Master Huckaback's Secret

Knowing Master Huckaback to be a man of his word, as well as one who would have others so, I was careful to be in good time the next morning, by the side of the Wizard’s Slough. I am free to admit that the name of the place bore a feeling of uneasiness, and a love of distance, in some measure to my heart. But I did my best not to think of this; only I thought it a wise precaution, and due for the sake of my mother and Lorna, to load my gun with a dozen slugs made from the lead of the old church-porch, laid by, long since, against witchcraft.

I am well aware that some people now begin to doubt about witchcraft; or at any rate feign to do so; being desirous to disbelieve whatever they are afraid of. This spirit is growing too common among us, and will end (unless we put a stop to it!) in the destruction of all religion. And as regards witchcraft, a man is bound either to believe in it, or to disbelieve the Bible. For even in the New Testament, discarding many things of the Old, such as sacrifices, and Sabbath, and fasting, and other miseries, witchcraft is clearly spoken of as a thing that must continue; that the Evil One be not utterly robbed of his vested interests. Hence let no one tell me that witchcraft is done away with; for I will meet him with St. Paul, than whom no better man, and few less superstitious, can be found in all the Bible.

Feeling these things more in those days than I feel them now, I fetched a goodish compass round, by the way of the cloven rocks, rather than cross Black Barrow Down, in a reckless and unholy manner. There were several spots, upon that Down, cursed and smitten, and blasted, as if thunderbolts had fallen there, and Satan sat to keep them warm. At any rate it was good (as every one acknowledged) not to wander there too much; even with a doctor of divinity on one arm and of medicine upon the other.

Therefore, I, being all alone, and on foot (as seemed the wisest), preferred a course of roundabout; and starting about eight o’clock, without mentioning my business, arrived at the mouth of the deep descent, such as John Fry described it. Now this (though I have not spoken of it) was not my first time of being there. For, although I could not bring myself to spy upon Uncle Reuben, as John Fry had done, yet I thought it no ill manners, after he had left our house, to have a look at the famous place, where the malefactor came to life, at least in John’s opinion. At that time, however, I saw nothing except the great ugly black morass, with the grisly reeds around it; and I did not care to go very near it, much less to pry on the further side.

Now, on the other hand, I was bent to get at the very bottom of this mystery (if there were any), having less fear of witch or wizard, with a man of Uncle Reuben’s wealth to take my part, and see me through. So I rattled the ramrod down my gun, just to know if the charge were right, after so much walking; and finding it full six inches deep, as I like to have it, went boldly down the steep gorge of rock, with a firm resolve to shoot any witch unless it were good Mother Melldrum. Nevertheless to my surprise, all was quiet, and fair to look at, in the decline of the narrow way, with great stalked ferns coming forth like trees, yet hanging like cobwebs over one. And along one side, a little spring was getting rid of its waters. Any man might stop and think; or he might go on and think; and in either case, there was none to say that he was making a fool of himself.

When I came to the foot of this ravine, and over against the great black slough, there was no sign of Master Huckaback, nor of any other living man, except myself, in the silence. Therefore, I sat in a niche of rock, gazing at the slough, and pondering the old tradition about it.

They say that, in the ancient times, a mighty necromancer lived in the wilderness of Exmoor. Here, by spell and incantation, he built himself a strong high palace, eight-sided like a spider’s web, and standing on a central steep; so that neither man nor beast could cross the moors without his knowledge. If he wished to rob and slay a traveller, or to have wild ox, or stag for food, he had nothing more to do than sit at one of his eight windows, and point his unholy book at him. Any moving creature, at which that book was pointed, must obey the call, and come from whatever distance, if sighted once by the wizard.

This was a bad condition of things, and all the country groaned under it; and Exmoor (although the most honest place that a man could wish to live in) was beginning to get a bad reputation, and all through

  By PanEris using Melati.

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