In the Valley of the Shadow Page 01
In the Valley of the Shadow
By Bram Stoker
The rubber-tyred wheels jolt unevenly over the granite setts. Dimly I recognise the familiar grey streets and garden-centred squares.
We stop, and through the little crowd on the pavement I am carried indoors and up to the high-ceiling ward. Gently they lift me off the stretcher and put me in bed, and I say:
"What queer curtains you have! They have faces worked on the border. Are they those of your friends?"
The matron smiles, and I think what a quaint idea it is. Then suddenly it strikes me that I have said something foolish, but still the faces are there right enough. (Even when I got well I could sometimes see them in certain lights.)
One of the faces is familiar, and I am just going to ask how they know So-and-so, when I am left alone.
For hours and hours (it seems) no one comes near me. At first I am patient, but gradually a fierce anger seizes me. Did I submit to be brought here merely to die in solitude and in suffocating darkness? I will not stay in this place; far better to go back and die at home!
Suddenly I am borne in a winged machine up, up into the cool air. Far below and infinitesimally small lies the "New Town," half-hid beneath the fluffy smoke; yonder, clear and blue and glittering, is the Firth of Forth; and beyond the sunlit hills of Fife are the advance-guards of the Grampians. A moment only of sheer palpitating ecstasy, then a soul-shattering fall into the black abyss of oblivion. (I hold Mr H. G. Wells partially responsible for this little excursion.)
It is light again, but what is that which prevents my seeing the window? A screen? What does that betoken?
A blackness of despair grips me. It is all over, then! No more mountaineering, no more pleasant holidays. This is the end of all my little ambitions. This is, in truth, the bitterness of death.
Presently a nurse comes with a cooling drink, and, making a tremendous effort to look unconcerned, I ask for the screen to be removed. She laughs and folds it up, when I see another screen opposite partially concealing a bed. So I have company. (This was a comparatively lucid interval.)
What a queer place to have texts! Right round the cornice of the room. And they are constantly changing too. "The Lord is my Shepherd-" "I will arise-" Really this is most irritating. I cannot finish any of them. If the letters would only stay still for a single moment!
But what is that below? It is a wide sandy beach with the blue sea beyond. On the top of a pole in the foreground is a-what is it?-yes, a man's head, of course. (It was really a hanging electric light which by some curious means I must have seen in an inverted position.)
"Sister, I am sure that could be worked up into a splendid story. Please give me some paper and my fountain pen. If I don't write it down now I shall forget it, just as has happened before when I have thought of things during the night." (As a matter of fact, when, I was convalescent I did want to write not only this particular tale, but a complete account of my visions. Of course, I was not permitted, and now, alas! it has gone to join that great company of magnificent-seeming but elusive ideas one has in dreams.)
"Honestly, Sister, I must go out for a few moments. The man is in great danger, and I alone can save him. There is a desperate plot against his life. He lives quite close by in one of the two houses on each side of this."
Sister promises to see about this, and I lie back only half-satisfied.
Presently my bed begins noiselessly to move. It goes through the wall into the next house. Room after room is visited, but my doomed friend is not there. The other houses are then inspected in turn, with no result. I have a feeling that he is being spirited away just in front of me so as to be always in the next house. Sister is at the bottom of this trick, I am sure. (Here began that absurd hatred and suspicion of her which only left me with the delirium.)
"Oh, doctor, I am glad to see you! Really in a free country it is intolerable that a simple request like this cannot be granted me, and to save a man's life, too. You can see for yourself that I am quite sensible and very much in earnest. Try me."
The doctor asks what day of the week it is. I answer, Scots fashion:
"Oh, that's easy! If I am the man who came here on Monday, then it is Wednesday, but if I came on Thursday, then it's Saturday. If you will tell me which man I am, I will tell you what day it is."
Overcome by this logic, the doctor gives in, but suggests a compromise, to which I agree. It is that the four neighbouring houses be brought in and placed before my bed, so that I can make sure of seeing and warning my friend in distress.
"No, I will not drink whisky. Surely you know perfectly well that I am a Mussulman and forbidden to drink spirits? You cannot wish me to violate the principles of my religion?"
Sister assures me that the draught is not whisky, and puts the glass to my lips.