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After The Attack

From: The House On The Borderland

It was now about three a.m., and, presently, the Eastern sky began to
pale with the coming of dawn. Gradually, the day came, and, by its
light, I scanned the gardens, earnestly; but nowhere could I see any
signs of the brutes. I leant over, and glanced down to the foot of the
wall, to see whether the body of the Thing I had shot the night before
was still there. It was gone. I supposed that others of the monsters had
removed it during the night.

Then, I went down on to the roof, and crossed over to the gap from
which the coping stone had fallen. Reaching it, I looked over. Yes,
there was the stone, as I had seen it last; but there was no appearance
of anything beneath it; nor could I see the creatures I had killed,
after its fall. Evidently, they also had been taken away. I turned, and
went down to my study. There, I sat down, wearily. I was thoroughly
tired. It was quite light now; though the sun's rays were not, as yet,
perceptibly hot. A clock chimed the hour of four.

I awoke, with a start, and looked 'round, hurriedly. The clock in the
corner, indicated that it was three o'clock. It was already afternoon. I
must have slept for nearly eleven hours.

With a jerky movement, I sat forward in the chair, and listened. The
house was perfectly silent. Slowly, I stood up, and yawned. I felt
desperately tired, still, and sat down again; wondering what it was that
had waked me.

It must have been the clock striking, I concluded, presently; and was
commencing to doze off, when a sudden noise brought me back, once more,
to life. It was the sound of a step, as of a person moving cautiously
down the corridor, toward my study. In an instant, I was on my feet, and
grasping my rifle. Noiselessly, I waited. Had the creatures broken in,
whilst I slept? Even as I questioned, the steps reached my door, halted
momentarily, and then continued down the passage. Silently, I tiptoed to
the doorway, and peeped out. Then, I experienced such a feeling of
relief, as must a reprieved criminal--it was my sister. She was going
toward the stairs.

I stepped into the hall, and was about to call to her, when it occurred
to me, that it was very queer she should have crept past my door, in
that stealthy manner. I was puzzled, and, for one brief moment, the
thought occupied my mind, that it was not she, but some fresh mystery of
the house. Then, as I caught a glimpse of her old petticoat, the thought
passed as quickly as it had come, and I half laughed. There could be no
mistaking that ancient garment. Yet, I wondered what she was doing; and,
remembering her condition of mind, on the previous day, I felt that it
might be best to follow, quietly--taking care not to alarm her--and see
what she was going to do. If she behaved rationally, well and good; if
not, I should have to take steps to restrain her. I could run no
unnecessary risks, under the danger that threatened us.

Quickly, I reached the head of the stairs, and paused a moment. Then,
I heard a sound that sent me leaping down, at a mad rate--it was the
rattle of bolts being unshot. That foolish sister of mine was actually
unbarring the back door.

Just as her hand was on the last bolt, I reached her. She had not seen
me, and, the first thing she knew, I had hold of her arm. She glanced up
quickly, like a frightened animal, and screamed aloud.

'Come, Mary!' I said, sternly, 'what's the meaning of this nonsense? Do
you mean to tell me you don't understand the danger, that you try to
throw our two lives away in this fashion!'

To this, she replied nothing; only trembled, violently, gasping and
sobbing, as though in the last extremity of fear.

Through some minutes, I reasoned with her; pointing out the need for
caution, and asking her to be brave. There was little to be afraid of
now, I explained--and, I tried to believe that I spoke the truth--but
she must be sensible, and not attempt to leave the house for a few days.

At last, I ceased, in despair. It was no use talking to her; she was,
obviously, not quite herself for the time being. Finally, I told her she
had better go to her room, if she could not behave rationally.

Still, she took not any notice. So, without more ado, I picked her up
in my arms, and carried her there. At first, she screamed, wildly; but
had relapsed into silent trembling, by the time I reached the stairs.

Arriving at her room, I laid her upon the bed. She lay there quietly
enough, neither speaking nor sobbing--just shaking in a very ague of
fear. I took a rug from a chair near by, and spread it over her. I could
do nothing more for her, and so, crossed to where Pepper lay in a big
basket. My sister had taken charge of him since his wound, to nurse him,
for it had proved more severe than I had thought, and I was pleased to
note that, in spite of her state of mind, she had looked after the old
dog, carefully. Stooping, I spoke to him, and, in reply, he licked my
hand, feebly. He was too ill to do more.

Then, going to the bed, I bent over my sister, and asked her how she
felt; but she only shook the more, and, much as it pained me, I had to
admit that my presence seemed to make her worse.

And so, I left her--locking the door, and pocketing the key. It seemed
to be the only course to take.

The rest of the day, I spent between the tower and my study. For food,
I brought up a loaf from the pantry, and on this, and some claret, I
lived for that day.

What a long, weary day it was. If only I could have gone out into the
gardens, as is my wont, I should have been content enough; but to be
cooped in this silent house, with no companion, save a mad woman and a
sick dog, was enough to prey upon the nerves of the hardiest. And out in
the tangled shrubberies that surrounded the house, lurked--for all I
could tell--those infernal Swine-creatures waiting their chance. Was
ever a man in such straits?

Once, in the afternoon, and again, later, I went to visit my sister.
The second time, I found her tending Pepper; but, at my approach, she
slid over, unobtrusively, to the far corner, with a gesture that
saddened me beyond belief. Poor girl! her fear cut me intolerably, and I
would not intrude on her, unnecessarily. She would be better, I trusted,
in a few days; meanwhile, I could do nothing; and I judged it still
needful--hard as it seemed--to keep her confined to her room. One thing
there was that I took for encouragement: she had eaten some of the food
I had taken to her, on my first visit.

And so the day passed.

As the evening drew on, the air grew chilly, and I began to make
preparations for passing a second night in the tower--taking up two
additional rifles, and a heavy ulster. The rifles I loaded, and laid
alongside my other; as I intended to make things warm for any of the
creatures who might show, during the night. I had plenty of ammunition,
and I thought to give the brutes such a lesson, as should show them the
uselessness of attempting to force an entrance.

After that, I made the 'round of the house again; paying particular
attention to the props that supported the study door. Then, feeling that
I had done all that lay in my power to insure our safety, I returned to
the tower; calling in on my sister and Pepper, for a final visit, on the
way. Pepper was asleep; but woke, as I entered, and wagged his tail, in
recognition. I thought he seemed slightly better. My sister was lying on
the bed; though whether asleep or not, I was unable to tell; and thus I
left them.

Reaching the tower, I made myself as comfortable as circumstances would
permit, and settled down to watch through the night. Gradually, darkness
fell, and soon the details of the gardens were merged into shadows.
During the first few hours, I sat, alert, listening for any sound that
might help to tell me if anything were stirring down below. It was far
too dark for my eyes to be of much use.

Slowly, the hours passed; without anything unusual happening. And the
moon rose, showing the gardens, apparently empty, and silent. And so,
through the night, without disturbance or sound.

Toward morning, I began to grow stiff and cold, with my long vigil;
also, I was getting very uneasy, concerning the continued quietness on
the part of the creatures. I mistrusted it, and would sooner, far, have
had them attack the house, openly. Then, at least, I should have known
my danger, and been able to meet it; but to wait like this, through a
whole night, picturing all kinds of unknown devilment, was to jeopardize
one's sanity. Once or twice, the thought came to me, that, perhaps, they
had gone; but, in my heart, I found it impossible to believe that it
was so.

Next: In The Cellars

Previous: The Attack

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