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The Searching Of The Gardens







From: The House On The Borderland

How slowly the time went; and never a thing to indicate that any of the
brutes still infested the gardens.

It was on the ninth day that, finally, I decided to run the risk, if
any there were, and sally out. With this purpose in view, I loaded one
of the shotguns, carefully--choosing it, as being more deadly than a
rifle, at close quarters; and then, after a final scrutiny of the
grounds, from the tower, I called Pepper to follow me, and made my way
down to the basement.

At the door, I must confess to hesitating a moment. The thought of what
might be awaiting me among the dark shrubberies, was by no means
calculated to encourage my resolution. It was but a second, though, and
then I had drawn the bolts, and was standing on the path outside
the door.

Pepper followed, stopping at the doorstep to sniff, suspiciously; and
carrying his nose up and down the jambs, as though following a scent.
Then, suddenly, he turned, sharply, and started to run here and there,
in semicircles and circles, all around the door; finally returning to
the threshold. Here, he began again to nose about.

Hitherto, I had stood, watching the dog; yet, all the time, with half
my gaze on the wild tangle of gardens, stretching 'round me. Now, I went
toward him, and, bending down, examined the surface of the door, where
he was smelling. I found that the wood was covered with a network of
scratches, crossing and recrossing one another, in inextricable
confusion. In addition to this, I noticed that the doorposts,
themselves, were gnawed in places. Beyond these, I could find nothing;
and so, standing up, I began to make the tour of the house wall.

Pepper, as soon as I walked away, left the door, and ran ahead, still
nosing and sniffing as he went along. At times, he stopped to
investigate. Here, it would be a bullet-hole in the pathway, or,
perhaps, a powder stained wad. Anon, it might be a piece of torn sod, or
a disturbed patch of weedy path; but, save for such trifles, he found
nothing. I observed him, critically, as he went along, and could
discover nothing of uneasiness, in his demeanor, to indicate that he
felt the nearness of any of the creatures. By this, I was assured that
the gardens were empty, at least for the present, of those hateful
Things. Pepper could not be easily deceived, and it was a relief to feel
that he would know, and give me timely warning, if there were
any danger.

Reaching the place where I had shot that first creature, I stopped, and
made a careful scrutiny; but could see nothing. From there, I went on to
where the great copingstone had fallen. It lay on its side, apparently
just as it had been left when I shot the brute that was moving it. A
couple of feet to the right of the nearer end, was a great dent in the
ground; showing where it had struck. The other end was still within the
indentation--half in, and half out. Going nearer, I looked at the stone,
more closely. What a huge piece of masonry it was! And that creature had
moved it, single-handed, in its attempt to reach what lay below.

I went 'round to the further end of the stone. Here, I found that it
was possible to see under it, for a distance of nearly a couple of feet.
Still, I could see nothing of the stricken creatures, and I felt much
surprised. I had, as I have before said, guessed that the remains had
been removed; yet, I could not conceive that it had been done so
thoroughly as not to leave some certain sign, beneath the stone,
indicative of their fate. I had seen several of the brutes struck down
beneath it, with such force that they must have been literally driven
into the earth; and now, not a vestige of them was to be seen--not even
a bloodstain.

I felt more puzzled, than ever, as I turned the matter over in my mind;
but could think of no plausible explanation; and so, finally, gave it
up, as one of the many things that were unexplainable.

From there, I transferred my attention to the study door. I could see,
now, even more plainly, the effects of the tremendous strain, to which
it had been subjected; and I marveled how, even with the support
afforded by the props, it had withstood the attacks, so well. There were
no marks of blows--indeed, none had been given--but the door had been
literally riven from its hinges, by the application of enormous, silent
force. One thing that I observed affected me profoundly--the head of one
of the props had been driven right through a panel. This was, of itself,
sufficient to show how huge an effort the creatures had made to break
down the door, and how nearly they had succeeded.

Leaving, I continued my tour 'round the house, finding little else of
interest; save at the back, where I came across the piece of piping I
had torn from the wall, lying among the long grass underneath the
broken window.

Then, I returned to the house, and, having re-bolted the back door,
went up to the tower. Here, I spent the afternoon, reading, and
occasionally glancing down into the gardens. I had determined, if the
night passed quietly, to go as far as the Pit, on the morrow. Perhaps, I
should be able to learn, then, something of what had happened. The day
slipped away, and the night came, and went much as the last few
nights had gone.

When I rose the morning had broken, fine and clear; and I determined to
put my project into action. During breakfast, I considered the matter,
carefully; after which, I went to the study for my shotgun. In addition,
I loaded, and slipped into my pocket, a small, but heavy, pistol. I
quite understood that, if there were any danger, it lay in the direction
of the Pit and I intended to be prepared.

Leaving the study, I went down to the back door, followed by Pepper.
Once outside, I took a quick survey of the surrounding gardens, and then
set off toward the Pit. On the way, I kept a sharp outlook, holding my
gun, handily. Pepper was running ahead, I noticed, without any apparent
hesitation. From this, I augured that there was no imminent danger to be
apprehended, and I stepped out more quickly in his wake. He had reached
the top of the Pit, now, and was nosing his way along the edge.

A minute later, I was beside him, looking down into the Pit. For a
moment, I could scarcely believe that it was the same place, so greatly
was it changed. The dark, wooded ravine of a fortnight ago, with a
foliage-hidden stream, running sluggishly, at the bottom, existed no
longer. Instead, my eyes showed me a ragged chasm, partly filled with a
gloomy lake of turbid water. All one side of the ravine was stripped of
underwood, showing the bare rock.

A little to my left, the side of the Pit appeared to have collapsed
altogether, forming a deep V-shaped cleft in the face of the rocky
cliff. This rift ran, from the upper edge of the ravine, nearly down to
the water, and penetrated into the Pit side, to a distance of some forty
feet. Its opening was, at least, six yards across; and, from this, it
seemed to taper into about two. But, what attracted my attention, more
than even the stupendous split itself, was a great hole, some distance
down the cleft, and right in the angle of the V. It was clearly defined,
and not unlike an arched doorway in shape; though, lying as it did in
the shadow, I could not see it very distinctly.

The opposite side of the Pit, still retained its verdure; but so torn
in places, and everywhere covered with dust and rubbish, that it was
hardly distinguishable as such.

My first impression, that there had been a land slip, was, I began to
see, not sufficient, of itself, to account for all the changes I
witnessed. And the water--? I turned, suddenly; for I had become aware
that, somewhere to my right, there was a noise of running water. I could
see nothing; but, now that my attention had been caught, I
distinguished, easily, that it came from somewhere at the East end
of the Pit.

Slowly, I made my way in that direction; the sound growing plainer as I
advanced, until in a little, I stood right above it. Even then, I could
not perceive the cause, until I knelt down, and thrust my head over the
cliff. Here, the noise came up to me, plainly; and I saw, below me, a
torrent of clear water, issuing from a small fissure in the Pit side,
and rushing down the rocks, into the lake beneath. A little further
along the cliff, I saw another, and, beyond that again, two smaller
ones. These, then, would help to account for the quantity of water in
the Pit; and, if the fall of rock and earth had blocked the outlet of
the stream at the bottom, there was little doubt but that it was
contributing a very large share.

Yet, I puzzled my head to account for the generally shaken appearance
of the place--these streamlets, and that huge cleft, further up the
ravine! It seemed to me, that more than the landslip was necessary to
account for these. I could imagine an earthquake, or a great
explosion, creating some such condition of affairs as existed; but, of
these, there had been neither. Then, I stood up, quickly, remembering
that crash, and the cloud of dust that had followed, directly, rushing
high into the air. But I shook my head, unbelievingly. No! It must have
been the noise of the falling rocks and earth, I had heard; of course,
the dust would fly, naturally. Still, in spite of my reasoning, I had an
uneasy feeling, that this theory did not satisfy my sense of the
probable; and yet, was any other, that I could suggest, likely to be
half so plausible? Pepper had been sitting on the grass, while I
conducted my examination. Now, as I turned up the North side of the
ravine, he rose and followed.

Slowly, and keeping a careful watch in all directions, I made the
circuit of the Pit; but found little else, that I had not already seen.
From the West end, I could see the four waterfalls, uninterruptedly.
They were some considerable distance up from the surface of the
lake--about fifty feet, I calculated.

For a little while longer, I loitered about; keeping my eyes and ears
open, but still, without seeing or hearing anything suspicious. The
whole place was wonderfully quiet; indeed, save for the continuous
murmur of the water, at the top end, no sound, of any description, broke
the silence.

All this while, Pepper had shown no signs of uneasiness. This seemed,
to me, to indicate that, for the time being, at least, there was none of
the Swine-creatures in the vicinity. So far as I could see, his
attention appeared to have been taken, chiefly, with scratching and
sniffing among the grass at the edge of the Pit. At times, he would
leave the edge, and run along toward the house, as though following
invisible tracks; but, in all cases, returning after a few minutes. I
had little doubt but that he was really tracing out the footsteps of the
Swine-things; and the very fact that each one seemed to lead him back to
the Pit, appeared to me, a proof that the brutes had all returned whence
they came.

At noon, I went home, for dinner. During the afternoon, I made a
partial search of the gardens, accompanied by Pepper; but, without
coming upon anything to indicate the presence of the creatures.

Once, as we made our way through the shrubberies, Pepper rushed in
among some bushes, with a fierce yelp. At that, I jumped back, in sudden
fright, and threw my gun forward, in readiness; only to laugh,
nervously, as Pepper reappeared, chasing an unfortunate cat. Toward
evening, I gave up the search, and returned to the house. All at once,
as we were passing a great clump of bushes, on our right, Pepper
disappeared, and I could hear him sniffing and growling among them, in a
suspicious manner. With my gun barrel, I parted the intervening
shrubbery, and looked inside. There was nothing to be seen, save that
many of the branches were bent down, and broken; as though some animal
had made a lair there, at no very previous date. It was probably, I
thought, one of the places occupied by some of the Swine-creatures, on
the night of the attack.

Next day, I resumed my search through the gardens; but without result.
By evening, I had been right through them, and now, I knew, beyond the
possibility of doubt, that there were no longer any of the Things
concealed about the place. Indeed, I have often thought since, that I
was correct in my earlier surmise, that they had left soon after
the attack.





Next: The Subterranean Pit

Previous: The Time Of Waiting



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