton at Castleton, with the advice that I
should instantly go to him and tell him the story exactly as I had
done to himself. He was, according to my adviser, the very man who
was pre-eminently suited to help me. I went on to the station,
therefore, and made my way to the little town, which is some ten
miles away. Mr. Picton appeared to be a man of importance, as his
brass plate was displayed upon the door of a considerable building
on the outskirts of the town. I was about to ring his bell, when
some misgiving came into my mind, and, crossing to a neighbouring
shop, I asked the man behind the counter if he could tell me
anything of Mr. Picton. "Why," said he, "he is the best mad doctor
in Derbyshire, and yonder is his asylum." You can imagine that it
was not long before I had shaken the dust of Castleton from my feet
and returned to the farm, cursing all unimaginative pedants who
cannot conceive that there may be things in creation which have
never yet chanced to come across their mole's vision. After all,
now that I am cooler, I can afford to admit that I have been no
more sympathetic to Armitage than Dr. Johnson has been to me.

April 27. When I was a student I had the reputation of
being a man of courage and enterprise. I remember that when there
was a ghost-hunt at Coltbridge it was I who sat up in the
haunted house. Is it advancing years (after all, I am only thirty-
five), or is it this physical malady which has caused degeneration?
Certainly my heart quails when I think of that horrible cavern in
the hill, and the certainty that it has some monstrous occupant.
What shall I do? There is not an hour in the day that I do not
debate the question. If I say nothing, then the mystery remains
unsolved. If I do say anything, then I have the alternative of mad
alarm over the whole countryside, or of absolute incredulity which
may end in consigning me to an asylum. On the whole, I think that
my best course is to wait, and to prepare for some expedition which
shall be more deliberate and better thought out than the last. As
a first step I have been to Castleton and obtained a few
essentials--a large acetylene lantern for one thing, and a good
double-barrelled sporting rifle for another. The latter I have
hired, but I have bought a dozen heavy game cartridges, which would
bring down a rhinoceros. Now I am ready for my troglodyte friend.
Give me better health and a little spate of energy, and I shall try
conclusions with him yet. But who and what is he? Ah! there is
the question which stands between me and my sleep. How many
theories do I form, only to discard each in turn! It is all so
utterly unthinkable. And yet the cry, the footmark, the tread in
the cavern--no reasoning can get past these I think of the old-
world legends of dragons and of other monsters. Were they,
perhaps, not such fairy-tales as we have thought? Can it be that
there is some fact which underlies them, and am I, of all mortals,
the one who is chosen to expose it?

May 3.--For several days I have been laid up by the
vagaries of an English spring, and during those days there have
been developments, the true and sinister meaning of which no one
can appreciate save myself. I may say that we have had cloudy and
moonless nights of late, which according to my information were the
seasons upon which sheep disappeared. Well, sheep have
disappeared. Two of Miss Allerton's, one of old Pearson's of the
Cat Walk, and one of Mrs. Moulton's. Four in all during three
nights. No trace is left of them at all, and the countryside is
buzzing with rumours of gipsies and of sheep-stealers.

But there is something more serious than that. Young Armitage
has disappeared also. He left his moorland cottage early on
Wednesday night and has never been heard of since. He was an
unattached man, so there is less sensation than would otherwise be
the case. The popular explanation is that he owes money, and has
found a situation in some other part of the country, whence he will
presently write for his belongings. But I have grave misgivings.
Is it not much more likely that the recent tragedy of the sheep has
caused him to take some steps which may have ended in his own
destruction? He may, for example, have lain in wait for the
creature and been carried off by it into the recesses of the
mountains. What an inconceivable fate for a civilized Englishman
of the twentieth century! And yet I feel that it is possible and
even probable. But in that case, how far am I answerable both for
his death and for any other mishap which may occur? Surely with
the knowledge I already possess it must be my duty to see that
something is done, or if necessary to do it myself. It must be the
latter, for this morning I went down to the local police-station
and told my story. The inspector entered it all in a large book
and bowed me out with commendable gravity, but I heard a burst of
laughter before I had got down his garden path. No doubt he was
recounting my adventure to his family.

June 10.--I am writing this, propped up in bed, six weeks
after my last entry in this journal. I have gone through a
terrible shock both to mind and body, arising from such an
experience as has seldom befallen a human being before. But I have
attained my end. The danger from the Terror which dwells in the
Blue John Gap has passed never to return. Thus much at least I, a
broken invalid, have done for the common good. Let me now recount
what occurred as clearly as I may.

The night of Friday, May 3rd, was dark and cloudy--the very
night for the monster to walk. About eleven o'clock I went from
the farm-house with my lantern and my rifle, having first left a
note upon the table of my bedroom in which I said that, if I were
missing, search should be made for me in the direction of the Gap.
I made my way to the mouth of the Roman shaft, and, having perched
myself among the rocks close to the opening, I shut off my lantern
and waited patiently with my loaded rifle ready to my hand.

It was a melancholy vigil. All down the winding valley I could
see the scattered lights of the farm-houses, and the church clock

of Chapel-le-Dale tolling the hours came faintly to my ears.
These tokens of my fellow-men served only to make my own position
seem the more lonely, and to call for a greater effort to overcome
the terror which tempted me continually to get back to the farm,
and abandon for ever this dangerous quest. And yet there lies deep
in every man a rooted self-respect which makes it hard for him to
turn back from that which he has once undertaken. This feeling of
personal pride was my salvation now, and it was that alone which
held me fast when every instinct of my nature was dragging me away.
I am glad now that I had the strength. In spite of all that is has
cost me, my manhood is at least above reproach.

Twelve o'clock struck in the distant church, then one, then
two. It was the darkest hour of the night. The clouds were
drifting low, and there was not a star in the sky. An owl was
hooting somewhere among the rocks, but no other sound, save the
gentle sough of the wind, came to my ears. And then suddenly I
heard it! From far away down the tunnel came those muffled steps,
so soft and yet so ponderous. I heard also the rattle of stones as
they gave way under that giant tread. They drew nearer. They were
close upon me. I heard the crashing of the bushes round the
entrance, and then dimly through the darkness I was conscious of
the loom of some enormous shape, some monstrous inchoate creature,
passing swiftly and very silently out from the tunnel. I was
paralysed with fear and amazement. Long as I had waited, now that
it had actually come I was unprepared for the shock. I lay
motionless and breathless, whilst the great dark mass whisked by me
and was swallowed up in the night.

But now I nerved myself for its return. No sound came from the
sleeping countryside to tell of the horror which was loose. In no
way could I judge how far off it was, what it was doing, or when it
might be back. But not a second time should my nerve fail me, not
a second time should it pass unchallenged. I swore it between my
clenched teeth as I laid my cocked rifle across the rock.

And yet it nearly happened. There was no warning of approach
now as the creature passed over the grass. Suddenly, like a dark,
drifting shadow, the huge bulk loomed up once more before me,
making for the entrance of the cave. Again came that paralysis of
volition which held my crooked forefinger impotent upon the
trigger. But with a desperate effort I shook it off. Even as the
brushwood rustled, and the monstrous beast blended with the shadow
of the Gap, I fired at the retreating form. In the blaze of the
gun I caught a glimpse of a great shaggy mass, something with rough
and bristling hair of a withered grey colour, fading away to white
in its lower parts, the huge body supported upon short, thick,
curving legs. I had just that glance, and then I heard the rattle
of the stones as the creature tore down into its burrow. In an
instant, with a triumphant revulsion of feeling, I had cast my
fears to the wind, and uncovering my powerful lantern, with my
rifle in my hand, I sprang down from my rock and rushed after the
monster down the old Roman shaft.

My splendid lamp cast a brilliant flood of vivid light in front
of me, very different from the yellow glimmer which had aided me
down the same passage only twelve days before. As I ran, I saw the
great beast lurching along before me, its huge bulk filling up the
whole space from wall to wall. Its hair looked like coarse faded
oakum, and hung down in long, dense masses which swayed as it
moved. It was like an enormous unclipped sheep in its fleece, but
in size it was far larger than the largest elephant, and its
breadth seemed to be nearly as great as its height. It fills me
with amazement now to think that I should have dared to follow such
a horror into the bowels of the earth, but when one's blood is up,
and when one's quarry seems to be flying, the old primeval hunting-
spirit awakes and prudence is cast to the wind. Rifle in hand, I
ran at the top of my speed upon the trail of the monster.

I had seen that the creature was swift. Now I was to find out
to my cost that it was also very cunning. I had imagined that it
was in panic flight, and that I had only to pursue it. The idea
that it might turn upon me never entered my excited brain. I have
already explained that the passage down which I was racing opened
into a great central cave. Into this I rushed, fearful lest I
should lose all trace of the beast. But he had turned upon his own
traces, and in a moment we were face to face.

That picture, seen in the brilliant white light of the lantern,
is etched for ever upon my brain. He had reared up on his hind
legs as a bear would do, and stood above me, enormous, menacing--
such a creature as no nightmare had ever brought to my imagination.
I have said that he reared like a bear, and there was something
bear-like--if one could conceive a bear which was ten-fold the bulk
of any bear seen upon earth--in his whole pose and attitude, in his
great crooked forelegs with their ivory-white claws, in his rugged
skin, and in his red, gaping mouth, fringed with monstrous fangs.
Only in one point did he differ from the bear, or from any other
creature which walks the earth, and even at that supreme moment a
shudder of horror passed over me as I observed that the eyes which
glistened in the glow of my lantern were huge, projecting bulbs,
white and sightless. For a moment his great paws swung over my
head. The next he fell forward upon me, I and my broken lantern
crashed to the earth, and I remember no more.


When I came to myself I was back in the farm-house of the
Allertons. Two days had passed since my terrible adventure in the
Blue John Gap. It seems that I had lain all night in the cave
insensible from concussion of the brain, with my left arm and two
ribs badly fractured. In the morning my note had been found, a
search party of a dozen farmers assembled, and I had been tracked
down and carried back to my bedroom, where I had lain in high
delirium ever since. There was, it seems, no sign of the creature,
and no bloodstain which would show that my bullet had found him as
he passed. Save for my own plight and the marks upon the mud,
there was nothing to prove that what I said was true.

Six weeks have now elapsed, and I am able to sit out once more
in the sunshine. Just opposite me is the steep hillside, grey with
shaly rock, and yonder on its flank is the dark cleft which marks
the opening of the Blue John Gap. But it is no longer a source of
terror. Never again through that ill-omened tunnel shall any
strange shape flit out into the world of men. The educated and the
scientific, the Dr. Johnsons and the like, may smile at my
narrative, but the poorer folk of the countryside had never a doubt
as to its truth. On the day after my recovering consciousness
they assembled in their hundreds round the Blue John Gap. As the
Castleton Courier said:


"It was useless for our correspondent, or for any of the
adventurous gentlemen who had come from Matlock, Buxton, and other
parts, to offer to descend, to explore the cave to the end, and to
finally test the extraordinary narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.
The country people had taken the matter into their own hands, and
from an early hour of the morning they had worked hard in stopping
up the entrance of the tunnel. There is a sharp slope where the
shaft begins, and great boulders, rolled along by many willing
hands, were thrust down it until the Gap was absolutely sealed. So
ends the episode which has caused such excitement throughout the
country. Local opinion is fiercely divided upon the subject. On
the one hand are those who point to Dr. Hardcastle's impaired
health, and to the possibility of cerebral lesions of tubercular
origin giving rise to strange hallucinations. Some idee fixe,
according to these gentlemen, caused the doctor to wander down the
tunnel, and a fall among the rocks was sufficient to account for
his injuries. On the other hand, a legend of a strange creature in
the Gap has existed for some months back, and the farmers look upon
Dr. Hardcastle's narrative and his personal injuries as a final
corroboration. So the matter stands, and so the matter will
continue to stand, for no definite solution seems to us to be now
possible. It transcends human wit to give any scientific
explanation which could cover the alleged facts."


Perhaps before the Courier published these words they would
have been wise to send their representative to me. I have thought
the matter out, as no one else has occasion to do, and it is
possible that I might have removed some of the more obvious
difficulties of the narrative and brought it one degree nearer to
scientific acceptance. Let me then write down the only explanation
which seems to me to elucidate what I know to my cost to have been
a series of facts. My theory may seem to be wildly improbable, but
at least no one can venture to say that it is impossible.

My view is--and it was formed, as is shown by my diary, before
my personal adventure--that in this part of England there is a
vast subterranean lake or sea, which is fed by the great number of
streams which pass down through the limestone. Where there is a
large collection of water there must also be some evaporation,
mists or rain, and a possibility of vegetation. This in turn
suggests that there may be animal life, arising, as the vegetable
life would also do, from those seeds and types which had been
introduced at an early period of the world's history, when
communication with the outer air was more easy. This place had
then developed a fauna and flora of its own, including such
monsters as the one which I had seen, which may well have been the
old cave-bear, enormously enlarged and modified by its new
environment. For countless aeons the internal and the external
creation had kept apart, growing steadily away from each other.
Then there had come some rift in the depths of the mountain which
had enabled one creature to wander up and, by means of the Roman
tunnel, to reach the open air. Like all subterranean life, it had
lost the power of sight, but this had no doubt been compensated for
by nature in other directions. Certainly it had some means of
finding its way about, and of hunting down the sheep upon the
hillside. As to its choice of dark nights, it is part of my theory
that light was painful to those great white eyeballs, and that it
was only a pitch-black world which it could tolerate. Perhaps,
indeed, it was the glare of my lantern which saved my life at that
awful moment when we were face to face. So I read the riddle. I
leave these facts behind me, and if you can explain them, do so; or
if you choose to doubt them, do so. Neither your belief nor your
incredulity can alter them, nor affect one whose task is nearly
over.


So ended the strange narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.





Next: The Brazilian Cat

Previous: The Case Of Lady Sannox



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