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Call of Cthulhu - Tale

Nov 20th, 2012
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  1. Chapter 2
  2. The Tale of Inspector
  3. Legrasse
  4. The older matters which had made the sculptor's dream and bas-relief
  5. so signi cant to my uncle formed the subject of the second half of his
  6. long manuscript. Once before, it appears, Professor Angell had seen the
  7. hellish outlines of the nameless monstrosity, puzzled over the unknown hieroglyphics,
  8. and heard the ominous syllables which can be rendered only
  9. as \Cthulhu"; and all this in so stirring and horrible a connexion that it is
  10. small wonder he pursued young Wilcox with queries and demands for data.
  11. This earlier experience had come in 1908, seventeen years before, when
  12. the American Archaeological Society held its annual meeting in St. Louis.
  13. Professor Angell, as be tted one of his authority and attainments, had had
  14. a prominent part in all the deliberations; and was one of the rst to be
  15. approached by the several outsiders who took advantage of the convocation
  16. to o er questions for correct answering and problems for expert solution.
  17. The chief of these outsiders, and in a short time the focus of interest for
  18. the entire meeting, was a commonplace-looking middle-aged man who had
  19. travelled all the way from New Orleans for certain special information unobtainable
  20. from any local source. His name was John Raymond Legrasse, and
  21. he was by profession an Inspector of Police. With him he bore the subject of
  22. his visit, a grotesque, repulsive, and apparently very ancient stone statuette
  23. whose origin he was at a loss to determine. It must not be fancied that
  24. Inspector Legrasse had the least interest in archaeology. On the contrary,
  25. his wish for enlightenment was prompted by purely professional considerations.
  26. The statuette, idol, fetish, or whatever it was, had been captured
  27. some months before in the wooded swamps south of New Orleans during
  28. a raid on a supposed voodoo meeting; and so singular and hideous were
  29. the rites connected with it, that the police could not but realise that they
  30. had stumbled on a dark cult totally unknown to them, and in nitely more
  31. diabolic than even the blackest of the African voodoo circles. Of its origin,
  32. 7
  33. apart from the erratic and unbelievable tales extorted from the captured
  34. members, absolutely nothing was to be discovered; hence the anxiety of the
  35. police for any antiquarian lore which might help them to place the frightful
  36. symbol, and through it track down the cult to its fountain-head.
  37. Inspector Legrasse was scarcely prepared for the sensation which his
  38. o ering created. One sight of the thing had been enough to throw the assembled
  39. men of science into a state of tense excitement, and they lost no
  40. time in crowding around him to gaze at the diminutive gure whose utter
  41. strangeness and air of genuinely abysmal antiquity hinted so potently at
  42. unopened and archaic vistas. No recognised school of sculpture had animated
  43. this terrible object, yet centuries and even thousands of years seemed
  44. recorded in its dim and greenish surface of unplaceable stone.
  45. The gure, which was nally passed slowly from man to man for close
  46. and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of
  47. exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid
  48. outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of
  49. feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore
  50. feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct
  51. with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence,
  52. and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with
  53. undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of
  54. the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the
  55. doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter
  56. of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod
  57. head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the
  58. backs of huge fore paws which clasped the croucher's elevated knees. The
  59. aspect of the whole was abnormally life-like, and the more subtly fearful
  60. because its source was so totally unknown. Its vast, awesome, and incalculable
  61. age was unmistakable; yet not one link did it shew with any known
  62. type of art belonging to civilisation's youth|or indeed to any other time.
  63. Totally separate and apart, its very material was a mystery; for the soapy,
  64. greenish-black stone with its golden or iridescent
  65. ecks and striations resembled
  66. nothing familiar to geology or mineralogy. The characters along the
  67. base were equally baing; and no member present, despite a representation
  68. of half the world's expert learning in this eld, could form the least notion of
  69. even their remotest linguistic kinship. They, like the subject and material,
  70. belonged to something horribly remote and distinct from mankind as we
  71. know it; something frightfully suggestive of old and unhallowed cycles of life
  72. in which our world and our conceptions have no part.
  73. And yet, as the members severally shook their heads and confessed defeat
  74. at the Inspector's problem, there was one man in that gathering who
  75. suspected a touch of bizarre familiarity in the monstrous shape and writing,
  76. and who presently told with some didence of the odd tri
  77. e he knew.
  78. This person was the late William Channing Webb, Professor of Anthropol-
  79. 8
  80. ogy in Princeton University, and an explorer of no slight note. Professor
  81. Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in a tour of Greenland
  82. and Iceland in search of some Runic inscriptions which he failed to unearth;
  83. and whilst high up on the West Greenland coast had encountered a singular
  84. tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux whose religion, a curious form of
  85. devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness.
  86. It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little, and which they
  87. mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly
  88. ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless rites and
  89. human sacri ces there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a
  90. supreme elder devil or tornasuk; and of this Professor Webb had taken a
  91. careful phonetic copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the
  92. sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how. But just now of prime significance
  93. was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around which they
  94. danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cli s. It was, the professor
  95. stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone, comprising a hideous picture and
  96. some cryptic writing. And so far as he could tell, it was a rough parallel in
  97. all essential features of the bestial thing now lying before the meeting.
  98. This data, received with suspense and astonishment by the assembled
  99. members, proved doubly exciting to Inspector Legrasse; and he began at
  100. once to ply his informant with questions. Having noted and copied an oral
  101. ritual among the swamp cult-worshippers his men had arrested, he besought
  102. the professor to remember as best he might the syllables taken down amongst
  103. the diabolist Esquimaux. There then followed an exhaustive comparison
  104. of details, and a moment of really awed silence when both detective and
  105. scientist agreed on the virtual identity of the phrase common to two hellish
  106. rituals so many worlds of distance apart. What, in substance, both the
  107. Esquimaux wizards and the Louisiana swamp-priests had chanted to their
  108. kindred idols was something very like this|the word-divisions being guessed
  109. at from traditional breaks in the phrase as chanted aloud:
  110. \Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."
  111. Legrasse had one point in advance of Professor Webb, for several among
  112. his mongrel prisoners had repeated to him what older celebrants had told
  113. them the words meant. This text, as given, ran something like this:
  114. \In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."
  115. And now, in response to a general and urgent demand, Inspector Legrasse
  116. related as fully as possible his experience with the swamp worshippers;
  117. telling a story to which I could see my uncle attached profound signi cance.
  118. It savoured of the wildest dreams of mythmaker and theosophist, and disclosed
  119. an astonishing degree of cosmic imagination among such half-castes
  120. and pariahs as might be least expected to possess it.
  121. 9
  122. On November 1st, 1907, there had come to the New Orleans police a
  123. frantic summons from the swamp and lagoon country to the south. The
  124. squatters there, mostly primitive but good-natured descendants of La tte's
  125. men, were in the grip of stark terror from an unknown thing which had
  126. stolen upon them in the night. It was voodoo, apparently, but voodoo of a
  127. more terrible sort than they had ever known; and some of their women and
  128. children had disappeared since the malevolent tom-tom had begun its incessant
  129. beating far within the black haunted woods where no dweller ventured.
  130. There were insane shouts and harrowing screams, soul-chilling chants and
  131. dancing devil-
  132. ames; and, the frightened messenger added, the people could
  133. stand it no more.
  134. So a body of twenty police, lling two carriages and an automobile, had
  135. set out in the late afternoon with the shivering squatter as a guide. At
  136. the end of the passable road they alighted, and for miles splashed on in
  137. silence through the terrible cypress woods where day never came. Ugly
  138. roots and malignant hanging nooses of Spanish moss beset them, and now
  139. and then a pile of dank stones or fragment of a rotting wall intensi ed by
  140. its hint of morbid habitation a depression which every malformed tree and
  141. every fungous islet combined to create. At length the squatter settlement,
  142. a miserable huddle of huts, hove in sight; and hysterical dwellers ran out
  143. to cluster around the group of bobbing lanterns. The mued beat of tomtoms
  144. was now faintly audible far, far ahead; and a curdling shriek came at
  145. infrequent intervals when the wind shifted. A reddish glare, too, seemed to
  146. lter through pale undergrowth beyond the endless avenues of forest night.
  147. Reluctant even to be left alone again, each one of the cowed squatters refused
  148. point-blank to advance another inch toward the scene of unholy worship, so
  149. Inspector Legrasse and his nineteen colleagues plunged on unguided into
  150. black arcades of horror that none of them had ever trod before.
  151. The region now entered by the police was one of traditionally evil repute,
  152. substantially unknown and untraversed by white men. There were legends
  153. of a hidden lake unglimpsed by mortal sight, in which dwelt a huge, formless
  154. white polypous thing with luminous eyes; and squatters whispered that batwinged
  155. devils
  156. ew up out of caverns in inner earth to worship it at midnight.
  157. They said it had been there before d'Iberville, before La Salle, before the
  158. Indians, and before even the wholesome beasts and birds of the woods. It
  159. was nightmare itself, and to see it was to die. But it made men dream, and
  160. so they knew enough to keep away. The present voodoo orgy was, indeed, on
  161. the merest fringe of this abhorred area, but that location was bad enough;
  162. hence perhaps the very place of the worship had terri ed the squatters more
  163. than the shocking sounds and incidents.
  164. Only poetry or madness could do justice to the noises heard by Legrasse's
  165. men as they ploughed on through the black morass toward the red glare
  166. and mued tom-toms. There are vocal qualities peculiar to men, and vocal
  167. qualities peculiar to beasts; and it is terrible to hear the one when the source
  168. 10
  169. should yield the other. Animal fury and orgiastic license here whipped
  170. themselves to daemoniac heights by howls and squawking ecstacies that
  171. tore and reverberated through those nighted woods like pestilential tempests
  172. from the gulfs of hell. Now and then the less organized ululation would cease,
  173. and from what seemed a well-drilled chorus of hoarse voices would rise in
  174. sing-song chant that hideous phrase or ritual: \Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu
  175. R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."
  176. Then the men, having reached a spot where the trees were thinner, came
  177. suddenly in sight of the spectacle itself. Four of them reeled, one fainted,
  178. and two were shaken into a frantic cry which the mad cacophony of the
  179. orgy fortunately deadened. Legrasse dashed swamp water on the face of the
  180. fainting man, and all stood trembling and nearly hypnotised with horror.
  181. In a natural glade of the swamp stood a grassy island of perhaps an
  182. acre's extent, clear of trees and tolerably dry. On this now leaped and
  183. twisted a more indescribable horde of human abnormality than any but a
  184. Sime or an Angarola could paint. Void of clothing, this hybrid spawn were
  185. braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bon re;
  186. in the centre of which, revealed by occasional rifts in the curtain of
  187. ame,
  188. stood a great granite monolith some eight feet in height; on top of which,
  189. incongruous in its diminutiveness, rested the noxious carven statuette. From
  190. a wide circle of ten sca olds set up at regular intervals with the
  191. ame-girt
  192. monolith as a centre hung, head downward, the oddly marred bodies of the
  193. helpless squatters who had disappeared. It was inside this circle that the
  194. ring of worshippers jumped and roared, the general direction of the mass
  195. motion being from left to right in endless Bacchanal between the ring of
  196. bodies and the ring of re.
  197. It may have been only imagination and it may have been only echoes
  198. which induced one of the men, an excitable Spaniard, to fancy he heard antiphonal
  199. responses to the ritual from some far and unillumined spot deeper
  200. within the wood of ancient legendry and horror. This man, Joseph D.
  201. Galvez, I later met and questioned; and he proved distractingly imaginative.
  202. He indeed went so far as to hint of the faint beating of great wings,
  203. and of a glimpse of shining eyes and a mountainous white bulk beyond the
  204. remotest trees|but I suppose he had been hearing too much native superstition.
  205. Actually, the horri ed pause of the men was of comparatively brief duration.
  206. Duty came rst; and although there must have been nearly a hundred
  207. mongrel celebrants in the throng, the police relied on their rearms and
  208. plunged determinedly into the nauseous rout. For ve minutes the resultant
  209. din and chaos were beyond description. Wild blows were struck, shots were
  210. red, and escapes were made; but in the end Legrasse was able to count some
  211. forty-seven sullen prisoners, whom he forced to dress in haste and fall into
  212. line between two rows of policemen. Five of the worshippers lay dead, and
  213. two severely wounded ones were carried away on improvised stretchers by
  214. 11
  215. their fellow-prisoners. The image on the monolith, of course, was carefully
  216. removed and carried back by Legrasse.
  217. Examined at headquarters after a trip of intense strain and weariness,
  218. the prisoners all proved to be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally
  219. aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of Negroes and
  220. mulattoes, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde
  221. Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before
  222. many questions were asked, it became manifest that something far deeper
  223. and older than Negro fetichism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as
  224. they were, the creatures held with surprising consistency to the central idea
  225. of their loathsome faith.
  226. They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before
  227. there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those
  228. Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead
  229. bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the rst men, who formed a cult
  230. which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had
  231. always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark
  232. places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from
  233. his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise
  234. and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when
  235. the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate
  236. him.
  237. Meanwhile no more must be told. There was a secret which even torture
  238. could not extract. Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious
  239. things of earth, for shapes came out of the dark to visit the faithful few.
  240. But these were not the Great Old Ones. No man had ever seen the Old
  241. Ones. The carven idol was great Cthulhu, but none might say whether or
  242. not the others were precisely like him. No one could read the old writing
  243. now, but things were told by word of mouth. The chanted ritual was not
  244. the secret|that was never spoken aloud, only whispered. The chant meant
  245. only this: \In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."
  246. Only two of the prisoners were found sane enough to be hanged, and
  247. the rest were committed to various institutions. All denied a part in the
  248. ritual murders, and averred that the killing had been done by Black Winged
  249. Ones which had come to them from their immemorial meeting-place in the
  250. haunted wood. But of those mysterious allies no coherent account could ever
  251. be gained. What the police did extract, came mainly from the immensely
  252. aged mestizo named Castro, who claimed to have sailed to strange ports
  253. and talked with undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.
  254. Old Castro remembered bits of hideous legend that paled the speculations
  255. of theosophists and made man and the world seem recent and transient
  256. indeed. There had been aeons when other Things ruled on the earth, and
  257. They had had great cities. Remains of Them, he said the deathless Chinamen
  258. had told him, were still to be found as Cyclopean stones on islands
  259. 12
  260. in the Paci c. They all died vast epochs of time before men came, but
  261. there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round
  262. again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity. They had, indeed, come
  263. themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.
  264. These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether
  265. of
  266. esh and blood. They had shape|for did not this star-fashioned image
  267. prove it?|but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were
  268. right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when
  269. the stars were wrong, They could not live. But although They no longer
  270. lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their
  271. great city of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious
  272. resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for
  273. Them. But at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate
  274. Their bodies. The spells that preserved Them intact likewise prevented
  275. Them from making an initial move, and They could only lie awake in the
  276. dark and think whilst uncounted millions of years rolled by. They knew all
  277. that was occurring in the universe, for Their mode of speech was transmitted
  278. thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs. When, after in nities of
  279. chaos, the rst men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among
  280. them by moulding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach
  281. the
  282. eshly minds of mammals.
  283. Then, whispered Castro, those rst men formed the cult around small
  284. idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols brought in dim eras from dark
  285. stars. That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret
  286. priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and
  287. resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind
  288. would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good
  289. and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing
  290. and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new
  291. ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth
  292. would
  293. ame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult,
  294. by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and
  295. shadow forth the prophecy of their return.
  296. In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in
  297. dreams, but then something happened. The great stone city R'lyeh, with its
  298. monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters,
  299. full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had
  300. cut o the spectral intercourse. But memory never died, and the high-priests
  301. said that the city would rise again when the stars were right. Then came
  302. out of the earth the black spirits of earth, mouldy and shadowy, and full of
  303. dim rumours picked up in caverns beneath forgotten sea-bottoms. But of
  304. them old Castro dared not speak much. He cut himself o hurriedly, and no
  305. amount of persuasion or subtlety could elicit more in this direction. The size
  306. of the Old Ones, too, he curiously declined to mention. Of the cult, he said
  307. 13
  308. that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless desert of Arabia, where
  309. Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched. It was not allied to
  310. the European witch-cult, and was virtually unknown beyond its members.
  311. No book had ever really hinted of it, though the deathless Chinamen said
  312. that there were double meanings in the Necronomicon of the mad Arab
  313. Abdul Alhazred which the initiated might read as they chose, especially the
  314. much-discussed couplet:
  315. \That is not dead which can eternal lie,
  316. And with strange aeons even death may die."
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