The House of Haon-Dor (Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith

Roger Farway had not declined his uncle's hospitality through mere independence, nor a desire to avoid imposing himself too onerously on a busy fiction-writer. The refusal was due rather to poetic temperament, to an unsatisfied craving for communion with the Muse of lonely places. Also, Roger had visited once before, though briefly, the old and picturesque hydraulic diggings known as Gold Canyon, and, deeply captivated, had resolved to return there at some future time. When a slight tubercular infection made it imperative that he should leave the dust and fog of San Francisco and dwell for awhile in the lucid sunshine of the higher foothills, his thoughts were drawn immediately, as if by some scenic magnetism, to Gold Canyon. Before receiving from his uncle, George Beltane, a letter offering him a sleeping-porch at Peargate, where the air and elevation were quite suitable for the treatment of his malady, he had already determined to spend the summer in the neighborhood of those long deserted diggings, twenty miles above his uncle's ranch on the highway to the Sierras.

George Beltane was well able to interpret this desire for solitude and seclusion in its proper terms. There had always been the tie of a common love for literature and beauty between himself and the youth. Roger was a poet of no small promise; and Beltane too had been a poet, till financial urgencies had compelled him to serve the more venal and pedestrian goddess of prose.

He would have welcomed his nephew on the pear and apple ranch, where he lived with little company other than that of a Japanese cook and a Portuguese foreman, and where, surely, the isolation would have been more than ample for most youths. But, without remonstrance or comment, he accepted Roger's decision, and helped him to establish himself in a pine grove on the rim of the diggings, a mile or more from the nearest auto-camp. Here a tent was reared, and was abundantly supplied with food and books. Beltane told Roger to avoid over exercise, cautioned him against the arsenic tainted springs of the lower diggings, warned him that the season was unusually good for rattlesnakes, and then drove away, resolving to keep a paternal but unobtrusive eye on the boy, and to visit him at regular intervals.

The regime to which Roger now devoted himself would no doubt have been frowned upon by the doctors. Living alone and unattended, he cooked his own meals, spent much of his time in roaming about the hills and canyon sides; and even, for recreation, attempted a little placer-mining with a gold pan in the unexhausted gullies of the hydraulic excavations. All this the doctors would have deemed too strenuous; for they had urged him to take the usual course of treatment at some foothill sanitarium.

The life, however, suited Roger well, and he gained palpably in strength, weight, and spirits. Clearly he had diagnosed his own need; for, apart from his incipient lesion, he had begun to suffer from that long, stow attrition which the sensitive experience in crowded places. Country born, he had lived too much in towns; and the fatigue thus induced was curable only by a term of almost complete solitude. Free from the oppression of human faces, he turned with unutterable relief to the quiet rocks and trees. The diggings were a source of continual fascination to him, though the romance of early gold mining, so potent in others, was but a small part of this allurement. Here, in these broad-spaced abysses that had hollowed the ancient hill, with cliffs of reddish yellow conglomerate, and sharp-carven pyramids and dolomitic pillars rising out of the depths, the inner secrets of the earth had been laid bare; and yet, after a short period, Earth was already beginning to triumph over the ravages of man. In time, the violent erosion would be indistinguishable from that of slow, cyclic winds and waters. Yellow pines had rooted themselves on the raw declivities, had crowded close to the edge of sheer precipices, had perched on the soil-topped dolomites. Silt had gathered far down in the diggings, and young willows and alders flourished there, Grasses had taken a tentative foothold in the seams of bedrock and the piles of rotting rubble.

Roger, who had a taste for amateur geology, was never tired of hunting for petrified wood and fossil bones. Whole trunks of primeval trees, some blackened by prehistoric fire, had been exposed by the excavations. Daily he searched the ribby slopes and the vast heaps of loose rocks and gravel, never failing to find some new treasure or curiosity.

He met few people, for the region was sparsely settled, and the occupants of summer cottages and camps along the highway seldom visited the diggings. Somewhere in the locality, he had been told, were the headquarters of a small and obscure order of mystics, called the Brotherhood of the Sun, who secluded themselves in esoteric contemplation, and were rarely seen by the people of the neighboring hamlets. They were supposedly akin to the Rosicrucians; but their interpretation of the hidden realms and occult laws of nature was said to be somewhat heterodox. Roger, vaguely curious, and feeling a dim poetic sentiment of sympathy for all delvers into the occult, resolved with equal vagueness that he would visit them before the end of his sojourn at Gold Canyon. But, at the time, he did not even trouble to inquire the exact location of their establishment.

His tent was on the south rim of the diggings. Looking across that man made gulf, he often noticed the walls and roof of a weathered shanty that leaned perilously from the high cliffs on the northern side, at a distance of more than half a mile. The shanty was closely surrounded by low-growing manzanita, and its dilapidation was plainly apparent even without the field-glasses that Roger often used on studying the local topology. Feeling but little interest at first, he decided that it was an old and long-abandoned miner's cabin, dating perhaps from the time when Gold Canyon had roared with human activity.

More than once, in his wanderings, he approached the foot of the precipice on which the shanty stood, and stared up with idle speculation at its one dark and paneless window. Also, he passed the place from behind in a circumambulation about the indented rim of the gulf. He was impressed anew by its age and desertion. Though the shake roof was still intact, and few of the boards had actually fallen or rotted away, he felt always that a breath would bring down the tottering structure in ruin. On one occasion, passing by at twilight, when a lurid sunset was deepening from sulphur into blood behind the black pines, there came to Roger the tenuous thought of something hidden and sinister that peered forth from the cabin's vacancy. This impression he dismissed quickly, as being due to some evanescent quality of the light and shade, or some nameless adumbration of his own mind and nerves. It did not return; and soon he forgot the fugitive sense of eeriness.

It was not until the second week of his stay at Gold Canyon, that Roger began to suspect anything mysterious or untoward about the shanty.

The June twilight, warm and windless, had tarried long. He had been watching a broad and sanguine-yellow crescent that was still clear of the spire-tall pines to westward of his camp. Then, turning through some idle impulse, he peered across the darkling excavation and beheld to his amazement a red light in the window of the shack, whose outlines were now almost indistinguishable. Whether it was made by lamp, lantern or fire, he could not determine. It burned steady and unflickering, and troubled his eyes strangely, as if he were gazing into the molten heart of an open furnace. A tramp or prospector, he thought, had taken temporary possession of the shanty; but this obvious explanation failed to lull entirely the first eerie sense of some inexplicable and disturbing wonder.

Chiding himself for a curiosity that he considered to be vulgar and childish, Roger sat before his tent and regarded that eye of ruddy flame on the opposite cliff. Nameless conjectures and musings flitted darkly through his mind. The moon's bloodying horn was dragged down by sable boughs, and the diggings became an unfathomable gulf of Tartarean blackness. Then, with the sinking of the moon, the mysterious light went out and was not relumed.

Early on the following day, Roger passed a little to rearward of the cabin in the course of a long and leisurely stroll, but perceived no sign of occupancy. There was no faintest thread of smoke from the rust-eaten and crazily oblique stove-pipe. Making a semicircle through the low and pathless brush from rim to rim of the unclimbable cliff on each hand, he found no [ ... ]

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.
{July 1933}

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Printed on: November 24, 2017