"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Peerless David Case: Fengriffen & Other Gothic Tales by David Case (Valancourt Books, 2015)

In The Cell & Other Transmorphic Tales David Case said fully and comprehensively all that any writer could hope to say on the subject of lycanthropy and man- (and woman)- into-beast transformations. Case allowed and explored the psychological, medical, and folkloric permutations of the theme in a series of powerful, sublimely crafted, and often droll stories. Readers of popular literature will see in them echoes of modes favored by earlier authors, from Richard S. Connell to Joseph Conrad to Ernest Hemingway.

In Fengriffen & Other Gothic Tales he displays his great strengths as a storyteller again, unafraid to handle material silted-over with more than a century of cliche.

Fengriffen (1970)

Only as it builds, crescendo upon crescendo, toward its most appalling revelations does "Fengriffen" slowly reveal its last secrets: the true extent of a fallout from a multigenerational curse withorigins in the aristocratic abuses of an earlier Fengriffen. 

At first Case seems to be giving us a rationalized gothic story; its hero is Pope, a proto-Freudian English doctor full of Continental education. His patient is his old friend Fengriffen's pregnant wife, Catherine.

Catherine seems to have internalized an old crime of the previous Fengriffen generation as a benighted sentence on her soul and sanity. The local G. P., Dr.Whittle, recounts the tale.

         "Are you acquainted with the Legend of Fengriffen, Doctor?" I asked. He seemed momentarily startled. His bright eyes blinked, the reaction of a wise bird. "The legend concerning the woodsman?" I added.

     Doctor Whittle nodded slowly.

     "I believe there may be some obscure connection between this legend and her state of mind, you see. That the knowledge has affected her in some manner." 

     "She knows the tale, then?"


     "Charles asked me not to mention it in her presence. Not that I would have, of course. But perhaps he, too, saw that she might be susceptible to it?"

     "I believe so. But she has heard it. She is possessed of an imaginative mind. If not superstitious, at least fertile and able to be easily stimulated. In many ways, this fecundity of consciousness is a blessing; in other ways, as in the case in point, it can be a curse. But it may well be of great help to me if I, too, know the legend."

     Once more he nodded.

     "Well, it is not so much a legend," he said. "It is, in fact, truth. A terrible tale, but true. I know, Doctor, for I was there. The curse, certainly, is nonsense, but the tale itself is nightmarish. I can fully understand how knowledge of this crime could have affected a young woman; I will freely admit that it affected me to a certain extent, caused me to spend many a sleepless night as, despite my efforts to resist it, the gruesome details assumed a place in my mind . . ."

     He paused, withdrew a rosewood snuffbox from his waistcoat, and offered it to me, tapping the box. I partook of a pinch—overdid it, in fact, and sneezed, but was too engrossed in this conversation to let such an impropriety bother me. He placed the box on the desk and spent some moments squaring it with the corner, as if this regularity were of enormous importance.

     "It was long ago," he said. He moved the box another millimeter. "I was but a young man, in my first year of practice, and perhaps I would not have been so troubled had I been more experienced in the agonies of accident and illness. It is hard to say. I have never spoken of it, you see . . . only speak of it now because I understand the necessity, and because you are a man of science. And yet, through all these years, the interest—is that the word, I wonder? Are terrible things always of lasting interest?—the memory, at least, persists in vivid and graphic detail. I recall the sounds and the scents and the colors which at the time were carved so deeply into my perception. I recall, too, my own emotions—indefinable, because they were interwoven and mingled, but with something of horror and something of outrage and a great deal of physical nausea. Still, you will want facts, not impressions . . ." 

     "Impressions, too, may be valuable. Tell me all you can recall, both of fact and feeling."

     "I recall everything," he said. The snuffbox was lined up perfectly with the corner of the desk now, and he suddenly tapped it with his forefinger, causing it to spin across the polished surface. It slid toward the edge, and he stopped it under his hand with a startlingly violent motion, as if he were swatting some loathsome insect.

     "It is not a pleasant tale," he said, with an understatement that did not match his expression.

     Then he told me the story . . .

     "It was in the time of Charles's grandfather, Henry Fengriffen," he began. "I was, as I have told you, in my first year of practice, and was called in a professional capacity just after the event. But I had better tell it in chronological order, to avoid confusion and also because, even now, I find it difficult to be objective, to avoid stressing certain aspects out of proper proportion. Since that time I have had a great deal of acquaintance with violence, but this was my first involvement with the evil of which man is capable—and still, I believe, the most gruesome. Like a man's first love, a man's first cognition of evil remains imprinted upon his soul. Thus . . . It will be necessary to tell you something of Henry Fengriffen first.

     "He was a strange man, this Fengriffen, a man of sharply changing moods. Not a brooder, but a man of impetuous action and insufferable arrogance, for the most part . . . a debauched man, I might say. And yet there was this acute definition in his attitudes; that is, he would, commit some base act and, moments afterward, suffer enormous regrets and do his best to undo the damage he had done. Of course, that was not always possible. He did not seem to realize this; he seemed to believe that a gift of money was all that was required to atone for debased and wicked actions. Despite his regrets, he found it constitutionally impossible to offer apology. Perhaps he never saw the faintest possibility of lowering himself in such a manner and truly believed that money purchased absolution and respect; more likely, he did not condescend to desire respect, but merely wished to absolve himself in his own mind. Oh, he possessed virtues as well. He was extremely generous and absolutely loyal to those he had befriended, was truly admired and esteemed by all whom he had not injured. And in justice to the man, I must say that it was far easier to be debauched in those days. Henry dearly loved to play the squire, galloping madly through the fields of his tenants and drinking heavily with his companions, journeying to the cities and seaports to wench and game and carouse with a savage abandon. I cannot imagine the depths of depravity to which he sank on these bouts of libation, nor do I care to. I know he often fell in with the foulest sort of fellow, the scum of the docks, professional pugilists, purveyors of women and chronic tosspots—God knows what else. Perhaps he absorbed the wickedness from these wretched creatures; perhaps his own inclinations were magnified by their presence; perhaps he was helplessly drawn to them by the gravity of evil. I do not know if I say this in excuse for the man, or merely because it is how I remember him. Yet I also remember that he gave lavishly to the poor, that he arranged many times to supply me with medicines and to pay my fees for treating the unfortunate; that he financed the renovation of the church although he was a professed atheist; that although I was appalled at his way of life, I could not help but recognize his charm. Not an easy man to judge harshly—a man, in fact, whom I would have thought inherently good, beneath his vulgar exterior, had it not been for the affair of which I am speaking.

     "Now. Fengriffen had at that time a young gamekeeper living in a cabin in the woods. Silas, his name was. He was a local lad—I had often seen him in the village. He seemed a pleasant youth, well set up and rather handsome, lean and powerful and attractive despite his crude leather clothing and cloth cap, and a large and unsightly birthmark on his cheek. Not intelligent, of course—surely not educated—but none the less a fine example of sinewy health and unspoiled nature. The young girls of his class were all attracted to him, would greet him with blushes and lowered eyes as he strode down the street. He could, I suppose, have taken his choice of any of them, and eventually, when he was perhaps twenty-five years of age, he took a bride from the village. Her name was Sarah. She was barely seventeen, a virgin of unblemished beauty. It was first love for both of them. They were married in the village, and on the wedding night Silas brought his bride back to his rustic cabin, thinking it proper to consummate the marriage in the place where they would undoubtedly have lived the rest of their natural lives in concord and happiness. Would have, I say, for this is where the foul deed occurred . . ."

     Doctor Whittle had begun to toy with the snuffbox again, staring down at it intently, as though the rosewood were a crystal revealing the past.

     "Henry Fengriffen heard of the wedding, and of the bride's virginal qualities. Normally, that would have meant no more than a crude conversation or coarse joke with his cronies, but fate played a cruel hand at this point. For he was riotously drunk, at the tail end of a three-day binge, and alcohol had destroyed what judgment he possessed . . . left a vacuum to be filled by lust. He decided to view the bride, decided it was his feudal right, perhaps. His cronies were in accord, as usual, always willing to make sport. So they mounted at the house and thundered off across the fields and into the woods, ignoring the dangers of galloping through the trees, setting the forest vibrating with their foul-mouthed shouts and raucous laughter. It seems incredible that they did not suffer at least one injury on that mad gallop—an injury which might well have proved a blessing by preventing a far worse event. But the devil guided their horses, and they arrived at the cabin. I firmly believe that at this point no harm was intended; that it was no more than a drunken jest. Who knows? At any rate, they dismounted and came to the door just as the couple were bedding. Fengriffen beat loudly upon the entrance, shouting demands for entry, until at length Silas opened the door and peered out suspiciously.

     " 'I have come to view the bride,' Fengriffen roared.

     " 'She is abed, master,' Silas said.

     " 'All the better then, my man,' said Fengriffen, and he pushed the gamekeeper roughly aside and strode into the cabin. His cohorts trailed in behind him, amidst laughter and gaiety. Several had brought bottles of wine, which they passed around, drinking from the necks and spilling the liquid down their chins and chests. You may imagine the feelings that overwhelmed poor Silas at this intrusion. His bride pulled the coarse covers up to her throat, staring in wide-eyed dismay, and her fright added to Fengriffen's pleasure. He was well acquainted with women of easy virtue, of course, but virgins were not so well known to him.

     "He grasped the covers and pulled them roughly away, leaving the pitiful woman naked and cringing upon the cot while Silas looked on in helpless rage and frustration. Fengriffen's companions all crowded around, joking and drinking and slapping each other on the back. Silas was trembling violently. His eyes rolled about madly, his fists clenched and his teeth sank into his lower lip.

     "Some wit said, 'Been many the year since old Fengriffen has sighted a virgin, eh lads?' and they all thought this enormously humorous. They roared with laughter, and Fengriffen determined to have his own jest.

     "He turned to Silas and asked, 'Have you taken her yet?'

     " 'No, master.'

     " 'Then I claim my right to break her!'

     " 'No!' Silas shouted, advancing.

     "Their eyes locked. Fengriffen swore, afterward, that up to that very instant he had no intention of actually committing this act, that until then it had been no more than an amusement. I believe him in this. But he was a strange man. The moment his servant denied him the right, he felt an overpowering compulsion to take it. They stared at one another, their wills locked along the visual path. Neither would yield. The others became silent, fascinated now. If Silas had been a weak man . . . but he wasn't. A servant, but a man in his own right, and he placed himself between Fengriffen and the bed, his powerful arms folded across his chest.

     "Possibly, even then, Fengriffen would have heeded words of reason, would have yielded to pleading. But Silas had no words of persuasion; he could not have spoken in such terms to his master. Fengriffen stepped forward, and Silas acted in the only way known to him—like a threatened animal.

     "He seized Fengriffen by the shoulders and threw him violently to the floor. His eyes were blazing, his broad chest heaved with hatred, and he drooled from the mouth. He stood over Fengriffen in a threatening manner, and Fengriffen shouted for assistance, suddenly terrified by his servant's black rage, thrown into a fury by the attack. His companions hesitated for an instant, stunned by the scene, and then they obeyed Fengriffen's command and seized Silas.

     "Silas struggled with preternatural strength, knocking several to the floor. I treated their wounds, I know the unbelievable extent of the damage he inflicted upon them. But they were too many, and in the end Silas was subdued and held securely.

     "Held, Doctor, and forced to watch, while Henry Fengriffen raped his virgin bride."

     Whittle paused.

     "Not a pretty tale," I said.

     He looked at me rather sadly.

     "There is worse to come," he said.

     When Fengriffen had had his way with her, he stepped back from the bed and bowed sardonically to his disobedient servant; with a gesture he offered the ruined bride to her husband. He was satisfied that he had justly punished the man's insubordination. Silas was still held by the others, having ceased to struggle while Fengriffen abused his bride, but now he fought again, foaming at the mouth and uttering bestial snarls. Sarah was hysterical, sobbing and moaning, scarcely able to breathe. Her eyes rolled. And then she saw the axe which leaned against the wall, close by the bed. It was a heavy-headed tool which Silas used not only to chop wood but to dispatch animals caught in his traps, and there was a dark stain of dried blood on the metal. She stared at this for a moment, until the import registered, and then she seized it quite suddenly and dragged it to the bed. She had not the strength left to lift it, but dragged it across the floor and then up onto the cot. Before anyone, except Silas, had ascertained her purpose, she drew the edge across her throat—held the head in both hands and worked it back and forth like a blunt saw. The poor woman could not face life after her debasement. Not with sanity.

     "The men released their grip on Silas at this, not thinking of the consequences, for they were taken aback by this action they had not bargained on; for all the flagitiousness of their deed, they still regarded it as no more than a humorous episode to be retold amidst ribald laughter at the fireside, just as they might have recalled dallying with a woman of the streets in carnal frolic or, perhaps more to the point, remembered some particularly violent end to a hunt. They did not actually think of a gamekeeper or his wife as human beings, you see.

     "Silas tore free of their loosened grasp and fell to his knees beside the bed. No one sought to restrain him now. Sarah was babbling incoherently as Silas gently withdrew the axe from her hands. The wound was not fatal. She hadn't the strength to press deeply enough to sever the jugular vein. But the flesh was broken and torn in a jagged line, and blood streamed down her naked body in rivulets which mingled with the previous blood of her ruination.

     "Silas stared at her for an instant, moaning deep within his breast—moaning in his very heart, which ceased to beat for that instant and then commenced again, drumming the burden of torment through his arteries. He sprang up, his blood pounding, and spun around, swinging the axe in a wide and vicious arc at Fengriffen's head. Fengriffen raised his arm to ward off the blow and the edge caught him a glancing cut across the shoulder. He fell against the wall and Silas stepped after him, raising the weapon to dash his brains asunder. But once again he was seized by Fengriffen's cohorts; once again he struggled with berserk rage, only to succumb to the weight of numbers, struggled with even greater vigor, so that they were forced to land several heavy blows on his head before he could be subdued.

     "Fengriffen arose, holding his shoulder. He was insane with anger. His arrogant pride could not encompass an attack of this nature, and he was aroused far beyond the bounds of convention; no matter his guilt, he could not tolerate equality. Silas, although semi-conscious, still retained a firm grip upon the axe handle with his right hand, and in that instant Fengriffen saw what form his revenge must take.

     "He commanded his companions to drag Silas outside. They did so as he kicked and bucked spasmodically between them. His head hung down, he was dazed, but still he would not yield. Fengriffen followed, directing them to force his gamekeeper to the woodpile which stood beside the cabin. There was a chopping block beside the wood, and Fengriffen pointed to it with a quivering finger. His friends hesitated at this, not realizing his intentions and wanting no part of murder, but Fengriffen ranted and howled with such fierce domination that eventually they obeyed. They bent Silas to his knees before the chopping block.

     "Fengriffen sent one of his men to the well for a bucket of cold water while he took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He was sweating, his eyes were inflamed, blood ran from the gash in his shoulder. But he ignored the pain. His rage at being wounded far outweighed the pain of the wound. The man returned with a bucket. Fengriffen seized it and placed it beside the chopping block.

     "Then he gave a further command. When his companions saw he intended less than murder, they were no longer reluctant, for they were men of his temperament and inclination, and understood intolerance. Two of them grasped Silas's right arm and forced it upon the block. The wiry hand writhed like a pale squid in the moonlight.

     " 'You have raised your hand against your master twice in this night!' roared Fengriffen. 'It shall not happen again!'

     "He took up the axe and positioned himself to the side of the chopping block.

     " 'Will you beg mercy?' he demanded.

     "Silas turned his head to the side, looked up at Fengriffen with one eye, in profile, and spat out a foul oath.

     " 'Then take justice!' Fengriffen said between his teeth, and he swung the axe over and down.

     "The edge dropped across Silas's hand at the knuckles and buried itself into the wood with a dull clunk. The severed fingers flew up like splinters, spinning in the air. The index finger curled up like a wood chip, striking Silas in the face. Four separate streams of blood spewed across the chopping block. Silas's body leaped convulsively, but he made no sound. His eye was still turned upon Fengriffen. Fengriffen stepped back and nodded to his men, who thrust the dismembered hand into the bucket of icy water. Then they all moved away.

     "Silas knelt there, his head resting on the block now and his right arm in the bucket. The cold liquid numbed the bloody stumps and kept the fire from rushing up his arm. He did not move, did not dare withdraw his hand from the icy anesthetic. The gentlemen stood around him, silent. They were abruptly stricken by the awareness of their fiendish crime. Fengriffen was pale and perspiring as he slid his coat back on. Suddenly they all wished nothing more than to flee from that terrible scene.

     "They moved, still in silence, to where their horses were tied, unfastened them, and began to mount. Then Silas moved. They all paused. Fengriffen had one foot in the stirrup and halted, frozen in place, looking back over his shoulder. He saw Silas's left hand begin to grope like some sightless animal over the ground; one by one, Silas found his severed fingers and gathered them into his hand. Then he wrapped his left forearm around the bucket, cradling it to his chest, and with his right hand still immersed, stood up. He raised his face to Fengriffen. The moonlight struck full upon his countenance as he drew his mutilated limb from the merciful water and pointed the gory stump, a blunt and solitary finger of accusation, at Fengriffen.

     "The cold had stopped the rush of blood, but sluggish drops crept down his forearm and dropped heavily to the earth. The agony, as air replaced liquid on that open wound, must have been almighty, and yet no pain showed in that bleached face.

     "And he mouthed the curse . . .

     "A curse that has fathered legend, a curse which must have come from his soul, for that rustic tongue knew no words of anathema. His arm extended, he made his vow: swore that the monstrous spirit evoked in the blood of this night would know no rest until it had known vengeance, and that the next virgin bride of Fengriffen House would taste the horror of violation.

     "His voice held them in unbreakable bonds of frozen steel. No one moved. Even the horses stood still as statues, showing wide white eyes. At last, Silas pressed the gruesome remains of his hand back into the bucket, and turning, staggered to the cabin. The blood which had run down his arm left a trail in his wake. The moonlight plunged darkly into these drops of blood, and dark terror plunged into Fengriffen's heart . . ."

This scene is an excellent example of the profound skill David Case brings to handling his material. In particular, his use of flashback through dialogue to create dramatized material for the plot. Presented as Whittle's anecdote, the begetting crime increases Pope's determination to treat Catherine as a sufferer from hysteria. Even though Catherine's own conception of the curse on the Fengriffen bloodline is firmly Medieval.

            Catherine was awake in bed, the covers mounded over her swollen stomach and her eyes alert in an anguished face. She seemed surprised at my entrance. Mrs. Lune hovered by the door, nervous and uncertain.

     "I must speak with you," I said.

     Catherine frowned.

     "I told him—" Mrs. Lune began.

     "It is all right. You may go."

     Mrs. Lune looked relieved; she departed, leaving the door ajar. Her footsteps echoed down the hall. I moved to the side of the bed and sat on a chair, leaned forward and spoke with urgent demand.

     "You must tell me what you believe to be true, madam. For the sake of your sanity and your unborn child. I am a doctor. You must remember that, and think nothing of embarrassment or shame."

     "Shame? What do I care for shame? There is nothing you can do, you waste your time here."

     "I can listen."

     She smiled grimly. "I know more of this matter than you, Doctor, with all your science and learning. I know from experience."

     "Then, perhaps, I shall learn from you."

     She looked startled at this. "Do you know what has happened to me?"

     "I know what you think has happened."

     "Have you heard of such things?"

     I nodded.

     "Very well, then. I shall tell you, Doctor. You will not believe me, but you shall hear the truth."

     She smiled again.

     Then she spoke.

     "I resisted. You must believe that, Doctor. I resisted with all my strength, but resistance was useless. It was not a physical thing, you understand. It was my will which faltered and yielded. What it was or how it was possible, I do not know. I have searched the books in the library and found certain terms and names which may apply, and yet they are no more than the names of superstition and witchcraft and sorcery, of self-deceit and ignorance. This was none of those. It was real. If I am mad, then madness followed the reality. If it was a dream, then dreams are real. And if any ordeal could have been more terrible, then the human mind cannot conceive of it.

     "It came in the night, Doctor. It came, whatever it was, each night that I slept alone. The prelude was that feeling of stifling weight and cold, and each time it came it was heavier and colder; each night it seemed to have greater substance. Instead of a chill in the air, it became a form of coldness which moved in from the window and lay beside me and, at length, covered me. What is a spirit, a shade, a ghost? No more than a shape of temperature?

     "I lay in silence as this presence came to me, and whimpered with fear at its touch; willed it to be gone and struggled—for weeks I struggled—against it. But each night my struggles were less. It did not hurt me. There was no pain, and even the cold was not unpleasant, but the sensation was so horrible, so inhuman, that I felt myself being dragged into a different dimension, a different plane of existence, a different sphere of reality. And I knew, with overwhelming self-hatred and loathing, that I would eventually be sucked away. Perhaps my will was weakened because I knew it was futile, but that does not matter—what does a night, a week, a month matter, when the result must inexorably be the same?

     "And so I surrendered.

     "The thing took solid form. As it solidified it emitted a hideous odor of brimstone and rot, and the cold lessened; the molecules of the air compressed until I could see the shape of this thing. It was wavering and transparent, but it had form. It whirled in the air above me, and then it descended upon me. I had no energy left. My thighs parted. I felt the clammy caress and closed my eyes, for I did not wish to see it; pressed it away with my hands, listlessly, and found my arms passing through it with sluggishness, as though through a heavy liquid. The odor caused my brain to spin, thick and fermented and foul the fumes passed into my mind. And then this being took me.

     "I felt it enter my body.

     "I felt it tremble and heard an unearthly moan, as though a great wind had risen within the confines of my room—or perhaps within my body itself. It moved. I moved with it. God help me, I could not keep myself from joining in that terrible coupling. I do not know how long it took, but finally I felt the thing complete the act, felt the hideous emission within me.

     "Then it drew away, whining, from my body. It swirled above me for a time, and then departed. The curtains moved with its passage, and I was alone again, trembling and quivering and—ah, how do words describe such feelings? What more can I say?

     "After that, the being returned every night. I no longer offered even token resistance, my power had been destroyed by the spiritual burden deposited in me. I waited for its coming with loathing and horror and yet, terrible to say, with expectation. The sensations of the act were not unpleasant. I was dazed. But I awaited it, and each night it came to me. I had become the mistress of this being, and each night I awaited its pleasure. I joined into the act with this thing of horror, and sank to the depths of evil.

     "Then, one night, it failed to come.

     "That night I knew the terrible fate it had brought to me, knew that its mission was ended and that it would come no more."

     Catherine's eyes were wild, and that bitter smile played grotesquely over her lips.

     "And so I have told you," she said. "Now perhaps you may tell me something, Doctor?"

     I said nothing.

     "You have read Malleus Maleficarum?"

     "And Dictionnaire Infernal and Alexicacon and a dozen more, yes."

     "And what is your opinion on the much-debated subject, Doctor?"

     "What is that?"

     "Can incubi reproduce in the body of mortal woman?"

     She looked down at her enlarged belly and her face twisted into hatred.

     "I live in dread of bearing the demon's child," she whispered.

     And it was with cold horror that I left her room . . .

*     *     *

Anachrona (1999)

This is a quietly eloquent historical fiction, as assured as Gerald Kersh's sublime novella "Teeth and Nails" (1954).

It chanced that in the year 17— three young scholars were riding to Vienna from the east. They were Percival, Clement, and Leonidas, the best of friends, who read the classics and dabbled in the sciences together at university. Now, the spring break, they had a mind to see Steinhem's fabulous automaton, The Contented Man, so much talked on and admired this season. Educated and curious and of vivid imagination, such a scientific phenomenon interested them. As they rode abreast, engaged in lively and learned discourse, they slowly closed the distance on a solitary rider following the same road....

That solitary rider soon unfolds part of his life story to the trio. Its implications, unstated, are staggering.

*     *     *

The Foreign Bride  (1999)

"The Foreign Bride" is a wonderfully economical short story encompassing leagues of complication, subtext, and  authorial sobriety. It has the sharp, telescoping organization of Maupassant and Maugham, and their knowing and worldly talent for being unabashed.

*     *     *

The Dead End  (1969)

An epic horror adventure into the South American jungle.

     "I see. You believe—I mean to say, you recognize the possibility—that Hodson may have heard something about this creature twenty years ago, and went to investigate. That he has been looking for it all this time."

     "Or found it."

     "Surely he wouldn't keep something of that enormity secret?" 

     "Hodson is a strange man. He resented the attacks that were mounted against his ideas. He might well be waiting until he has a complete documentation, beyond refutation—a life's work, all neatly tied up and proven. Perhaps he found this creature. Or creatures. We may safely assume that, if it exists, it had parents. Possibly siblings, as well. I think it more likely that Hodson would have discovered the parents and studied the offspring, or the whole tribe. Lived with them, even. That's the sort of thing he'd do."

     "It seems—well, far-fetched, sir."

     "Yes, it does, doesn't it? A science fiction idea. What did they used to call it? The missing link?" He chuckled. "The common ancestor is more accurate, I suppose."

     "But you can't really believe that a creature like that could be alive now?"

     "I admit it is most unlikely. But then, so was the coelacanth, before it was discovered alive."

     "But that was in the sea. God knows what may exist there. We may never know. But on land, if a creature like that existed, it would have been discovered before now."

     "It's a wild, barren place, Tierra del Fuego. Rough terrain and a sparse population. I say only that it is possible."

     "You realize that the Indians of Tierra del Fuego are prehistoric, so to speak?" I said.


     "And yet you feel there is a chance this creature might be something other than one of them?"

     "A possibility."

     "And still a man?"

     Smyth gestured with his pipe.

     "Let us say, of the genus homo but not of the species sapiens."

     I was astounded. I couldn't believe that Smyth was serious. I said, with what I thought admirable understatement, "It seems most unlikely."

     Smyth looked almost embarrassed. When he spoke, it was as though he was offering an explanation. He said, "I mentioned that I have great respect for Hodson. And a great curiosity. He's not a man to forsake his science, and he's spent the last twenty odd years doing something on that island. That in itself is interesting. Hodson was primarily a laboratory man. He had little time for field work and believed that to be the proper task for men with less imagination and intelligence—believed that lesser men should gather the data for men of his own calibre to interpret. And then, quite suddenly, he disappears into the wilds. There has to be a reason, something to which he was willing to dedicate the rest of his life. And Hodson placed the highest possible value on his life, in the sense of what he could accomplish while he lived. It may have nothing whatsoever to do with these reports. Quite likely it doesn't. But whatever he is doing is definitely of interest. Whatever he has accomplished in twenty years is bound to be fascinating, whether it is right or wrong. I've often considered sending someone to locate him, but always put it off. Now seems the perfect time to kill two birds with one stone. Or, perhaps, the same bird."

     I nodded, but I was in no way convinced.

*     *     *


4 July 2021

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