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The Attack

From: The House On The Borderland

I spent some time, puzzling how to strengthen the study door. Finally,
I went down to the kitchen, and with some trouble, brought up several
heavy pieces of timber. These, I wedged up, slantwise, against it, from
the floor, nailing them top and bottom. For half-an-hour, I worked hard,
and, at last, got it shored to my mind.

Then, feeling easier, I resumed my coat, which I had laid aside, and
proceeded to attend to one or two matters before returning to the tower.
It was whilst thus employed, that I heard a fumbling at the door, and
the latch was tried. Keeping silence, I waited. Soon, I heard several of
the creatures outside. They were grunting to one another, softly. Then,
for a minute, there was quietness. Suddenly, there sounded a quick, low
grunt, and the door creaked under a tremendous pressure. It would have
burst inward; but for the supports I had placed. The strain ceased, as
quickly as it had begun, and there was more talk.

Presently, one of the Things squealed, softly, and I heard the sound
of others approaching. There was a short confabulation; then again,
silence; and I realized that they had called several more to assist.
Feeling that now was the supreme moment, I stood ready, with my rifle
presented. If the door gave, I would, at least, slay as many
as possible.

Again came the low signal; and, once more, the door cracked, under a
huge force. For, a minute perhaps, the pressure was kept up; and I
waited, nervously; expecting each moment to see the door come down with
a crash. But no; the struts held, and the attempt proved abortive. Then
followed more of their horrible, grunting talk, and, whilst it lasted, I
thought I distinguished the noise of fresh arrivals.

After a long discussion, during which the door was several times
shaken, they became quiet once more, and I knew that they were going to
make a third attempt to break it down. I was almost in despair. The
props had been severely tried in the two previous attacks, and I was
sorely afraid that this would prove too much for them.

At that moment, like an inspiration, a thought flashed into my troubled
brain. Instantly, for it was no time to hesitate, I ran from the room,
and up stair after stair. This time, it was not to one of the towers,
that I went; but out on to the flat, leaded roof itself. Once there, I
raced across to the parapet, that walls it 'round, and looked down. As I
did so, I heard the short, grunted signal, and, even up there, caught
the crying of the door under the assault.

There was not a moment to lose, and, leaning over, I aimed, quickly,
and fired. The report rang sharply, and, almost blending with it, came
the loud splud of the bullet striking its mark. From below, rose a
shrill wail; and the door ceased its groaning. Then, as I took my weight
from off the parapet, a huge piece of the stone coping slid from under
me, and fell with a crash among the disorganized throng beneath.
Several horrible shrieks quavered through the night air, and then I
heard a sound of scampering feet. Cautiously, I looked over. In the
moonlight, I could see the great copingstone, lying right across the
threshold of the door. I thought I saw something under it--several
things, white; but I could not be sure.

And so a few minutes passed.

As I stared, I saw something come 'round, out of the shadow of the
house. It was one of the Things. It went up to the stone, silently, and
bent down. I was unable to see what it did. In a minute it stood up. It
had something in its talons, which it put to its mouth and tore at....

For the moment, I did not realize. Then, slowly, I comprehended. The
Thing was stooping again. It was horrible. I started to load my rifle.
When I looked again, the monster was tugging at the stone--moving it to
one side. I leant the rifle on the coping, and pulled the trigger. The
brute collapsed, on its face, and kicked, slightly.

Simultaneously, almost, with the report, I heard another sound--that of
breaking glass. Waiting, only to recharge my weapon, I ran from the
roof, and down the first two flights of stairs.

Here, I paused to listen. As I did so, there came another tinkle of
falling glass. It appeared to come from the floor below. Excitedly, I
sprang down the steps, and, guided by the rattle of the window-sash,
reached the door of one of the empty bedrooms, at the back of the house.
I thrust it open. The room was but dimly illuminated by the moonlight;
most of the light being blotted out by moving figures at the window.
Even as I stood, one crawled through, into the room. Leveling my weapon,
I fired point-blank at it--filling the room with a deafening bang. When
the smoke cleared, I saw that the room was empty, and the window free.
The room was much lighter. The night air blew in, coldly, through the
shattered panes. Down below, in the night, I could hear a soft moaning,
and a confused murmur of swine-voices.

Stepping to one side of the window, I reloaded, and then stood there,
waiting. Presently, I heard a scuffling noise. From where I stood in the
shadow, I could see, without being seen.

Nearer came the sounds, and then I saw something come up above the
sill, and clutch at the broken window-frame. It caught a piece of the
woodwork; and, now, I could make out that it was a hand and arm. A
moment later, the face of one of the Swine-creatures rose into view.
Then, before I could use my rifle, or do anything, there came a sharp
crack--cr-ac-k; and the window-frame gave way under the weight of the
Thing. Next instant, a squashing thud, and a loud outcry, told me that
it had fallen to the ground. With a savage hope that it had been killed,
I went to the window. The moon had gone behind a cloud, so that I could
see nothing; though a steady hum of jabbering, just beneath where I
stood, indicated that there were several more of the brutes close
at hand.

As I stood there, looking down, I marveled how it had been possible for
the creatures to climb so far; for the wall is comparatively smooth,
while the distance to the ground must be, at least, eighty feet.

All at once, as I bent, peering, I saw something, indistinctly, that
cut the grey shadow of the house-side, with a black line. It passed the
window, to the left, at a distance of about two feet. Then, I remembered
that it was a gutter-pipe, that had been put there some years ago, to
carry off the rainwater. I had forgotten about it. I could see, now, how
the creatures had managed to reach the window. Even as the solution came
to me, I heard a faint slithering, scratching noise, and knew that
another of the brutes was coming. I waited some odd moments; then leant
out of the window and felt the pipe. To my delight, I found that it was
quite loose, and I managed, using the rifle-barrel as a crowbar, to
lever it out from the wall. I worked quickly. Then, taking hold with
both bands, I wrenched the whole concern away, and hurled it down--with
the Thing still clinging to it--into the garden.

For a few minutes longer, I waited there, listening; but, after the
first general outcry, I heard nothing. I knew, now, that there was no
more reason to fear an attack from this quarter. I had removed the only
means of reaching the window, and, as none of the other windows had any
adjacent water pipes, to tempt the climbing powers of the monsters, I
began to feel more confident of escaping their clutches.

Leaving the room, I made my way down to the study. I was anxious to see
how the door had withstood the test of that last assault. Entering, I
lit two of the candles, and then turned to the door. One of the large
props had been displaced, and, on that side, the door had been forced
inward some six inches.

It was Providential that I had managed to drive the brutes away just
when I did! And that copingstone! I wondered, vaguely, how I had managed
to dislodge it. I had not noticed it loose, as I took my shot; and then,
as I stood up, it had slipped away from beneath me ... I felt that I
owed the dismissal of the attacking force, more to its timely fall than
to my rifle. Then the thought came, that I had better seize this chance
to shore up the door, again. It was evident that the creatures had not
returned since the fall of the copingstone; but who was to say how long
they would keep away?

There and then, I set-to, at repairing the door--working hard and
anxiously. First, I went down to the basement, and, rummaging 'round,
found several pieces of heavy oak planking. With these, I returned to
the study, and, having removed the props, placed the planks up against
the door. Then, I nailed the heads of the struts to these, and, driving
them well home at the bottoms, nailed them again there.

Thus, I made the door stronger than ever; for now it was solid with the
backing of boards, and would, I felt convinced, stand a heavier pressure
than hitherto, without giving way.

After that, I lit the lamp which I had brought from the kitchen, and
went down to have a look at the lower windows.

Now that I had seen an instance of the strength the creatures
possessed, I felt considerable anxiety about the windows on the ground
floor--in spite of the fact that they were so strongly barred.

I went first to the buttery, having a vivid remembrance of my late
adventure there. The place was chilly, and the wind, soughing in through
the broken glass, produced an eerie note. Apart from the general air of
dismalness, the place was as I had left it the night before. Going up to
the window, I examined the bars, closely; noting, as I did so, their
comfortable thickness. Still, as I looked more intently, it seemed to
me, that the middle bar was bent slightly from the straight; yet it was
but trifling, and it might have been so for years. I had never, before,
noticed them particularly.

I put my hand through the broken window, and shook the bar. It was as
firm as a rock. Perhaps the creatures had tried to 'start' it, and,
finding it beyond their power, ceased from the effort. After that, I
went 'round to each of the windows, in turn; examining them with careful
attention; but nowhere else could I trace anything to show that there
had been any tampering. Having finished my survey, I went back to the
study, and poured myself out a little brandy. Then to the tower
to watch.

Next: After The Attack

Previous: The Swine-things

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