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precipitous descent towards them. The descent was long and exceedingly
tedious, being so not only by the extraordinary steepness, but also by reason
of the looseness of the boulders with which the whole face of the hill was
strewn. The noise of his descent--now and then his heels struck fire from the
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rocks--seemed now the only sound in the universe, for the beating of the bell
had ceased. As he drew nearer, he perceived that the various edifices had a
singular resemblance to tombs and mausoleums and monuments, saving only that
they were all uniformly black instead of being white, as most sepulchres are.
And then he saw, crowding out of the largest building, very much as people
disperse from church, a number of pallid, rounded, pale-green figures. These
dispersed in several directions about the broad street of the place, some
going through side alleys and reappearing upon the steepness of the hill,
others entering some of the small black buildings which lined the way.
At the sight of these things drifting up towards him, Plattner stopped,
staring. They were not walking, they were indeed limbless, and they had the
appearance of human heads, beneath which a tadpole- like body swung. He was
too astonished at their strangeness, too full, indeed, of strangeness, to be
seriously alarmed by them. They drove towards him, in front of the chill wind
that was blowing uphill, much as soap-bubbles drive before a draught. And as
he looked at the nearest of those approaching, he saw it was indeed a human
head, albeit with singularly large eyes, and wearing such an expression of
distress and anguish as he had never seen before upon mortal countenance. He
was surprised to find that it did not turn to regard him, but seemed to be
watching and following some unseen moving thing. For a moment he was puzzled,
and then it occurred to him that this creature was watching with its enormous
eyes something that was happening in the world he had just left. Nearer it
came, and nearer, and he was too astonished to cry out. It made a very faint
fretting sound as it came close to him. Then it struck his face with a gentle
pat,--its touch was very cold,--and drove past him, and upward towards the
crest of the hill.
An extraordinary conviction flashed across Plattner's mind that this head had
a strong likeness to Lidgett. Then he turned his attention to the other heads
that were now swarming thickly up the hillside. None made the slightest sign
of recognition. One or two, indeed, came close to his head and almost followed
the example of the first, but he dodged convulsively out of the way. Upon most
of them he saw the same expression of unavailing regret he had seen upon the
first, and heard the same faint sounds of wretchedness from them. One or two
wept, and one rolling swiftly uphill wore an expression of diabolical rage.
But others were cold, and several had a look of gratified interest in their
eyes. One, at least, was almost in an ecstasy of happiness. Plattner does not
remember that he recognised any more likenesses in those he saw at this time.
For several hours, perhaps, Plattner watched these strange things dispersing
themselves over the hills, and not till long after they had ceased to issue
from the clustering black buildings in the gorge, did he resume his downward
climb. The darkness about him increased so much that he had a difficulty in
stepping true. Overhead the sky was now a bright, pale green. He felt neither
hunger nor thirst. Later, when he did, he found a chilly stream running down
the centre of the gorge, and the rare moss upon the boulders, when he tried it
at last in desperation, was good to eat.
He groped about among the tombs that ran down the gorge, seeking vaguely for
some clue to these inexplicable things. After a long time he came to the
entrance of the big mausoleum-like building from which the heads had issued.
In this he found a group of green lights burning upon a kind of basaltic
altar, and a bell-rope from a belfry overhead hanging down into the centre of
the place. Round the wall ran a lettering of fire in a character unknown to
him. While he was still wondering at the purport of these things, he heard the
receding tramp of heavy feet echoing far down the street. He ran out into the
darkness again, but he could see nothing. He had a mind to pull the bell-rope,
and finally decided to follow the footsteps. But, although he ran far, he
never overtook them; and his shouting was of no avail. The gorge seemed to
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extend an interminable distance. It was as dark as earthly starlight
throughout its length, while the ghastly green day lay along the upper edge of
its precipices. There were none of the heads, now, below. They were all, it
seemed, busily occupied along the upper slopes. Looking up, he saw them
drifting hither and thither, some hovering stationary, some flying swiftly
through the air. It reminded him, he said, of "big snowflakes;" only these
were black and pale green.
In pursuing the firm, undeviating footsteps that he never overtook, in
groping into new regions of this endless devil's dyke, in clambering up and
down the pitiless heights, in wandering about the summits, and in watching the
drifting faces, Plattner states that he spent the better part of seven or
eight days. He did not keep count, he says. Though once or twice he found eyes
watching him, he had word with no living soul. He slept among the rocks on the
hillside. In the gorge things earthly were invisible, because, from the
earthly standpoint, it was far underground. On the altitudes, so soon as the
earthly day began, the world became visible to him. He found himself sometimes
stumbling over the dark-green rocks, or arresting himself on a precipitous
brink, while all about him the green branches of the Sussexville lanes were
swaying; or, again, he seemed to be walking through the Sussexville streets,
or watching unseen the private business of some household. And then it was he
discovered, that to almost every human being in our world there pertained some
of these drifting heads: that every one in the world is watched intermittently
by these helpless disembodiments.
What are they--these Watchers of the Living? Plattner never learned. But two,
that presently found and followed him, were like his childhood's memory of his
father and mother. Now and then other faces turned their eyes upon him: eyes
like those of dead people who had swayed him, or injured him, or helped him in
his youth and manhood. Whenever they looked at him, Plattner was overcome with [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]