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In The Cellars

From: The House On The Borderland

At last, what with being tired and cold, and the uneasiness that
possessed me, I resolved to take a walk through the house; first calling
in at the study, for a glass of brandy to warm me. This, I did, and,
while there, I examined the door, carefully; but found all as I had left
it the night before.

The day was just breaking, as I left the tower; though it was still too
dark in the house to be able to see without a light, and I took one of
the study candles with me on my 'round. By the time I had finished the
ground floor, the daylight was creeping in, wanly, through the barred
windows. My search had shown me nothing fresh. Everything appeared to be
in order, and I was on the point of extinguishing my candle, when the
thought suggested itself to me to have another glance 'round the
cellars. I had not, if I remember rightly, been into them since my hasty
search on the evening of the attack.

For, perhaps, the half of a minute, I hesitated. I would have been very
willing to forego the task--as, indeed, I am inclined to think any man
well might--for of all the great, awe-inspiring rooms in this house, the
cellars are the hugest and weirdest. Great, gloomy caverns of places,
unlit by any ray of daylight. Yet, I would not shirk the work. I felt
that to do so would smack of sheer cowardice. Besides, as I reassured
myself, the cellars were really the most unlikely places in which to
come across anything dangerous; considering that they can be entered,
only through a heavy oaken door, the key of which, I carry always on
my person.

It is in the smallest of these places that I keep my wine; a gloomy
hole close to the foot of the cellar stairs; and beyond which, I have
seldom proceeded. Indeed, save for the rummage 'round, already
mentioned, I doubt whether I had ever, before, been right through
the cellars.

As I unlocked the great door, at the top of the steps, I paused,
nervously, a moment, at the strange, desolate smell that assailed my
nostrils. Then, throwing the barrel of my weapon forward, I descended,
slowly, into the darkness of the underground regions.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I stood for a minute, and listened.
All was silent, save for a faint drip, drip of water, falling,
drop-by-drop, somewhere to my left. As I stood, I noticed how quietly
the candle burnt; never a flicker nor flare, so utterly windless was
the place.

Quietly, I moved from cellar to cellar. I had but a very dim memory of
their arrangement. The impressions left by my first search were blurred.
I had recollections of a succession of great cellars, and of one,
greater than the rest, the roof of which was upheld by pillars; beyond
that my mind was hazy, and predominated by a sense of cold and darkness
and shadows. Now, however, it was different; for, although nervous, I
was sufficiently collected to be able to look about me, and note the
structure and size of the different vaults I entered.

Of course, with the amount of light given by my candle, it was not
possible to examine each place, minutely, but I was enabled to notice,
as I went along, that the walls appeared to be built with wonderful
precision and finish; while here and there, an occasional, massive
pillar shot up to support the vaulted roof.

Thus, I came, at last, to the great cellar that I remembered. It is
reached, through a huge, arched entrance, on which I observed strange,
fantastic carvings, which threw queer shadows under the light of my
candle. As I stood, and examined these, thoughtfully, it occurred to me
how strange it was, that I should be so little acquainted with my own
house. Yet, this may be easily understood, when one realizes the size of
this ancient pile, and the fact that only my old sister and I live in
it, occupying a few of the rooms, such as our wants decide.

Holding the light high, I passed on into the cellar, and, keeping to
the right, paced slowly up, until I reached the further end. I walked
quietly, and looked cautiously about, as I went. But, so far as the
light showed, I saw nothing unusual.

At the top, I turned to the left, still keeping to the wall, and so
continued, until I had traversed the whole of the vast chamber. As I
moved along, I noticed that the floor was composed of solid rock, in
places covered with a damp mould, in others bare, or almost so, save for
a thin coating of light-grey dust.

I had halted at the doorway. Now, however, I turned, and made my way up
the center of the place; passing among the pillars, and glancing to
right and left, as I moved. About halfway up the cellar, I stubbed my
foot against something that gave out a metallic sound. Stooping quickly,
I held the candle, and saw that the object I had kicked, was a large,
metal ring. Bending lower, I cleared the dust from around it, and,
presently, discovered that it was attached to a ponderous trap door,
black with age.

Feeling excited, and wondering to where it could lead, I laid my gun on
the floor, and, sticking the candle in the trigger guard, took the ring
in both hands, and pulled. The trap creaked loudly--the sound echoing,
vaguely, through the huge place--and opened, heavily.

Propping the edge on my knee, I reached for the candle, and held it in
the opening, moving it to right and left; but could see nothing. I was
puzzled and surprised. There were no signs of steps, nor even the
appearance of there ever having been any. Nothing; save an empty
blackness. I might have been looking down into a bottomless, sideless
well. Then, even as I stared, full of perplexity, I seemed to hear, far
down, as though from untold depths, a faint whisper of sound. I bent my
head, quickly, more into the opening, and listened, intently. It may
have been fancy; but I could have sworn to hearing a soft titter, that
grew into a hideous, chuckling, faint and distant. Startled, I leapt
backward, letting the trap fall, with a hollow clang, that filled the
place with echoes. Even then, I seemed to hear that mocking, suggestive
laughter; but this, I knew, must be my imagination. The sound, I had
heard, was far too slight to penetrate through the cumbrous trap.

For a full minute, I stood there, quivering--glancing, nervously,
behind and before; but the great cellar was silent as a grave, and,
gradually, I shook off the frightened sensation. With a calmer mind, I
became again curious to know into what that trap opened; but could not,
then, summon sufficient courage to make a further investigation. One
thing I felt, however, was that the trap ought to be secured. This, I
accomplished by placing upon it several large pieces of 'dressed'
stone, which I had noticed in my tour along the East wall.

Then, after a final scrutiny of the rest of the place, I retraced my
way through the cellars, to the stairs, and so reached the daylight,
with an infinite feeling of relief, that the uncomfortable task was

Next: The Time Of Waiting

Previous: After The Attack

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