In the Accident Ward.



THE grass was gray, of a strange and dreadful pallor, but long and soft. Unbroken, and bending all one way, as if to look at something, it covered the wide, low, rounded hill that rose before me. Over the hill the sky hung close, gray and thick, with the color of a parched interminable twilight. Dew or a drop of rain could not be thought of as coming from such a sky.
    Along the base of the low hill ran a red road of baked clay, blood-red, and beaten with nameless and innumerable feet. I stood in the middle of this road and prepared to ascend the hill obliquely by a narrow [Page 119] footpath, red as blood, which divided the soft gray bending of the grasses. Behind me the road made a sharp turn, descending out of thick clouds into a little blood-red hollow, where it was crossed by an open gate. In this gate, through which I had somehow come, stood two gray leopards and a small ape. The beasts stood on tip-toe and eyed me with a dreadful curiosity; and from somewhere in the little hollow I heard a word whispered which I could not understand. But the beasts heard it, and drew away through the open gate, and disappeared.
    Between the footpath (which all the time gleamed redly through the over-gathering grasses) and the rounded brink of the gulf there seemed to be a fence of some sort, so fine that I could not quite distinguish it, but which I knew to be there.

    I turned my eyes to the low summit [Page 120] of the hill. There I saw a figure, all gray, cleaving the grasses in flight as swift as an arrow. Behind, in pursuit, came another figure, of the color of the grasses, tall and terrible beyond thought. This being, as it seemed to me, was the Second Death, and my knees trembled with horror and a sort of loathing. Then I saw that he who fled made directly for me; and as they sped I could hear a strange hissing and rustling of their garments cleaving the grasses. When the fleeing ghost reached me, and fell at my feet, and clasped my knees in awful fear, I felt myself grow strong, and all dread left my soul. I reached forth my right hand and grasped the pursuing horror by the throat.
    I heard the being laugh, and the iron grip of my own strong and implacable fingers seemed to close with a keen agony upon my own throat, and a curtain seemed to fall over my [Page 121] eyes. Then I gasped for breath, and a warm pungent smell clung in my nostrils, and a white light swam into my eyes, and I heard a voice murmuring far off, but in an accent strangely familiar and commonplace, “He’s coming round all right now.”
    I opened my eyes with a dim wonder, and found myself surrounded by the interested faces of the doctors and the clean white walls of the hospital ward. I heard a sound of some one breathing hoarsely near by, and a white-capped nurse with kind eyes stepped up to my pillow, and I perceived that the heavy breather was myself. I was lying with my head and neck swathed in bandages, and a sharp pain at my throat. Then flashed across my memory the crash and sickening upheaval of the collision. I wondered feebly how it had fared with my fellow-passengers, and again I saw that instant’s vision of wild and startled faces as the [Page 122] crowded car rose and pitched downward, I knew not whither. With a sense of inexpressible weariness, my brain at once allowed the terrible scene to slip from its grasp, and I heard a doctor, who was standing at the bedside watch in hand, say, quietly, “He’ll sleep now for a couple of hours [Page 123].”