The House on the Borderland
12. The Subterranean Pit
"ANOTHER WEEK came and went, during which I spent a great deal of my time about
the Pit mouth. I had come to the conclusion a few days earlier, that the arched hole, in the
angle of the great rift, was the place through which the Swine-things had made their exit,
from some unholy place in the bowels of the world. How near the probable truth this
went, I was to learn later. "It may be easily understood, that I was tremendously curious,
though in a frightened way, to know to what infernal place that hole led; though, so far,
the idea had not struck me, seriously, of making an investigation. I was far too much
imbued with a sense of horror of the Swine-creatures, to think of venturing, willingly,
where there was any chance of coming into contact with them.
"Gradually, however, as time passed, this feeling grew insensibly less; so that when, a
few days later, the thought occurred to me that it might be possible to clamber down and
have a look into the hole, I was not so exceedingly averse to it, as might have been
imagined. Still, I do not think, even then, that I really intended to try any such fool-hardy
adventure. For all that I could tell, it might be certain death, to enter that doleful looking
opening. And yet, such is the pertinacity of human curiosity, that, at last, my chief desire
was but to discover what lay beyond that gloomy entrance.
"Slowly, as the days slid by, my fear of the Swine-things became an emotion of the past--
more an unpleasant, incredible memory, than aught else.
"Thus, a day came, when, throwing thoughts and fancies adrift, I procured a rope from
the house, and, having made it fast to a stout tree, at the top of the rift, and some little
distance back from the Pit edge, let the other end down into the cleft, until it dangled
right across the mouth of the dark hole.
"Then, cautiously, and with many misgivings as to whether it was not a mad act that I
was attempting, I climbed slowly down, using the rope as a support, until I reached the
hole. Here, still holding on to the rope, I stood, and peered in. All was perfectly dark, and
not a sound came to me. Yet, a moment later, it seemed that I could hear something. I
held my breath, and listened; but all was silent as the grave, and I breathed freely once
more. At the same instant, I heard the sound again. It was like a noise of laboured
breathing--deep and sharp-drawn. For a short second, I stood, petrified; not able to move.
But now the sounds had ceased again, and I could hear nothing.
"As I stood there, anxiously, my foot dislodged a pebble, which fell inward, into the dark,
with a hollow chink. At once, the noise was taken up and repeated a score of times; each
succeeding echo being fainter, and seeming to travel away from me, as though into
remote distance. Then, as the silence fell again, I heard that stealthy breathing. For each
respiration I made, I could hear an answering breath. The sounds appeared to be coming
nearer; and then, I heard several others; but fainter and more distant. Why I did not grip
the rope, and spring up out of danger, I cannot say. It was as though I had been paralysed.
I broke out into a profuse sweat, and tried to moisten my lips with my tongue. My throat