The Night Land (20)
November 28, 2012
HiLobrow is pleased to present the twentieth installment of our serialization of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land. New installments will appear each Wednesday for 21 weeks.
In the far future, an unnamed narrator, who along with what remains of the human race dwells uneasily in an underground fortress-city surrounded by Watching Things, Silent Ones, Hounds, Giants, “Ab-humans,” Brutes, and enormous slugs and spiders, follows a telepathic distress signal into the unfathomable darkness. The Earth’s surface is frozen, and what’s worse — at some point in the distant past, overreaching scientists breached “the Barrier of Life” that separates our dimension from one populated by “monstrosities and Forces” who have sought humankind’s destruction ever since. Armed only with a lightsaber-esque weapon called a Diskos, our hero braves every sort of terror en route to rescue a woman he loves but has never met.
Hodgson’s tale of autochthonic future horror, which influenced H.P. Lovecraft, was first published in 1912. In November, HiLoBooks will publish a beautiful new edition of The Night Land, with an Afterword by Erik Davis. Our otherwise unabridged version begins and ends with the most dramatic moments in this epic tale: chapters Two and Eleven. “For all its flaws and idiosyncracies, The Night Land is utterly unsurpassed, unique, astounding,” says China Miéville in his blurb for our edition of the book. “A mutant vision like nothing else there has ever been.”
LAST WEEK: And I lookt a great time, and the Maid crept unto mine elbow, and lookt with me; and afterward we harked, very keen, into the night; but there was nowhere any trouble of the air or of the aether of the Land. Yet I spoke quiet with the Maid, and showed unto her how that we did well to stay off-ward from the fires; but, truly, she was so utter cold and chill, that she did beg that we go down by the fire-hole, even should it be that we stay no more there than should put a warmth through the utter chill of our bodies.
Now, truly, it doth seem a strange thing to be so diverse-minded as this, when that, as you do know, I had been so long a-search for a fire-pit; and mayhaps you shall perceive the better how my heart and brain did be contrary, when that I tell to you, now, how that I have belief that my spirit did even then be subtly set to warn me. And, also, as all do know, it doth be easy to forget this warning and that of experience; by which saying, I do mean that, oft as I had come to know the dangers that did be alway about the fire-holes, yet when I did be far off from them, and Mine Own broken and a-shiver with the chill of the Land, the danger did seem but a small thing and afar off from my mind, and unreal; but the cold to be doubly real. Yet, when we did come even unto the fire-hole, then did come again all about my heart the truth of those dangers that had seemed, but a while gone, so little. And, indeed, I do hope you perceive me in this thing, and how that I strive alway to set unto you the utter truth, so that you shall go with me all the way, and lend me your nice understanding.
Now, when we were come down unto the fire-pit, I went this way and that among the rocks that did be in the bottom of the hollow, so that I should perceive whether there did be any living creature there hid, that should mayhap come out, unknown, to work us harm.
But, indeed, I discovered nothing of any greatness; yet I saw three snakes, and there were, beside, two scorpion-creatures, as I did name them, that neither went backward from me, nor came against me; but did bide where I saw them, each in an hole of the rock.
And because I had seen these things, I saw that we should not do wise to sleep nigh unto the fire-hole; for the creeping things did mortally like the heat, and should be like to come upon us in our slumber. And, indeed, this did but uphold my caution, that we should be well actioned, if that we chose some other part to our rest.
Yet, as you shall suppose, I said naught unto the Maid concerning the creeping and the poisonous things; for I did mean that she have rest and happiness the while that we did stay beside the fire-hole; and afterward, I should tell her, and so she be the more ready to see the properness that we go elsewhere to our sleep. But, as you to understand, if that she not to see wisely and be still intent to the fire-hole, I should have her to obey; for surely she was Mine Own, and I did love her and did mean alway to have her to safety.
Now, presently, the Maid was something warmed, and afterward, she slipt the scrip from my shoulder, and so had food and drink very swift to my need.
And we sat together, and eat and drank; and the Maid very sweet and quiet, as she did begin to eat her second tablet; and, truly, I had knowing that she did remember in all her body that I had whipt her. And, indeed, she did be utter mine.
And oft as we did eat and drink, I lookt this way and that, so that no creeping thing should come anigh to us; and presently, when we had made an end of our food, the Maid saw that I did look about, and she then very swift to catch some of mine unease, and to stare over her shoulder. And, indeed, in a little while she saw a snake go among the rocks; and she then to be very eager that we find some place that should be secure from creeping things. And we to begin then to look for such.
But in the end, we stayed in the hollow, for we found a little cave that did be in an upstanding rock of the hollow, and the upstanding rock was, mayhaps, an hundred good feet off from the fire; for the hollow was very great. And the cave did be a hole that was thrice my height up from the bottom rocks; and it was dry and sweet and with no creeping thing within it, neither did there be any place to hide such therein.
And when we were gotten into the hole, surely it did be very sweet and cozy; for the shine of the fire-hole did shine therein; and surely we had felt it a very haven, but that there was ever the fear of the Land upon our hearts; and upon mine the more than upon the Maid; for, truly, Mine Own did seem to trust me utter; and to seem that she feared not any evil monster, but to have surety that I had power to succour her in all ways. And truly this trust had been very sweet unto my heart, if that I had lacked somewhat of my terror for the safe home-going of Mine Own.
And we slept that night as we had done before, and shared the cloak over us; for truly, the fire-hole made no great warmth unto us; yet was it less bitter in that part than in the darkness of the Land.
And by that we had come unto sleep, it was twenty good hours since last we had slumber; and truly we did be very wearied; but yet came unto our rest with our spirits set anxious to harken on danger the while that we did sleep.
And we slept seven hours, and did know suddenly of some matter that had need to waken us; and lo! in a moment I did wake, and the Maid in the same instant of time; and there was a great screaming and crying out in the night, that surely affrighted us both; yet did hurt our hearts the more; for it did be the utter cryings and terror of poor humans in the night of that Land. Yet might I do naught; but only wait that I learn more of the matter; for my duty was unto Mine Own, and I had no leave of rashness any more.
Yet, as you do suppose, I was all shaken to go downward of the rock, and afterward to climb out from the hollow, that I should give some help unto they that did need help; but yet might I not leave the Maid.
And immediately, there was a great roaring in one part of the night, and again another roaring in another part of the night; and lo! in a moment the roarings did be answered; and the roarings were the sounds of big and husky voices; so that it did seem that we harked to men so big as houses that did run and shout in the night.
And the Maid did begin to shake, and I put mine arm about her, and drew her backward into the hole so that she did be into the shadow; and she to tremble like one that was broken in courage; for, truly, she had heard those sounds oft in the night in all the long and dreadful month that she had wandered.
And, indeed, I was all shaken in my courage; for it did be the shouting of giants that I heard; and you do know somewhat of the utter horror and terror that did be alway in the heart that did harken unto those monstrous voices, for you do know my tale.
And there came in a moment, a dreadful screaming out in the night, and the screaming did be the screaming of a young maid that doth be slain very brutal. And my heart sickened, because of Mine Own; but my spirit did swell with a strange and utter anger, as that it should burst my body. And the Maid to my side broke into an utter sobbing.
And the screaming of the maid afar off in the dark did end very sudden; but in a moment there did be other screamings in diverse places, and the hoarse shoutings of the great men and the thudding of mighty feet that ran this way and that, a-chase.
And the cryings of the humans came nearer, and the thuddings of the great feet. And, in verity, in a little minute, it did seem unto me that the sounds did be right upon the hollow; and I crept forward, and peered out. And I felt the night to be full of people running; and immediately there passed by the hollow a clustering of humans that ran ever, and screamed and gasped and wept, panting, as they ran. And the shining of the fire-hole made them plain seen and clear, and they did be both men and women, and were but in rags or utter naked, and all torn by the rocks and the bushes, and did seem, indeed, as that they had been wild things that did go by so swift and lost.
And mine heart troubled me with the pain and longing that it did know; so that I had gone in a moment after those people, but that I should leave Mine Own and put her to peril. And even while that I felt so utter in this thing, there came a great thudding of monstrous feet; and there ran four great men out of the night, and went past the hollow very quick. And three did be dull coloured and seeming much haired and brutish; but the other did be an horrid white, and livid-blotched; so that it did seem to my spirit that there went by, a thing that did be a very man-monster filled of unwholesome life. And surely they did be gone from out of the shine of the fire, in one moment, as we do say; and again into the night to their dreadful chasing.
And when the thudding of their feet had gone a long way off over the Land, I heard them bellowing, and afterward a far away screaming, that did have a death note in it; and I knew that those dreadful brute-men did be taking the life from some poor wild humans; and afterward there did be the silence again.
And, surely, it did come to me with a fierce impatience of sorrow, that those people did be without spirit of courage; else had they turned them upon the giants, and slain them with their hands, even if that all had died to compass that slaying; for, truly, they should all die anywise by the giant-men; and they had died then with somewhat to comfort their hate.
Yet, as I do know, the Peoples of the Lesser Redoubt had long been born of parents that were starved of the Earth-Current through an hundred-thousand years and more, and because of this thing, they did surely lack somewhat in all ways. Yet was Naani otherwise; but this not to prove aught, save the rule, as we do say.
Now, sudden, as I stooped very husht and troubled in the mouth of the little cave, I knew that Mine Own sobbed dryly in the back part of the cave. And I had gone to comfort her, but that in the same moment, I saw a naked maid run very swift over the edge of the hollow, and did look over her shoulder, as she ran. And she came to the bottom, and crept in under a ledge of rock that did be in that place; and she did seem utter worn, and gone of the spirit, and desperate. And I perceived in the same instant why that she did go stealthy and swift in that fashion, and to cower, as for her very life; for there came a squat, haired man, so broad as a bullock, who did come silent down into the hollow, looking this way and that, even as a wild beast doth peer, very sudden.
And the Squat Man had instant knowing of the place where the maid did be; and ran in upon her, with no sound.
And I paused not; but leaped all the great way unto the bottom of the hollow, which did be, mayhaps, twenty good feet and more; for mine anger was upon me, and I did mean that I save that one, though I did be powerless to give succour unto those others.
And I fell strong upon my feet, and had no harm of my limbs, for all that the leap did be so high. And in that moment, before that I had time to save the maid, the Squat Man ript her; and she cried out once with a very dreadful scream, and was suddenly dead in the hands of the Brute-Man.
And my heart made my blood to burn with wrath in mine eyes, so that I had scarce power in that instant to see the Squat Man, as I ran upon him. And the roar of the Diskos filled all the hollow, as I made it to spin, as that it did rage with an anger, and to be glut of the Man.
And the Man came round upon me; and thought, mayhaps, to deal with me, as it had dealt with that poor maid, but not all thatwise, as you must know. And I swung the Diskos, and it did seem to sing and to cry eager in my hands. And I smote at the Squat Man, even as it did leap silent upon me, as a tiger doth leap, making no sound. But I gat not home the blow; for the Man dropt sudden down upon the hands, and the blow went overwards. And the Brute-Man caught me by the legs, to rip me; and I cut quick with the Diskos, and it did have but one monstrous talon left unto it. And immediately, it cast me with the other, half across the hollow, and I fell with mine armour clanging mightily, and the Diskos did ring like a bell.
And by the graciousness of all good things, I was harmed not by that monster throw; but was to my feet in one instant, and had not loosed the Diskos from my hand. And the Beast-Man did be upon me with two quick boundings; and I stood up to the Man, and it made no sound or cry as it came at me; and there did a great froth of brute anger and intent come from the mouth of it, and the teeth came down on each side of the mouth, very great and sharp. And I leaped and smote, so that my blow should come the more speedy, and the Diskos took away the head and the shoulder of the Squat Man; and the dead thing knockt me backward, with the spring that it had made; but it harmed me not greatly. Yet afterward I did know how sore and bruised I did be, in all my body and being. And I came back very swift against the Man; but it did be truly dead and greatly horrid.
And I went from the dead monster, and did go, all heart-shaken, unto the dead maid. And I took the torn body of the maid, very sorrowful, and cast it into the fire-hole.
And I turned me then that I should look unto the cave, that I should know that all did be well with Mine Own, and whether she did have seen the horror, or be gone into a swoon.
And lo! Mine Own did run toward me; and she had in her hand my belt-knife which I did give her, before that time, to be a weapon for her defence. And I perceived that she had come to be mine aid, if that I did need such. And she did be utter pale, yet very steadfast and not seeming to tremble.
And I made to take her from that place; but she went beyond me, and lookt at the monstrous bulk of the Squat Man; and was very silent. And she came back unto me; and still so silent. And she stood before me, and said no word; but my heart knew what she did be thinking; for I am not foolish, to have lacked to know what did be in her heart; though mine effort had not shown itself that way unto me, before that moment. And I had no pretending of modesty, but received with gladness and a strangeness of humbleness the honour that her eyes did give to me; for, indeed, she did be so, that she might not give word to her joy of me and her glad respecting, the which is so wondrous good unto the heart of all men that do be loving of a dear and honest maid.
And she said nothing, neither then nor afterward; but I did be honoured all my life after, when that I did anytime mind me of the way that Mine Own lookt upward at me in those moments.
And afterward she did need and allow herself to come unto mine arms, that I hold her from the trembling of heart which did come to her, after that there did be no need for courage; for surely we had both seen a very dreadful thing, and there was a great horror upon us.
And I climbed upward again to the little cave, and did help Naani; and when we were come there again, we did rest awhile. And presently we eat, each of us, two of the tablets and drank some of the water, and indeed we were both utter thirsty.
And in about an hour, after that we had harked very keen a time, we came downward again from the cave, and had our gear with us; and we came up out of the hollow, and set forward with a great caution unto the olden sea-bed. And we came there in two long hours; for we went very slow and with constant harkings; for the fear of the monstrous men was upon us. But there came no harm anigh, neither did we perceive any disturbance in the night of the Land.
And we went down an hour into the olden sea-bed, and did go now the more swift; for our fear was something eased from us, because that we had come away from that place where we had perceived so great and dread an hunting. But yet had we all care about us; for the giants surely to be everywhere in that Land; but yet, as I do think, they to roam more oft anigh to the fire-holes; for the humans did surely wander in such parts, that they have warmth of the fires.
And after we had gone downward an hour into the sea-bed, we turned somewhat unto the South-West, and went for twelve great hours, and did never be any huge space from the shore; for it did run that way, as you do know. And I made to steer by the shinings of the Land, and with advices from Mine Own.
And in the end of the twelfth hour, I did count our distance, making that we did walk somewhat of a certain speed; and by the tellings of the Maid, we did be surely come beyond the place of the Land where the Poison Gas did lie.
And by this, it did be something after seventeen hours since we did sleep; and surely we did be very ready to have rest; for we had gone forward strongly, and with anxiousness; and truly my hurts did be come upon me, so that my whole body did ache; for the quick fight had been bitter, and I had been thrown very hard and brutal; and, indeed, it was wondrous that I had not been all smashed, only that the armour did save me.
And this doth show truly how hard and strong I did be; and Naani did speak upon this, and was oft a-wonder, and at that time did beg me that I make some rest to cure my hurts; for she had not conceived that a man did grow so strong and hardy; and, in verity, the men of the Lesser Redoubt did be soft-made and lacking of grimness, as I did perceive, both through my reason and from her tellings; for they did lack the strong life that doth breed where is the beat of the Earth-Current, as we to have in the Mighty Pyramid. And this thing I have said somewise before this time.
And because that we did be so wearied, I said unto Naani that we find a place for our slumber, and she very willing, as I have shown, and to counsel me likewise.
Yet did we search about in that gloom for a great hour more, and found no cave or hole to give us a safe refuge for our sleep.
And when that we could not find such, I told Naani that we should put the boulders together, somewhat, and so have them about us, that we be greatly hid; and, in truth, even as I began to tell her my plan, she did have the same words in her mouth, so that we caught our little fingers, there in the dark of that grim Land in the end of the world, even as she and I had done oft in the early years, before that eternity, when that she did be Mirdath the Beautiful. And we did both be silent, and after that we had wished very solemn and earnest, we said each a name; even as lad and maid shall do in this age; and so to laughter and kist one the other. And truly, the world doth seem not to alter in the heart, as you shall think. And this was what I did find.
And we set-to, and gathered together the boulders which did be very plentiful in that part. And she carry those that did be thin and flat, and I to roll those that did be great and round. And I made a place that did be long and narrow; and afterward, I set the flat stones round the sides, that there be no little hole by which any creeping thing should come inward to sting us in our sleep.
And afterward we gat inside; and surely it did be very cozy, as we do say; but yet not so secure as I did wish, only that I could not shift to plan aught better. And, indeed, it should keep off from us any small thing, and should be like to save us from any monstrous Brute treading upon us; but otherwise, it did be but a poor affair.
Now we eat two of the tablets, each, and drank some of the water, even as we had done in the sixth and the twelfth hours; and afterward we shared the cloak for our slumber; and we kist very sedate and loving, and charged our spirits that we wake if that any horrid thing should come anigh to us in our sleep; and afterward we did be gone very swift to slumbering, and suffered no harm.
And I waked seven hours after, and surely I did ache very bitter, as I did move my body; for the bruisings did be gotten hold of me.
And I slipt away from the Maid, very gentle; for I had mind that she sleep a while more, as I did mean that we make a great journey that day.
And after I had harked a while, and perceived that there was no evil thing anigh, I went outward of the stones. And I walked to and fore and moved mine arms, that I be eased somewhat of the stiffness and ache; but surely it did seem that many hours must go ere I should make any speed of travel; for I did be all clumsy and slow and nigh to groan with the pain of going and aught that I did.
And I minded me that I should do somewhat to ease this thing, lest that I cause us both to come to an harm by staying over-long in that Land.
And I went back into the stones, and gat an ointment from the pouch, that I did carry. And surely the Maid did yet sleep. And I went outward of the stones, again; and stript off the armour, and all my garments; and I rubbed my body with the ointment, and surely the pain did be so that I groaned at this time and that; but yet must I rub good and strong so that I die not of the cold of the Land; and beside I was greatly anxious to cure myself.
And sudden, as I did rub very strong and savage, and heeding so well as I might that I groan not, the Maid did speak close beside me. And, indeed, she could see me but dimly, and had waked sudden to hear my groaning, and I was not to her side. And immediately she had thought that some evil thing harmed me, and was come in an instant that she be with me.
And she cared not that I did be naked; but was utter in anger that I strove to do this thing alone, and with none to aid me, and all uncovered to the chill of the Land. And she ran back into the stones, and brought the cloak and put it about me; and was so angered that she stampt, and had no impudence, but rather as that she did be minded to have tears.
And she sent me back into the sheltering of the stones, and gathered mine armour, and brought these things after me. But the Diskos I took in my hand. And she took the pot of the ointment from me, and made me to lie, and she rubbed me very strong and tender, and kept me warm with the cloak; and surely she was a wise and lovely Maid, and utter Mine Own.
And in the end, she askt me how I was, and I said that I did be different; and she hurried me that I be clothed very quick; for she did be sore afraid that I should come to a chill.
And when I was gotten again into mine armour, she came to me, and showed me where I did lack wisdom, and spoke very straitly and gentle and serious; and afterward kist me, and gave me my tablets, and to sit beside me. And we eat and drank; and I with a new lovingness unto Mine Own; and she somewhat as that she did mother me; but when I put mine arm about her, she did be only a maid. And we did be thus, with but little talk and a great content.
And afterward, we gat our gear together, and went from that little refuge that we had made; and in a while we did go upward out of the olden sea-bed.
And when we were come again to the top of the shore, the which we did in two good hours, I lookt over the Land, a time, with Mine Own anigh to me. And I perceived that the Great Red Fire-Pit of the Giants did be no mighty way off unto the South and West; and surely in a little moment, we saw that there went monstrous figures against the shine of the mighty fire-pit; and we stoopt unto the earth; for it did seem that the light did be like to show us standing there, though truly we did be afar off, as you perceive. Yet, mayhaps, you do share with us the utter horror and distress that those horrid Men did cast about the heart, and so have a kindly understanding of our fear.
And over all the Land, in this place and that, there did be the small shining of little fire-holes and pits, that did be alway red, save in that part where the Poison Gas did lie, the which we had now come safe past.
And beyond the fire-holes, was the great Shine, that lay from the West unto the North of all that Land; and, in verity, we did need that we steer so that we come not anigh to it, neither unto the Great Red Fire-Pit of the Giants; neither unto the low volcanoes, which were beyond the Great Red Fire-Pit, as you do know, and someways unto the Mouth of the Upward Gorge.
And the way of our journey was between the West and the South-West of that Land; and to be made with cunning and wisdom, that we come clear of all unseemly danger unto Mine Own. And I askt her concerning this thing and that of the Land; and surely she told me so much of terror that I was half in a wonder that ever I did live in the end to come unto her.
And it was because of the things that she set out to me, that I perceived how we must come nowise anigh to the low volcanoes that were upon this side of the mouth of the Upward Gorge; for it had been known alway in the Lesser Redoubt that there went very horrid men in that part that did be called wolf-men; but whether there did be any such thing in that age, she had no knowing; for she told me the things that did be set down in the Records and the Histories; and truly no man of the Lesser Redoubt had found heart in a thousand great years to make a journeying through the Land, for the desire of glad and dreadful adventuring, such as our young men did be oft set to; though it was not all such that went.
And because there did be no adventuring for so monstrous a space of years, there was no certain new knowledge of the Land of that age. And this thing is plain to you, and needing not of many words, which do so irk me.
And Naani set out to me how that The Shine was conceived to be a land where Evil did live for ever, and whence came all those Forces of Evil that did work upon the Lesser Refuge. And afterward, she did quiet; so that presently I perceived that she did weep to herself, because that her memory was all new-stirred by my questionings. And I took her very gentle into mine arms, as we did be there kneeled upon the earth.
And after that time, I askt her no question, save as it did be needful to our health and life; yet oft did she tell me this thing and that of her knowledge, to be for mine help and guiding.
* “And, indeed, I do hope you perceive me in this thing, and how that I strive alway to set unto you the utter truth, so that you shall go with me all the way, and lend me your nice understanding.” — this phrase is not included in the 1972 Ballantine edition.
* “But, as you to understand, if that she not to see wisely and be still intent to the fire-hole, I should have her to obey; for surely she was Mine Own, and I did love her and did mean alway to have her to safety.” — this phrase is not included in the 1972 Ballantine edition.
* “and, truly, I had knowing that she did remember in all her body that I had whipt her. And, indeed, she did be utter mine.” — this phrase is not included in the 1972 Ballantine edition.
* “the olden sea-bed” — in the 1972 Ballantine edition, this repeating phrase is rendered “Olden Sea bed.”
* “even as I began to tell her my plan, she did have the same words in her mouth, so that we caught our little fingers” — Jinx! You owe me a Coke.
NEXT WEEK: And, surely, in that moment that we harked very keen, there did be a sound afar off in the night of the Land; and it was as that we had heard the sound before; and, in verity, our spirits had perceived the sound, those two hours back; and now our bodies did wot, and perceived that we had known it subtly before that moment. And the sound was as that something went spinning in the night.
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