The Demons of the
August 31, 1888 -- "Here's the 'haunted hollow' for you at last, and its looks certainly match its reputation; but it really is a striking bit of scenery, though perhaps not quite the sort of place to bring a lady to a nightfall."
In truth, I had good reason to say so, for in all the grim chaos of giant mountains through which my wife and I had been working our way as best we might for two days past, we had seen nothing so wild and gloomy as this. A dark and frightful chasm more than 1000 feet in depth and at least half a mile wild, yawned between two mighty ridges of bare black rock, so steep that even the hardy trees of the mountains could scarcely find space to cling to their towering sides. Along the brink of this ghastly gulf a narrow, ledge-path, cut in the very face of the cliff, wound like a thread between the precipice above and the precipice below. Just at the spot where we were standing the upper cliff made a deep curve inward, inclosing us in a kind of crescent, midway between the two horns of which the lower cliff jutted out over the great void of blackness below in a sort of small platform. On its edge, the gaunt white skeleton of a blasted tree, dead, sapless, hideously distorted, thrust itself out from the precipice as if just about to plunge headlong into the gulf below. All this, seen beneath the red and angry glare of a storm sunset which was fast dying behind the might snow peaks of the
We were still looking wonderingly at this grim panorama when there suddenly arose at no great distance from us a cry such as (with all my experience of startling sounds) I had never heard before -- harsh, hideous, unearthly, yet mingled with a dreadful mockery of the sound of a human voice which made it doubly appalling.
Now this very spot had an evil name throughout the whole neighborhood. Native legends told that several mountain chiefs had been decoyed to this rocky platform by their hereditary foes on the pretext of a friendly conference and then slaughtered or hurled into the abyss. It was said that the last survivor of the doomed band had invoked upon his treacherous slayers, with his dying breath, the vengeance of the mountain demons and native superstition held that the spirits of evil had heard the call and still haunted this scene of treason and murder which the boldest mountaineers shudderingly avoided after dark.
For myself, if I had not much faith in the guardian demons of the spot, I thought it just the place to be "haunted" by wild beasts and felt instinctively for my revolver the moment I heard the mysterious sound. But I felt in vain, for, being tired of carrying it about to no purpose; I had left it at our quarters just when it might at last have been of some use.
Again the strange cry arose, louder and evidently nearer this time but still with the same horrible parody of human call that had startled us before. One of the dreadful half-human monsters of German legend, scenting his prey in the gloomy depths of some primeval forest might have uttered just such a cry as that.
"That can't be a tiger, surely?" said my wife, who had unluckily left her revolver behind likewise.
"No tiger could ever made a sound like that," I answered; "I've heard their cry often enough. But, whatever it may be it's most likely something that wouldn't be very good company in such a place and at such an hour, so the sooner we're off the better."
Scarcely had I finished speaking, when a huge stone, coming apparently from the top of the cliff, struck with a tremendous crash right upon the path, barely a yard behind us, with such force as to dash up a thick cloud of dust all around it.
"That stone must have been thrown," said I, "for a falling one would never strike so hard. If there is any fellow up there amusing himself by flinging rocks at us, we'd better give him a hint to leave off at once."
I stepped forward accordingly and shouted with all my might in Hindustani to the supposed jester above us, spicing my challenge with one or two of those forcible native epithets which one picks up only too easily, I am sorry to say in such a country as
My shout received a speedy and very startling answer. Hardly had I uttered it when a shrill scream broke forth overhead, followed by a horrible screeching laugh like the wild merriment of a maniac. These appalling sounds coupled with the strange half-brutal cries that we had already heard suggested to my mind a new and ghastly suspicion.
"Good heavens!" thought I, with a shudder, "can there be a madman up there among those precipices?"
As if to answer my unspoken question, another scream broke forth and a wild figure was seen leaping and dancing along the summit of the cliff. Then it suddenly descended the almost perpendicular face of the rock with such inconceivable agility that to my bewildered eyes, it almost seemed to leap with one bound from the top to the bottom and turning a somersault, planted itself right in the center of the narrow path as if to cut off our retreat, greeting us with gestures of hideous menace.
In the rapidly deepening darkness it was not easy to make out what this frightful creature was like, but so far as we could see, it appeared to have the figure of a short, thick set, deformed man with a huge, shaggy head, whose glaring eyes and gnashing teeth looked horribly unearthly amid the gloom.
Our only chance now was apparently to slip away as quietly as possible in the opposite direction. But just then, as if to cut off our last hope, another monster of similar aspect issued from behind a projecting crag to our right, and a third came clambering up over the edge of the platform on our left. We were surrounded.
But now as my eyes grew used to the darkness, and I could see these goblins more plainly, I recognized their short squat bodies, hairy faces, and long misshapen arms for what they really were. The supposed demons were mountain apes and I could hardly wonder that the simple natives should have mistaken them for devils, for Dante himself could have imagined nothing more truly diabolical.
But this discovery so far from lessening my anxiety only made it greater. I knew well the vast strength and brutal ferocity of these formidable creatures, and felt that if they were to attack us (as they seemed disposed to do) our lives would not be worth a straw. Unarmed as we were, we had no means of fighting them and as for attempt at flight, it did not need much thought to tell us what chance we had of out-running or out-climbing a full grown Himalayan ape.
Hitherto the brutes had contended themselves with chattering and grimacing being apparently puzzled at our remaining so perfectly motionless, but this truce was not to last long. A stone hurled by one of the monsters with all his force, suddenly whizzed within a few inches of my wife's face. The attack had begun!
"Give me your matches, quick!" said I, "and we'll make a torch of these dry sticks, fire is the only thing to scare 'em!"
But before this could be done, the dilemma had solved itself in a very unexpected way. Another stone flung with the force of a shoo by the brawny arm of the gentleman on our right, missed us by a hair's breadth and plumped right into the broad, shaggy muzzle of his comrade on our left, making sad havoc of the latter's front teeth.
Smarting with the pain the injured "Jacko" flew as fiercely as a tiger at his offending brother, who met him with equal energy, while no.#3, by way of keeping the peace, fell furiously upon them both. In a trice the whole three were rolling on the ground in a kind of living ball, tearing, gnashing, foaming, clawing and awakening with their savage yells all the echoes of the mountain.
"Now," cried I, seizing my wife's hand, "run!"
We flew along the breakneck path at a pace which at any other time, would have seemed to us quite impossible; but long after we had got out of sight of the field of action, the shrieks and howls of the combatants told us that the fight was still raging as furiously as ever.
National Library of
this website are reprinted under the Fair Use Doctrine of International
Copyright Law as educational material without benefit of financial gain.