E.F. Benson (1922)
The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have noticed, as
he bowled along over the bare high plateau between Penzance and the
Land's End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a steep lane and
bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription "Polearn 2 miles,"
but probably very few have had the curiosity to traverse those two miles
in order to see a place to which their guide-books award so cursory a
notice. It is described there, in a couple of unattractive lines, as a
small fishing village with a church of no particular interest except for
certain carved and painted wooden panels (originally belonging to an
earlier edifice) which form an altar-rail. But the church at St. Creed
(the tourist is reminded) has a similar decoration far superior in point
of preservation and interest, and thus even the ecclesiastically
disposed are not lured to Polearn. So meagre a bait is scarce worth
swallowing, and a glance at the very steep lane which in dry weather
presents a carpet of sharp-pointed stones, and after rain a muddy
watercourse, will almost certainly decide him not to expose his motor or
his bicycle to risks like these in so sparsely populated a district.
Hardly a house has met his eye since he left Penzance, and the possible
trundling of a punctured bicycle for half a dozen weary miles seems a
high price to pay for the sight of a few painted panels.
Polearn, therefore, even in the high noon of the tourist season, is
little liable to invasion, and for the rest of the year I do not suppose
that a couple of folk a day traverse those two miles (long ones at that)
of steep and stony gradient. I am not forgetting the postman in this
exiguous estimate, for the days are few when, leaving his pony and cart
at the top of the hill, he goes as far as the village, since but a few
hundred yards down the lane there stands a large white box, like a
sea-trunk, by the side of the road, with a slit for letters and a locked
door. Should he have in his wallet a registered letter or be the bearer
of a parcel too large for insertion in the square lips of the sea-trunk,
he must needs trudge down the hill and deliver the troublesome missive,
leaving it in person on the owner, and receiving some small reward of
coin or refreshment for his kindness.
But such occasions are rare, and his general routine is to take out of
the box such letters as may have been deposited there, and insert in
their place such letters as he has brought. These will be called for,
perhaps that day or perhaps the next, by an emissary from the Polearn
for the fishermen of the place, who, in their export trade, constitute
the chief link of movement between Polearn and the outside world, they
would not dream of taking their catch up the steep lane and so, with six
miles farther of travel, to the market at Penzance. The sea route is
shorter and easier, and they deliver their wares to the pier-head. Thus,
though the sole industry of Polearn is sea-fishing, you will get no fish
there unless you have bespoken your requirements to one of the
fishermen. Back come the trawlers as empty as a haunted house, while
their spoils are in the fish-train that is speeding to London.
Such isolation of a little community, continued, as it has been, for
centuries, produces isolation in the individual as well, and nowhere
will you find greater independence of character than among the people of
Polearn. But they are linked together, so it has always seemed to me, by
some mysterious comprehension: it is as if they had all been initiated
into some ancient rite, inspired and framed by forces visible and
invisible. The winter storms that batter the coast, the vernal spell of
the spring, the hot, still summers, the season of rains and autumnal
decay, have made a spell which, line by line, has been communicated to
them, concerning the powers, evil and good, that rule the world, and
manifest themselves in ways benignant or terrible...
I came to Polearn first at the age of ten, a small boy, weak and sickly,
and threatened with pulmonary trouble. My father's business kept him in
London, while for me abundance of fresh air and a mild climate were
considered essential conditions if I was to grow to manhood. His sister
had married the vicar of Polearn, Richard Bolitho, himself native to the
place, and so it came about that I spent three years, as a paying guest,
with my relations. Richard Bolitho owned a fine house in the place,
which he inhabited in preference to the vicarage, which he let to a
young artist, John Evans, on whom the spell of Polearn had fallen for
from year's beginning to year's end he never let it. There was a solid
roofed shelter, open on one side to the air, built for me in the garden,
and here I lived and slept, passing scarcely one hour out of the
twenty-four behind walls and windows. I was out on the bay with the
fisher-folk, or wandering along the gorse-clad cliffs that climbed
steeply to right and left of the deep combe where the village lay, or
pottering about on the pier-head, or bird's-nesting in the bushes with
the boys of the village.
Except on Sunday and for the few daily hours of my lessons, I might do
what I pleased so long as I remained in the open air. About the lessons
there was nothing formidable; my uncle conducted me through flowering
bypaths among the thickets of arithmetic, and made pleasant excursions
into the elements of Latin grammar, and above all, he made me daily give
him an account, in clear and grammatical sentences, of what had been
occupying my mind or my movements. Should I select to tell him about a
walk along the cliffs, my speech must be orderly, not vague, slip-shod
notes of what I had observed. In this way, too, he trained my
observation, for he would bid me tell him what flowers were in bloom,
and what birds hovered fishing over the sea or were building in the
bushes. For that I owe him a perennial gratitude, for to observe and to
express my thoughts in the clear spoken word became my life's
But far more formidable than my weekday tasks was the prescribed routine
Some dark embers compounded of Calvinism and mysticism smouldered in my
uncle's soul, and made it a day of terror. His sermon in the morning
scorched us with a foretaste of the eternal fires reserved for
unrepentant sinners, and he was hardly less terrifying at the children's
service in the afternoon. Well do I remember his exposition of the
doctrine of guardian angels. A child, he said, might think himself
secure in such angelic care, but let him beware of committing any of
those numerous offences which would cause his guardian to turn his face
from him, for as sure as there were angels to protect us, there were
also evil and awful presences which were ready to pounce; and on them he
dwelt with peculiar gusto. Well, too, do I remember in the morning
sermon his commentary on the carved panels of the altar-rails to which I
have already alluded.
There was the angel of the Annunciation there, and the angel of the
Resurrection, but not less was there the witch of Endor, and, on the
fourth panel, a scene that concerned me most of all.
This fourth panel (he came down from his pulpit to trace its time-worn
features) represented the lych-gate of the church-yard at Polearn
itself, and indeed the resemblance when thus pointed out was remarkable.
In the entry stood the figure of a robed priest holding up a Cross, with
which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug, that reared
itself up in front of him. That, so ran my uncle's interpretation, was
some evil agency, such as he had spoken about to us children, of almost
infinite malignity and power, which could alone be combated by firm
faith and a pure heart. Below ran the legend "Negotium perambulans in
tenebris" from the ninety-first Psalm. We should find it translated
there, "the pestilence that walketh in darkness," which but feebly
rendered the Latin. It was more deadly to the soul than any pestilence
that can only kill the body: it was the Thing, the Creature, the
Business that trafficked in the outer Darkness, a minister of God's
wrath on the unrighteous ....I could see, as he spoke, the looks which
the congregation exchanged with each other, and knew that his words were
evoking a surmise, a remembrance. Nods and whispers passed between them,
they understood to what he alluded, and with the inquisitiveness of
boyhood I could not rest till I had wormed the story out of my friends
among the fisher-boys, as, next morning, we sat basking and naked in the
sun after our bathe. One knew one bit of it, one another, but it pieced
together into a truly alarming legend. In bald outline it was as
A church far more ancient than that in which my uncle terrified us every
Sunday had once stood not three hundred yards away, on the shelf of
level ground below the quarry from which its stones were hewn. The owner
of the land had pulled this down, and erected for himself a house on the
same site out of these materials, keeping, in a very ecstasy of
wickedness, the altar, and on this he dined and played dice afterwards.
But as he grew old some black melancholy seized him, and he would have
lights burning there all night, for he had deadly fear of the darkness.
On one winter evening there sprang up such a gale as was never before
known, which broke in the windows of the room where he had supped, and
extinguished the lamps. Yells of terror brought in his servants, who
found him lying on the floor with the blood streaming from his throat.
As they entered some huge black shadow seemed to move away from him,
crawled across the floor and up the wall and out of the broken window.
"There he lay a-dying," said the last of my informants, "and him that
had been a great burly man was withered to a bag o' skin, for the
critter had drained all the blood from him. His last breath was a
scream, and he hollered out the same words as passon read off the
"Negotium perambulans in tenebris," I suggested eagerly.
"Thereabouts. Latin anyhow."
"And after that?" I asked.
"Nobody would go near the place, and the old house rotted and fell in
ruins till three years ago, when along comes Mr. Dooliss from Penzance,
and built the half of it up again. But he don't care much about such
critters, nor about Latin neither. He takes his bottle of whisky a day
and gets drunk's a lord in the evening. Eh, I'm gwine home to my
Whatever the authenticity of the legend, I had certainly heard the truth
about Mr. Dooliss from Penzance, who from that day became an object of
keen curiosity on my part, the more so because the quarry-house adjoined
my uncle's garden. The Thing that walked in the dark failed to stir my
imagination, and already I was so used to sleeping alone in my shelter
that the night had no terrors for me. But it would be intensely exciting
to wake at some timeless hour and hear Mr. Dooliss yelling, and
conjecture that the Thing had got him.
But by degrees the whole story faded from my mind, overscored by the
more vivid interests of the day, and, for the last two years of my
out-door life in the vicarage garden, I seldom thought about Mr. Dooliss
and the possible fate that might await him for his temerity in living in
the place where that Thing of darkness had done business. Occasionally I
saw him over the garden fence, a great yellow lump of a man, with slow
and staggering gait, but never did I set eyes on him outside his gate,
either in the village street or down on the beach. He interfered with
none, and no one interfered with him. If he wanted to run the risk of
being the prey of the legendary nocturnal monster, or quietly drink
himself to death, it was his affair. My uncle, so I gathered, had made
several attempts to see him when first he came to live at Polearn, but
Mr. Dooliss appeared to have no use for parsons, but said he was not at
home and never returned the call.
After three years of sun, wind, and rain, I had completely outgrown my
early symptoms and had become a tough, strapping youngster of thirteen.
I was sent to Eton and Cambridge, and in due course ate my dinners and
became a barrister. In twenty years from that time I was earning a
yearly income of five figures, and had already laid by in sound
securities a sum that brought me dividends which would, for one of my
simple tastes and frugal habits, supply me with all the material
comforts I needed on this side of the grave. The great prizes of my
profession were already within my reach, but I had no ambition beckoning
me on, nor did I want a wife and children, being, I must suppose, a
natural celibate. In fact there was only one ambition which through
these busy years had held the lure of blue and far-off hills to me, and
that was to get back to Polearn, and live once more isolated from the
world with the sea and the gorse-clad hills for play-fellows, and the
secrets that lurked there for exploration. The spell of it had been
woven about my heart, and I can truly say that there had hardly passed a
day in all those years in which the thought of it and the desire for it
had been wholly absent from my mind. Though I had been in frequent
communication with my uncle there during his lifetime, and, after his
death, with his widow who still lived there, I had never been back to it
since I embarked on my profession, for I knew that if I went there, it
would be a wrench beyond my power to tear myself away again. But I had
made up my mind that when once I had provided for my own independence, I
would go back there not to leave it again. And yet I did leave it again,
and now nothing in the world would induce me to turn down the lane from
the road that leads from Penzance to the Land's End, and see the sides
of the combe rise steep above the roofs of the village and hear the
gulls chiding as they fish in the bay. One of the things invisible, of
the dark powers, leaped into light, and I saw it with my eyes.
The house where I had spent those three years of boyhood had been left
for life to my aunt, and when I made known to her my intention of coming
back to Polearn, she suggested that, till I found a suitable house or
found her proposal unsuitable, I should come to live with her.
"The house is too big for a lone old woman," she wrote, "and I have
often thought of quitting and taking a little cottage sufficient for me
and my requirements. But come and share it, my dear, and if you find me
troublesome, you or I can go. You may want solitude most people in
Polearn do and will leave me. Or else I will leave you: one of the
main reasons of my stopping here all these years was a feeling that I
must not let the old house starve. Houses starve, you know, if they are
not lived in. They die a lingering death; the spirit in them grows
weaker and weaker, and at last fades out of them. Isn't this nonsense to
your London notions?..."
Naturally I accepted with warmth this tentative arrangement, and on an
evening in June found myself at the head of the lane leading down to
Polearn, and once more I descended into the steep valley between the
hills. Time had stood still apparently for the combe, the dilapidated
signpost (or its successor) pointed a rickety finger down the lane, and
a few hundred yards farther on was the white box for the exchange of
letters. Point after remembered point met my eye, and what I saw was not
shrunk, as is often the case with the revisited scenes of childhood,
into a smaller scale. There stood the post-office, and there the church
and close beside it the vicarage, and beyond, the tall shrubberies which
separated the house for which I was bound from the road, and beyond that
again the grey roofs of the quarry-house damp and shining with the moist
evening wind from the sea. All was exactly as I remembered it, and,
above all, that sense of seclusion and isolation. Somewhere above the
tree-tops climbed the lane which joined the main road to Penzance, but
all that had become immeasurably distant. The years that had passed
since last I turned in at the well-known gate faded like a frosty
breath, and vanished in this warm, soft air. There were law-courts
somewhere in memory's dull book which, if I cared to turn the pages,
would tell me that I had made a name and a great income there. But the
dull book was closed now, for I was back in Polearn, and the spell was
woven around me again.
And if Polearn was unchanged, so too was Aunt Hester, who met me at the
door. Dainty and china-white she had always been, and the years had not
aged but only refined her. As we sat and talked after dinner she spoke
of all that had happened in Polearn in that score of years, and yet
somehow the changes of which she spoke seemed but to confirm the
immutability of it all. As the recollection of names came back to me, I
asked her about the quarry-house and Mr. Dooliss, and her face gloomed a
little as with the shadow of a cloud on a spring day.
"Yes, Mr. Dooliss," she said, "poor Mr. Dooliss, how well I remember
him, though it must be ten years and more since he died. I never wrote
to you about it, for it was all very dreadful, my dear, and I did not
want to darken your memories of Polearn. Your uncle always thought that
something of the sort might happen if he went on in his wicked, drunken
ways, and worse than that, and though nobody knew exactly what took
place, it was the sort of thing that might have been anticipated."
"But what more or less happened, Aunt Hester?" I asked.
"Well, of course I can't tell you everything, for no one knew it. But he
was a very sinful man, and the scandal about him at Newlyn was shocking.
And then he lived, too, in the quarry-house...I wonder if by any chance
you remember a sermon of your uncle's when he got out of the pulpit and
explained that panel in the altar-rails, the one, I mean, with the
horrible creature rearing itself up outside the lych-gate?"
"Yes, I remember perfectly," said I.
"Ah. It made an impression on you, I suppose, and so it did on all who
heard him, and that impression got stamped and branded on us all when
the catastrophe occurred. Somehow Mr.Dooliss got to hear about your
uncle's sermon, and in some drunken fit he broke into the church and
smashed the panel to atoms. He seems to have thought that there was some
magic in it, and that if he destroyed that he would get rid of the
terrible fate that was threatening him. For I must tell you that before
he committed that dreadful sacrilege he had been a haunted man: he hated
and feared darkness, for he thought that the creature on the panel was
on his track, but that as long as he kept lights burning it could not
touch him. But the panel, to his disordered mind, was the root of his
terror, and so, as I said, he broke into the church and attempted you
will see why I said 'attempted' to destroy it. It certainly was found
in splinters next morning, when your uncle went into church for matins,
and knowing Mr. Dooliss's fear of the panel, he went across to the
quarry-house afterwards and taxed him with its destruction. The man
never denied it; he boasted of what he had done. There he sat, though it
was early morning, drinking his whisky.
"'I've settled your Thing for you,' he said, 'and your sermon too. A fig
for such superstitions.' "Your uncle left him without answering his
blasphemy, meaning to go straight into Penzance and give information to
the police about this outrage to the church, but on his way back from
the quarry-house he went into the church again, in order to be able to
give details about the damage, and there in the screen was the panel,
untouched and uninjured. And yet he had himself seen it smashed, and Mr.
Dooliss had confessed that the destruction of it was his work. But there
it was, and whether the power of God had mended it or some other power,
This was Polearn indeed, and it was the spirit of Polearn that made me
accept all Aunt Hester was telling me as attested fact. It had happened
like that. She went on in her quiet voice.
"Your uncle recognised that some power beyond police was at work, and he
did not go to Penzance or give informations about the outrage, for the
evidence of it had vanished." A sudden spate of scepticism swept over
"There must have been some mistake," I said. "It hadn't been broken..."
"Yes, my dear, but you have been in London so long," she said. "Let me,
anyhow, tell you the rest of my story. That night, for some reason, I
could not sleep. It was very hot and airless; I dare say you will think
that the sultry conditions accounted for my wakefulness. Once and again,
as I went to the window to see if I could not admit more air, I could
see from it the quarry-house, and I noticed the first time that I left
my bed that it was blazing with lights. But the second time I saw that
it was all in darkness, and as I wondered at that, I heard a terrible
scream, and the moment afterwards the steps of someone coming at full
speed down the road outside the gate. He yelled as he ran; 'Light,
light!' he called out. 'Give me light, or it will catch me!' It was very
terrible to hear that, and I went to rouse my husband, who was sleeping
in the dressing-room across the passage. He wasted no time, but by now
the whole village was aroused by the screams, and when he got down to
the pier he found that all was over. The tide was low, and on the rocks
at its foot was lying the body of Mr. Dooliss. He must have cut some
artery when he fell on those sharp edges of stone, for he had bled to
death, they thought, and though he was a big burly man, his corpse was
but skin and bones. Yet there was no pool of blood round him, such as
you would have expected. Just skin and bones as if every drop of blood
in his body had been sucked out of him!"
She leaned forward.
"You and I, my dear, know what happened," she said, "or at least can
guess. God has His instruments of vengeance on those who bring
wickedness into places that have been holy. Dark and mysterious are His
Now what I should-have thought of such a story if it had been told me in
London I can easily imagine. There was such an obvious explanation: the
man in question had been a drunkard, what wonder if the demons of
delirium pursued him? But here in Polearn it was different.
"And who is in the quarry-house now?" I asked. "Years ago the
fisher-boys told me the story of the man who first built it and of his
horrible end. And now again it has happened. Surely no one has ventured
to inhabit it once more?"
I saw in her face, even before I asked that question, that somebody had
"Yes, it is lived in again," said she, "for there is no end to the
blindness... I don't know if you remember him. He was tenant of the
vicarage many years ago."
"John Evans," said I.
"Yes. Such a nice fellow he was too. Your uncle was pleased to get so
good a tenant. And now She rose.
"Aunt Hester, you shouldn't leave your sentences unfinished," I said.
She shook her head.
"My dear, that sentence will finish itself," she said. "But what a time
of night! I must go to bed, and you too, or they will think we have to
keep lights burning here through the dark hours."
Before getting into bed I drew my curtains wide and opened all the
windows to the warm tide of the sea air that flowed softly in. Looking
out into the garden I could see in the moonlight the roof of the
shelter, in which for three years I had lived, gleaming with dew. That,
as much as anything, brought back the old days to which I had now
returned, and they seemed of one piece with the present, as if no gap of
more than twenty years sundered them. The two flowed into one like
globules of mercury uniting into a softly shining globe, of mysterious
lights and reflections.
Then, raising my eyes a little, I saw against the black hill-side the
windows of the quarry-house still alight.
Morning, as is so often the case, brought no shattering of my illusion.
As I began to regain consciousness, I fancied that I was a boy again
waking up in the shelter in the garden, and though, as I grew more
widely awake, I smiled at the impression, that on which it was based I
found to be indeed true. It was sufficient now as then to be here, to
wander again on the cliffs, and hear the popping of the ripened
seed-pods on the gorse-bushes; to stray along the shore to the
bathing-cove, to float and drift and swim in the warm tide, and bask on
the sand, and watch the gulls fishing, to lounge on the pier-head with
the fisher-folk, to see in their eyes and hear in their quiet speech the
evidence of secret things not so much known to them as part of their
instincts and their very being. There were powers and presences about
me; the white poplars that stood by the stream that babbled down the
valley knew of them, and showed a glimpse of their knowledge sometimes,
like the gleam of their white underleaves; the very cobbles that paved
the street were soaked in it. All that I wanted was to lie there and
grow soaked in it too; unconsciously, as a boy, I had done that, but now
the process must be conscious. I must know what stir of forces, fruitful
and mysterious, seethed along the hill-side at noon, and sparkled at
night on the sea. They could be known, they could even be controlled by
those who were masters of the spell, but never could they be spoken of,
for they were dwellers in the innermost, grafted into the eternal life
of the world. There were dark secrets as well as these clear, kindly
powers, and to these no doubt belonged the negotium perambulans in
tenebris which, though of deadly malignity, might be regarded not only
as evil, but as the avenger of sacrilegious and impious deeds... All
this was part of the spell of Polearn, of which the seeds had long lain
dormant in me. But now they were sprouting, and who knew what strange
flower would unfold on their stems?
It was not long before I came across John Evans. One morning, as I lay
on the beach, there came shambling across the sand a man stout and
middle-aged with the face of Silenus. He paused as he drew near and
regarded me from narrow eyes.
"Why, you're the little chap that used to live in the parson's garden,"
he said. "Don't you recognise me?"
I saw who it was when he spoke: his voice, I think, instructed me, and
recognising it, I could see the features of the strong, alert young man
in this gross caricature.
"Yes, you're John Evans," I said. "You used to be very kind to me: you
used to draw pictures for me."
"So I did, and I'll draw you some more. Been bathing? That's a risky
performance. You never know what lives in the sea, nor what lives on the
land for that matter. Not that I heed them.
I stick to work and whisky. God! I've learned to paint since I saw you,
and drink too for that matter. I live in the quarry-house, you know, and
it's a powerful thirsty place. Come and have a look at my things if
you're passing. Staying with your aunt, are you? I could do a wonderful
portrait of her. Interesting face; she knows a lot. People who live at
Polearn get to know a lot, though I don't take much stock in that sort
of knowledge myself."
I do not know when I have been at once so repelled and interested.
Behind the mere grossness of his face there lurked something which,
while it appalled, yet fascinated me. His thick lisping speech had the
same quality. And his paintings, what would they be like? ...
"I was just going home," I said. "I'll gladly come in, if you'll allow
He took me through the untended and overgrown garden into the house
which I had never yet entered. A great grey cat was sunning itself in
the window, and an old woman was laying lunch in a corner of the cool
hall into which the door opened. It was built of stone, and the carved
mouldings let into the walls, the fragments of gargoyles and sculptured
images, bore testimony to the truth of its having been built out of the
demolished church. In one corner was an oblong and carved wooden table
littered with a painter's apparatus and stacks of canvases leaned
against the walls.
He jerked his thumb towards a head of an angel that was built into the
mantelpiece and giggled.
"Quite a sanctified air," he said, "so we tone it down for the purposes
of ordinary life by a different sort of art. Have a drink? No? Well,
turn over some of my pictures while I put myself to rights."
He was justified in his own estimate of his skill: he could paint (and
apparently he could paint anything), but never have I seen pictures so
inexplicably hellish. There were exquisite studies of trees, and you
knew that something lurked in the flickering shadows. There was a
drawing of his cat sunning itself in the window, even as I had just now
seen it, and yet it was no cat but some beast of awful malignity. There
was a boy stretched naked on the sands, not human, but some evil thing
which had come out of the sea. Above all there were pictures of his
garden overgrown and jungle-like, and you knew that in the bushes were
presences ready to spring out on you ...
"Well, do you like my style?" he said as he came up, glass in hand. (The
tumbler of spirits that he held had not been diluted.) "I try to paint
the essence of what I see, not the mere husk and skin of it, but its
nature, where it comes from and what gave it birth. There's much in
common between a cat and a fuchsia-bush if you look at them closely
enough. Everything came out of the slime of the pit, and it's all going
back there. I should like to do a picture of you some day. I'd hold the
mirror up to Nature, as that old lunatic said."
After this first meeting I saw him occasionally throughout the months of
that wonderful summer. Often he kept to his house and to his painting
for days together, and then perhaps some evening I would find him
lounging on the pier, always alone, and every time we met thus the
repulsion and interest grew, for every time he seemed to have gone
farther along a path of secret knowledge towards some evil shrine where
complete initiation awaited him... And then suddenly the end came.
I had met him thus one evening on the cliffs while the October sunset
still burned in the sky, but over it with amazing rapidity there spread
from the west a great blackness of cloud such as I have never seen for
denseness. The light was sucked from the sky, the dusk fell in ever
thicker layers. He suddenly became conscious of this.
"I must get back as quick as I can," he said. "It will be dark in a few
minutes, and my servant is out. The lamps will not be lit."
He stepped out with extraordinary briskness for one who shambled and
could scarcely lift his feet, and soon broke out into a stumbling run.
In the gathering darkness I could see that his face was moist with the
dew of some unspoken terror.
"You must come with me," he panted, "for so we shall get the lights
burning the sooner. I cannot do without light."
I had to exert myself to the full to keep up with him, for terror winged
him, and even so I fell behind, so that when I came to the garden gate,
he was already half-way up the path to the house.
I saw him enter, leaving the door wide, and found him fumbling with
matches. But his hand so trembled that he could not transfer the light
to the wick of the lamp..."But what's the hurry about?" I asked.
Suddenly his eyes focused themselves on the open door behind me, and he
jumped from his seat beside the table which had once been the altar of
God, with a gasp and a scream.
"No, no!" he cried. "Keep it off! ..."
I turned and saw what he had seen. The Thing had entered and now was
swiftly sliding across the floor towards him, like some gigantic
caterpillar. A stale phosphorescent light came from it, for though the
dusk had grown to blackness outside, I could see it quite distinctly in
the awful light of its own presence. From it too there came an odour of
corruption and decay, as from slime that has long lain below water. It
seemed to have no head, but on the front of it was an orifice of
puckered skin which opened and shut and slavered at the edges. It was
hairless, and slug-like in shape and in texture. As it advanced its
fore-part reared itself from the ground, like a snake about to strike,
and it fastened on him ...
At that sight, and with the yells of his agony in my ears, the panic
which had struck me relaxed into a hopeless courage, and with palsied,
impotent hands I tried to lay hold of the Thing.
But I could not: though something material was there, it was impossible
to grasp it; my hands sunk in it as in thick mud. It was like wrestling
with a nightmare.
I think that but a few seconds elapsed before all was over. The screams
of the wretched man sank to moans and mutterings as the Thing fell on
him: he panted once or twice and was still. For a moment longer there
came gurglings and sucking noises, and then it slid out even as it had
entered. I lit the lamp which he had fumbled with, and there on the
floor he lay, no more than a rind of skin in loose folds over projecting
An inspiration to HP Lovecraft, 'Negotium
Perambulans...' was first published in 1922 in Hutchinsons
Magazine then in 1923 as part of the collection of short stories:
'Visible and Invisible'. E.P. Benson (1867-1940) was son of the Bishop