Another night at Saunderson’s; a chilly night in early May, cold enough for the fire that roared and flamed cheerfully on the wide hearth that had heard so many strange tales! Saunderson, with his broad red cheerful face and ready grin, had tonight more than ever the air of hiding some surprise that, given the right moment, he would spring upon us—his air of suppressed importance held mystery, his portentous nods and winks at various special cronies as he presided over the familiar Round Table, its shining mahogany laden with good things, meant a new and interesting Something in the offing—or I did not know Saunderson! The newcomer sitting on his right, however, did not look promising—not the sort of fellow, one would have said, to adventure into the strange regions of the Occult . . . a long lean brown man, shy and rather speechless, eloquent apparently on one thing only—Golf.
He was a ‘plus’ man, so Saunderson said as he introduced him before dinner—later round the fire, as we sipped our fragrant coffee and liqueurs, our host brought up the subject again.
‘Well, Ponting, what about that golf-story of yours? We all sing for our supper here sooner or later! Feel inclined to tell us that amazing tale you told me . . . about the strangeness of a certain green you once played on?’
Ponting, the stranger, flushed a little; glanced round the eager circle, and began to speak—at first hesitatingly, then with decision.
‘Well—I’ve never told it outside. One doesn’t want to be thought a raving maniac, y’know. . . . But I can see you fellows look on these things differently. And the other fellows may call me crazy . . . but they had to make a new green at last, whatever they may say! . . .’
His voice died away as he brooded silently over the fire, obviously visualising in all its horror the thing that had shaken his pleasant ordinary personality so deeply. Clearing his throat he started, speaking now rapidly and well, to my secret surprise:
‘I won’t give the name of the golf-course. But it is one of the best-known smaller ones—South coast: facing the sea. Turf very rough and uneven, and heaps of seagrass and bent, coarse rubbly stuff—also rather hilly in places. This happened a good five or six years ago, and I haven’t played there since. Matter of fact, this rather put me off the place, as you might imagine. . . . At first the course was only a nine-hole affair, quite good, as far as it went, but the town nearby—call it Rentford—was a pretty place, the bathing and fishing and so on good, and it was rapidly growing, so the Golf Club sent out requests for subscriptions to extend the course to full size. Well, the money simply rolled in—the secretary got no end of fat cheques—and they set about buying the land.
‘There was only one thing to do, of course—extend the course one end so that it occupied the whole of a sort of spit of land that ran out into the sea—not cliffy, you understand, but sort of lumpish land, hilly enough to make quite decent golf, but as a whole pretty flat. . . . This must sound irrelevant, but it isn’t really. It hangs on to the story. . . .
‘The other end of the links ran into land that was getting too valuable, in the town’s rapid expansion, to give up to golf, and as one side of the links gave on to the seashore and the other was bounded by the railway, that meant this spit of land was the only possible place that could be utilised . . . do you see?
‘There was one tiny hovel upon it, that’s all: a fisher’s hut really—a sort of shack. It wasn’t common land, but belonged to a man, Sir Harry Lansing, who owned a good deal of land round about, and he didn’t bother about it—gipsies used to camp there sometimes, but even for them it wasn’t popular; running right out into the sea as it did it was shockingly bleak, and the winds must have fairly howled across it in the winter. I used to watch the grey seagrass bending as the wind swept it flat on a stormy day, and the sand twirling and dancing in tall spirals in the little hollows, and pity the poor devil that lived in the hut. . . . Yet he seemed to like it!
‘The Secretary of the Club—fellar called—er—Binner, I think—got in touch with the owner, Sir Harry Lansing, a fat port-wine drinking sort of chap, rather a swab to look at, but not at all a bad sort on the whole.
‘He asked a pretty high figure for the land, but as I say, Binner, the Sec., had plenty of funds in hand, and they soon arranged things . . . but then this old chap suddenly took a hand! “Iles”, I believe his name was—“Nicky Iles”—“Old Nick” the small boys used to call him; frightened to death of him they were—used to run like hares if they saw him coming, and I never knew a boy venture near his hut on the promontory. He came plodding up to the Club-house, by some curious coincidence . . . though now, ’pon my Sam, I’m hanged if I think it was really coincidence! . . . on the very day and moment when Binner and Lansing were settling the deal, and asked for Binner. He was such a frowsy-looking old ragamuffin that the steward hesitated—but he said afterwards, he simply had to go in to Binner, the old man’s eyes frightened him—and when Lansing heard he was there, he nodded.
‘“All right—let’s see him, Binner.” He lighted an opulent cigar, and pushed away the signed papers. “He’ll have to move, I suppose, eh?”
‘“Oh, yes!” said Binner importantly; “that shack of his is just where I think we shall have to put the fifteenth green—a good flat piece of ground on a slight hill, with a drop beyond that would make a fine natural bunker. Oh yes . . . we’ll compensate him, of course. . . .’
‘As he spoke the door opened and the shambling, dirty old figure entered.
‘He wore an ancient plaid, indescribably tattered and marked with silvery patches of fish-scales—he spent most of his time fishing in his crazy old boat in the tiny natural harbour at the foot of his shack. From under the battered brim of his sou’wester odd tags and ends of grey hair appeared, and his wild grey beard was unkempt and stringy as the fluttering remnants of wool one sees caught in the furzebushes from the fleece of wandering sheep. He wore great sea-boots, and the hands leaning on the crook of a twisted stick were long and sharp-nailed and brown as an aboriginal’s . . . but the man’s eyes were extraordinary! So light a blue that they were almost colourless, they peered through the shaggy fringing of matted eyebrows like pools seen through rushes . . . somehow they were not only arresting, those eyes, but disquieting . . . there was something vaguely unpleasant about them, something not quite human. . . .
‘There was a moment’s silence as the ragged old villain stared from one man to the other, then he spoke, and Binner jumped, for his voice was no guttural, aitch-less peasant’s voice, but the voice of a cultured man!
‘“Well! Have you settled it, you two gentlemen?” The sneer was unmistakable, and Lansing flushed an angry purple.
‘“Settled it?” Binner was bewildered. How could this old scarecrow know already what had but just been signed and sealed? As he stared, the old man shuffled over to the table, and picking up the deed in his claw-like hands, examined it attentively.
‘Laying it down, he favoured the two men with a scowl the malevolence of which Binner told me fairly turned him cold to the spine.
‘“Ah—I thought so! So to increase the space for your ridiculous game—as if there was not enough ground already for fools to play on—you propose to turn me out of house and home, eh?”
‘“Not at all, Iles, not at all!” With a curiously nervous sort of feeling, Binner spoke eagerly, propitiatingly—with an instinct that he could not overcome, he somehow felt it was terribly important that he should soothe the old man down . . . make him “harmless”. The sinister implication of this mental phrase was to come back to him afterwards with a faint shock.
‘“We shall have to ask you to move, I’m sorry to say, as we shall need every inch of ground on the promontory—but we shall make you ample compensation . . . and there are plenty of cottages along the shore that will be far more comfortable for you than that draughty hut. . . .”
‘He stopped, for the old man was not looking at him. For some reason all his rancour seemed to be concentrated on Sir Harry, complacently smoking his cigar, his hands in his pockets.
‘With one long discoloured nail “Old Nick” tapped the deed lying on the littered table . . . his words when he spoke were addressed not to Binner but to the other man, and his tone was heavy, venomous with hate.
‘“You—it is you who have sold this home of mine! It is you I have to thank then—to fill your fat pocket-book still fuller you have sold it all . . . the windy stretch of land that has been mine for these long years—the hollow where I keep my boat under the lee o’ the sandhills—the little garden where I grow my cabbages; the house, the little wooden house I built myself, with these hands, to shelter me. . . .”
‘Sir Harry shrugged his shoulders with a nonchalant air—though to tell the truth, the tone of the old man’s voice, those dreadful still eyes, cold and glassy as water, were stirring in him a horrible growing disquietude that bordered on fear itself . . . he spoke robustly, tying to appear indifferent.
‘“Rot—don’t get poetical about it, my good fellow! As far as cabbages go, you’re welcome to come up and ask my gardener for a couple whenever you need ’em, I’m sure; and as Mr Binner says, you’ll be far more comfortable in a new cottage. . . . As far as that goes, I’m sorry and so on—’ll overlook your extraordinary rudeness to me, having regard to your feelings and that . . . now you trot off to the pub and spend that to drink my health!”
‘Lightly, carelessly, he tossed a five-pound note over the table and started . . . for the old man took it, and spitting deliberately into the middle of it, set it upon the carpet and ground his heel upon it.
‘Binner, as he watched, was conscious of a pang of unpleasant fear . . . the action was not impulsively done, as in an irretrievable spasm of rage, but deliberately, maliciously, with a relishing completeness that to Binner’s nervous mind seemed somehow to bode most horribly ill to Sir Harry Lansing, lolling there serene in his ruddy health!
‘Retreating to the door, the old man spoke again as the two men watched him in silence, and the venom in his tone chilled Binner at least, like an icy draught playing down his spine.
‘“I see. It is well—I have nothing to say but this. I shall go . . . but when you play your first round, Sir Harry, I shall be there to see!”
‘The door closed behind him with a stealthy click, and they heard his booted feet shuffling swiftly away down the echoing white-painted passage—in the empty room both men looked at each other, and involuntarily shivered.
‘“Booh!” Lansing, shaking his fat shoulders, got up. “An unpleasant old boy—but I’m sure I don’t care if he follows me round the course calling down all the curses in the calendar upon me! They say here, y’know, that he’s got a familiar spirit in the sea, and they see it climbing up the path to his house, all dripping, on dark nights. . . .”
“Binner was conscious of a fresh shivery feeling of “nastiness”—what had come over Lansing to talk this way? Hastily he changed the conversation.
“They’re all superstitious, the fishers here—nothing in it. Well, that’s done—don’t forget you play your first round with me, Lansing! I’ll hurry the work along at once as soon as the plans are passed by the committee.”
‘“Right you are. And we’ll send the old man a line to come and gibber at us!”
‘Fat Harry Lansing lurched out, and Binner, with a sigh of relief, turned again to his work.
‘Rentford was largely a summer place, and the bulk of the regular golfers for the most part arrived then, so only a comparatively few players were gallant enough to face the gale that swept across the links on the day of the ceremonial opening next May.
‘Sir Harry Lansing was yachting in the Solent . . . with a queer little feeling of relief Binner noted his non-appearance. His vague fears of Old Nick’s possible dramatic revenge had largely faded away. The old man had entirely disappeared after the interview of a year ago, and the fisher folk darkly murmured that he had “drownded hisself”, but Binner did not think that likely, since no body had been washed up by the tide. . . . More likely he had betaken himself further down the coast, in high dudgeon, refusing even to see the alteration in his beloved land. Yet it had seemed that a curious modicum of his savage anger and resistance to change hung about the promontory that had known him so long . . . for the making of the new nine holes, and above all the fifteenth green, which, as Binner had thought, was placed upon the little plateau where the hut had stood, had been attended by countless petty but delaying difficulties. Workmen had sprained their wrists and ankles, been stung by wasps, fallen into unsuspected ditches—one had been all but drowned, slipping into the sea when a tussock of grass suddenly gave way . . . experts designing the course had quarrelled among themselves, fallen mysteriously ill, left suddenly . . . but Binner, his fighting instinct aroused, had kept doggedly on, despite a deep hidden feeling, deny it how he might, that there was something more than mere coincidence in these repeated setbacks. However, there it lay at last—the finished course; the greens, laboriously turfed with fresh green turves cut from far inland, gleaming like jade patches in the grey-brown sandy waste; the cheerful scarlet of the bright new tee-boxes, yellow and white flags fluttering in the tearing gale, and behind all the sombre watching sea, vast and somnolent and mysterious. . . . Binner rubbed his hands as he surveyed it from the sheltered verandah of the Club-house, and felt he had reason to congratulate himself on his achievement.
‘He watched the players as they gradually disappeared over the brow of the low hill that led from the old ninth tee on to the promontory, and wondered idly whether the old man might not be lurking somewhere about even now—to watch the first ball driven on to his beloved patch of ground! Then other considerations drove it from his mind, and he was sitting immersed in papers in his inner sanctum when the first of the returning golfers, Orton the solicitor, a friend of his, stumped into the room and threw himself exhausted into a chair.
‘“Give us a whisky-and-soda, old man—I’m done! We’ve been round—but I don’t want to do it again in a hurry unless I’m feeling stronger than I am today!”
‘He drained the brimming glass of golden liquid and slapped his chest; Binner looked at him, arrested—Jack Orton was the huskiest specimen of manhood in the club, and a scratch player—and for a mere seaside gale to weary him? . . .
‘“Why—was the wind heavy?”
‘“Absolutely ghastly!” Orton’s voice held conviction. “It wasn’t bad at all till we started on the new bit—then, by the Lord, we hit it! I was playing with Gregg, and, as you know, we’re neither of us weak specimens—but by George, it fairly made us rock on our pins. ‘Stand steady for a drive’—don’t be funny! I was driving like a drunken sailor, and as for Gregg—he lost his temper and swore like a trooper after losing his fourth ball either in the sea or in that damned rank grass . . . and as for that fifteenth green? Tell me, man, what got Anderson when he made it? For I swear I never in the whole of my life struck a green that looked so flat and was so infernally difficult to get on to!”
‘A faint and nasty prickling sensation was creeping about the base of Binner’s scalp as he listened. . . . Cursing himself for a stupid nervy owl, he steadied his voice with difficulty as he asked a question:
‘“Why the—the fifteenth?”
‘“Damned if I can tell! You know—the one perched up on a sort of plateau, with a damned great dip just beyond to a sandy hollow . . . the sea’s not more than a few feet away, and the hollow runs down to a little beach where there’s a battered wreck of an old boat of sorts.”
‘The cold feeling was growing—and the last words gave Binner a nasty shock. He regarded stocky, sensible Jack Orton with a stare of frank fright.
‘“A boat? Are you sure?” He knew—who better than he?—that with the old man’s disappearance his boat had also vanished, and that certainly yesterday, walking round the course for a final survey, the little beach below the fifteenth green had been innocent of anything but the swags and wrathes of stranded weed that always lay there. Realising that this trend of thought was making him singularly and unpleasantly nervous, he spoke at random.
‘“Well, anyway—can’t be anything important.”
‘Orton stared at him.
‘“Important? Who said it was? Of course it isn’t—only mentioned it to show the place. Well, will you believe it? It’s a short drive—only an iron, I should say—straight from the tee to the green, and as easy as pie to look at—a drive and then a decent putt, though I see it’s down as bogey three. Well, I overdrove the first time—went wide into the sea. Gregg followed—missed his ball, clean as a whistle—a gust struck him just as he swung at it, and you never saw a man so mad! I laughed like a fool—had to, it was so damned comic. . . . Old Gregg, with his handicap, playin’ like that! His next swipe landed off to the right—into a sunken burn it proved. Lost ball! We got so mad we decided to play another each—and this time I landed on the green, a well-pitched shot . . . and the damned ball seemed to run uphill—you know how the green tilts up the farther side?—though it was barely rolling at all when it fell—and went over into the far bunker. Gregg’s second—no, his third really, of course—was too flat, and skidded along, stopping this side the green among a stiff bunch of grass—never saw old Gregg play such a vile shot in my life. He took his niblick and played out—well, as far as I could see—but would that ball stay on the green? Not a bit of it, though it was lifted high and fell like a stone—the damn thing rolled like mine and went over the far side and vanished!
‘“Well, by this time you can imagine we were both of us pretty angry, and began to play wild—and though by sheer insistence finally I did get the damn ball into the hole, my score was nine shots all told and Gregg’s eleven—and he chucked it! There must be some darn clever placing about that green—or else we were just unlucky and both went to pieces; but I don’t think so. I heard several of the other fellows coming up and saying much the same thing.”
‘Going round later among the thirsty crowd at the bar, Binner heard the same thing, with slightly different versions . . . what was the matter with the fifteenth green? It was too steep—not fairly placed, the bunker wasn’t sporting, the distance was deceptive. . . . After a week or two the thing became a sort of joke with the members, and one heard it regularly: “Hullo, old man? And what’s the fifteenth done with you today?”
‘Again, the boat was a curiously elusive quantity—while certain members said they had seen the mysterious boat, others declared it non-existent—yet others again mentioned merely a dark thing on the waters. . . . “It might be a boat, or a chunk of weed, or an old net.” . . . For several reasons Binner avoided making a special journey to see, and deliberately put behind him a certain memory that nagged at him unpleasantly—the memory of that curious phrase of Sir Harry’s concerning a “dark thing out of the sea . . . all dripping. . . .”
‘Then, Lansing himself rang up. Cheery and full of energy, just back from the Solent. He was all agog for their promised match, and with an oddly sinking heart Binner fixed a date as far ahead as he could decently suggest. . . . The week before found him day by day growing more and more nervous, fight it as he would, and it was only by the exercise of the grimmest determination that he refrained from ringing Lansing up at the last moment and inventing some excuse. For that Something would happen—that all this time Something had been gathering force and malevolence and energy sufficient for it to happen—was borne in upon him with a dreadful conviction that all his matter-of-factness did nothing effectually to combat!
‘They had fixed the match for four o’ clock—it was a gorgeous day, and after the recent blustering unkind weather the links seemed to puff in the spring sun and stretch themselves luxuriously as the two started out.
‘Lansing was in great form and after a hole or two Binner felt his own spirits rising, till he felt slightly ashamed of his womanish nerves. It seemed, as he looked at his partner’s bronzed solidity, absolutely absurd to have entertained all these recent fears and tremors about his safety . . . probably these yarns about the fifteenth green were pure coincidence, and he was merely allowing his nerves to get the better of his commonsense. After all, the promontory did catch every breath of wind going, and that green stood high—and it had been a singularly stormy spring—and as for the boat yarn, what easier than for a scrap of wreckage to drift there, remain for a few days and drift away again?
‘Certainly today was the balmiest, most wonderful weather. . . . Vaguely cheered and comforted, Binner stepped out smartly beside his partner and for the first half of the game all went well. The two were well matched and the score was all square as they descended the sharp slope that led from the old part of the links to the new, and Binner did not notice, absorbed in the game, that the sun at that moment seemed to withdraw himself behind a cloud, and a sudden little wind, bitter and stinging, sprang up and played about their ears like a malicious whispering threat. It was Sir Harry, as a matter of fact, who commented on the change in the weather as he drove from the tenth tee.
‘“Turned cold all of a sudden, hasn’t it? Funny—would have sworn it had set in fine for all day—looks like a storm now, every bit. Got him!” He hit a fine ball straight down the fairway, then his brow darkened—at the very end of the soaring journey the ball turned, and pitching full tilt into a dip, vanished. His brow darkened, puzzled.
‘“Well, I’m blowed!” He examined his driver discontentedly—the sandy patch, clean in the centre, showed how well and truly the ball had been hit. “That’s funny—I’d have taken a fiver I hit it square, caddie!”
‘The caddie nodded, as he answered.
‘“You ’it it a’right, sir. But you won’t never ’it a strite ball on this yer part of the links.”
‘Sir Harry stared, as well he might.
‘“What are you talking about, eh?”
‘The caddie held doggedly to his point.
““’true, sir—ain’t it, Bill?” His colleague nodded stolidly as he went on, “’S the wind or somep’n, sir—all the other gents swear like blazes w’en they gets down on this bit—they can’t never ’it strite they say, and the balls they loses—well!”
‘“Well!” commented Sir Harry jovially as they strode on. “That must be good for you lads, eh? Suppose you come out and gather them up afterwards?”
‘The two boys exchanged glances.
‘“No, sir.” The first caddie’s voice was unwontedly subdued, and the tone arrested Lansing’s attention. He waited for Binner’s second shot and then continued questioning.
‘“Why not? You boys are generally pretty keen on collecting balls.”
‘“Not ’ere, sir!” The answer was emphatic. His curiosity definitely aroused, Lansing turned to survey with more attention the ragged little object that tramped at his side.
‘“Not here, eh? Why? Too far?”
‘“No, sir! Not that, sir.”
‘Binner found himself listening with a sort of strained eager attention, thanking his stars that his ball and Sir Harry’s lay near together, so that he could hear the boy’s answer. . . .
‘“We—we don’t never come down ’ere alone, sir. Don’t like it, like . . .”
‘“Don’t like it—what rot!” Lansing smote from the twelfth tee with vigour, and continued his catechism, now definitely interested. “Why don’t you like it?”
‘The boys exchanged uncomfortable glances, and did not answer; they had withdrawn suddenly into their shells, and not all the pumping in the world would get anything out of them now but vague murmurs and red-cheeked silences.
‘Baffled curiosity adding to his irritation over the unconscionably bad golf he was playing, Sir Harry was rapidly losing his temper and becoming surly. Binner, meantime, was suffering from a horrible sort of growing secret excitement—he knew now—something was going to happen, and he knew equally certainly that he was utterly powerless to prevent it! He could neither invent any reasonable excuse that might prevent Lansing approaching the fifteenth green, nor take any measure of any sort against the Unknown that lay, he knew, in wait for them. . . . With a mounting dread that yet companioned a dreadful sort of excited recklessness he played on silently, never noticing his own bad play, but in a curiously detached way watching Lansing getting more and more enraged and puzzled, play ball after ball into utterly unplayable places, miss his putts, blunder over his approaches like an utter tyro—or, more horribly, like a man in the grip of something utterly inevitable, inexorable.
‘As he stood on the little raised-up square of turf that was the fifteenth tee he could see the green, but not the beach below it—with a shaky sort of dread he wondered whether the boat was there, and was glad he could not see . . . somehow now all his dread seemed to centre round that boat—if it was a boat, indeed! He swung—the ball fell short, deep into a belt of whin that protected the hither side of the green. Stepping after him, Lansing waggled his club determinedly, his mouth set in a grim line. The rising wind whistled and sang about Binner’s ears as he stood watching, his leather coat collar turned up . . . heavens, how cold and gloomy it had grown, and how the wind howled! Above it he heard Lansing’s half-shouted remark.
‘“Mind yourself—I don’t know what the devil’s come over my play, but this time I’m going on to the green smack-bang, or I’ll never play again!”
‘He had a glorious style, the swing of the born golfer, loose, easy, sure. Opening his huge shoulders, he let out at the ball in a perfect shot—it soared high, and falling almost vertically, landed on the green . . . and as Orton had said, rolled slowly, almost idly, uphill to the far edge—and tipped gently over! Frankly losing his temper, Lansing stamped, and swore violently.
‘“Blast! I heard there was something odd about this green—badly made or something, I swear. That ball dropped almost dead . . . and you saw what happened! Right over in the dip . . . hell!”
‘He strode away growling. Involuntarily, Binner opened his mouth to shout to him, but shut it, speechless—what could he say? . . . what was it he dreaded, what was it that was bringing out the cold sweat of terror round his wrists, his forehead, making his very knees shake? … Mechanically he followed his caddie after his own ball, but his eyes never left his friend, walking towards the Fifteenth Green—the Fifteenth Green that lay waiting for him, as it had waited for him so long! With a sick feeling of certainty he saw as he mounted the ridge, that the Boat was there too—nosing the shore idly, moving slowly in the grey sullen tide, a curious dragging heap of what looked like nets trailing from its stem into the deeper water beyond . . . yes, the Boat was there! It would be there . . . of course . . . How dull and gloomy it seemed to be growing, and how the wind whipped the bending seagrass, and howled among the crouching bushes! To Binner’s fevered fancy, now, they seemed like hunched figures grouping together in the hollows, on the frowning ridges, peering, nudging, whispering to each other to look as Harry Lansing, all unconscious, strode swiftly onwards towards his fate.
‘Beside Binner the two caddies trotted along together, whispering too, their frightened eyes avoiding his—blind, helpless, they were all caught up together into this great Web that was being woven, and could stir no hand nor foot to avert things . . . in a dream he caught snatches of the boys’ muttered talking, scared, incoherent. . . .
‘“. . . Seen it again larst night, Alf did . . . crawlin’ up from the sea all wet, ugh!—black and shiny in the moonlight . . . like nothin’ on earth. Somep’n like a man, but it ain’t a man . . . wouldn’t come dahn ’ere a’ nights for noffink, I wouldn’t. And now Lansing had reached the Green!
‘Binner, halting by his own ball, deep buried in a tussock of grass, reached mechanically for a club as his friend turned and shouted to him, striding over the smooth surface of the green towards the drop into the deep bunker beyond. “. . . easy . . . can see it now . . . beat you here! . . .” came faintly back to him on the buffeting wind, and Harry Lansing dropped out of sight over the edge. Binner, with a curiously fatalistic feeling that now—now it was over—what did it matter what he did?—bent over his ball; but at that moment quite suddenly and horribly Lansing’s caddie, struggling after him against the wind, began to scream, wildly, dreadfully, and throwing his clubs down, dropped upon the turf, his face in his hands.
‘The humanness of the sound, despite its horror, awoke Binner to action from his curious stupor of acquiescence . . . and he ran, ran like a hare to the crouched boy, cowering and shivering . . . but the lad waved him wildly on, screaming incoherencies.
‘“I saw It! I saw It . . . It’s got ’im . . .” The words died away as Binner rushed on to the green, crossed it and stared blankly down into the deep hollow the further side . . . and it was empty! Empty as the blank sea, the sighing air—the idle club lay beside the white gleaming ball, clear against the sandy bottom, but of the fat cheerful player there was no trace—nor, since then, has Harry Lansing ever been heard of more!’
We drew in our breaths and exchanged glances. Hellier, absorbed, spoke first of all of us. He loved to know the details, to finish off his knowledge as it were.
‘It . . . the Thing the caddie screamed about! What was it?’
Ponting lifted his shoulders and shook his head.
‘How can I say?’ His voice was sober. ‘I—that is to say, Binner . . . Binner was too busy running to his friend’s help to glance towards the sea and that sinister Boat that lolled up and down in the tide. Besides, he might not have seen whatever the caddie did see. I’m inclined to think the boy was an unconscious psychic . . . anyway, all Binner could get out of him between his crying and shivering was that Something . . . Something wet and dark and trailing that seemed to have been crouched among the nets—or maybe pulled itself into the Boat by the nets, he could never say. . . . But the lad had the definite momentary impression that as Lansing dropped Something trailed itself, sinuously and swiftly, horribly swiftly, out of the Boat and up the sand, and disappeared behind the Green into the fatal bunker behind it . . . and that’s all! The Boat worked loose that night and was never seen again—if it ever was a Boat at all. . . . Sometimes I’m inclined to think it was only a sort of Screen for Whatever came out of the sea to wreak vengeance on the old man’s behalf. I don’t know . . . we shall never know now. But I resigned from the Club—that finished me as far as Rentford was concerned.’
Amidst our impressed silence Ponting—otherwise Binner—stood up to go. By the door he turned, however, and, surveying the meditative roomful, added the last postscript to his yarn.
‘I heard afterwards, by the way, that the people that cleared out the old man’s stuff—he never appeared to claim anything, so it was ultimately sold—found a lot of curious old books on various rather unpleasant sorts of black magic, and some curious instruments, with an ebony wand and some peculiarly nasty dried things—and they said the floor of the hut was all marked with chalk in various funny lines and diagrams. The man that kept the things had awful dreams and his wife got scared, so they burnt them . . . if we’d got them here now I rather think one might have found out things about the old man that would have startled us a bit, eh? Goodnight, Saunderson, and thanks awfully. Goodnight, you fellows.’