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.





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