Authors: Michelle Paver
Tags: #Horror & ghost stories
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
AN ORION EBOOK
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Orion Books.
This eBook first published by Orion Books.
Copyright © Michelle Paver 2010
The rights of Michelle Paver to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All the characters and events in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
: 978 1 4091 2380 4
This ebook produced by Jouve, France
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
An Hachette UK company
24th November 1947
Dear Dr Murchison,
Forgive me for this rather belated reply to your letter.
You will I am sure understand why I found it hard to entertain your enquiry with any pleasure. To be blunt, you evoked painful memories which I have tried for ten years to forget. The expedition crippled a friend of mine and killed another. It is not something I care to revisit.
You mentioned that you are working on a monograph on ‘phobic disorders’, by which I take it you mean abnormal fears. I regret that I can tell you nothing which would be of assistance. Moreover, I fail to see how the ‘case’ (as you put it) of Jack Miller could provide appropriate material for such a work.
In your letter, you conceded that you know little of Spitsbergen, or indeed of anywhere else in what is often called the High Arctic. This is to be expected. Few people do. Forgive me, though, if I question how you would then propose to understand what it can do to a man to overwinter there. To battle the loneliness and desolation; yes, even with the many comforts that our modern age affords. Above all, to endure the endless dark. And as circumstances dictated, it was Jack’s misfortune to be there alone.
I don’t think we will ever learn the truth of what happened at Gruhuken. However I know enough to be convinced that something terrible took place. And whatever it was, Dr Murchison, it was real. It was not the result of some phobic disorder. And in this respect I would add that before entering politics I undertook some years of study in the sciences, and thus feel myself entitled on two counts to be considered a reasonable judge of evidence. Moreover, no one has ever doubted my sanity, or proposed to include my ‘case’ in a monograph.
I don’t know how you came by the knowledge that Jack Miller kept a journal on the expedition, but you are right, he did. I saw him writing in it many times. We used to rag him about it, and he took this in good part, although he never showed us its contents. No doubt the journal would, as you
suggest, explain much of what happened; but it has not survived, and I cannot ask Jack himself.
Thus I fear that I am unable to help you. I wish you well with your work. However I must ask you not to apply to me again.
It’s all over, I’m not going.
I can’t spend a year in the Arctic with that lot.They arrange to ‘meet for a drink’,then give me a grilling,and make it pretty clear what they think of a grammar-school boy with a London degree.Tomorrow I’ll write and tell them where to put their sodding expedition.
The way they watched me when I entered that pub.
It was off the Strand,so not my usual haunt, and full of well-to-do professional types.A smell of whisky and a fug of expensive cigar smoke.Even the barmaid was a cut above.
The four of them sat at a corner table, watching me shoulder my way through. They wore Oxford bags and tweed jackets with that elegantly worn look which you only acquire at country house weekends. Me in
my scuffed shoes and my six-guinea Burton’s suit. Then I saw the drinks on the table and thought, Christ, I’ll have to buy a round, and I’ve only got a florin and a threepenny bit.
We said our hellos, and they relaxed a bit when they heard that I don’t actually drop my aitches, but I was so busy wondering if I could afford the drinks that it took me a while to work out who was who.
Algie Carlisle is fat and freckled, with pale eyelashes and sandy-red hair; he’s a follower rather than a leader, who relies on his pals to tell him what to think. Hugo Charteris-Black is thin and dark, with the face of an Inquisitor looking forward to putting a match to another heretic. Teddy Wintringham has bulging eyes that I think he thinks are penetrating. And Gus Balfour is a handsome blond hero straight out of The Boy’s Own Paper. All in their mid-twenties, but keen to appear older: Carlisle and Charteris-Black with moustaches, Balfour and Wintringham with pipes clamped between their teeth.
I knew I hadn’t a chance, so I thought to hell with it, give it to them straight: offer yourself like a lamb to the slaughter (if lambs can snarl). So I did. Bexhill Grammar, Open Scholarship to UCL. The slump putting paid to my dreams of being a physicist, followed by seven years as an export clerk at Marshall Gifford.
They took it in silence, but I could see them thinking,
Bexhill, how frightfully middle class; all those ghastly mock-Tudor dwellings by the sea. And University College . . . not exactly Oxbridge, is it?
Gus Balfour asked about Marshall Gifford, and I said, ‘They make high-quality stationery, they export all over the world.’ I felt myself reddening. God Almighty, Jack, you sound like Mr Pooter.
Then Algie Carlisle, the plump one, asked if I shoot.
‘Yes,’ I said crisply. (Well, I can shoot, thanks to old Mr Carwardine, DO, retired, of the Malaya Protectorate, who used to take me on to the Downs after rabbits; but that’s not the kind of shooting this lot are used to.)
No doubt Carlisle was thinking the same thing, because he asked rather doubtfully if I’d got my own gun.
‘Service pattern rifle,’ I said. ‘Nothing special, but it does OK.’
That elicited a collective wince, as if they’d never heard slang before.
Teddy Wintringham mentioned wirelessing and asked if I knew my stuff. I said I should think so, after six years of night technical school, both the General and Advanced courses; I wanted something practical that would keep me in touch with physics. (More Mr Pooter. Stop wittering.)
Wintringham smiled thinly at my discomfort. ‘No
idea what any of that means, old chap. But I’m told that we rather need someone like you.’
I gave him a cheery smile and pictured blasting a hole in his chest with said rifle.
It can’t have been that cheery, though, because Gus Balfour – the Honourable Augustus Balfour – sensed that things were veering off track, and started telling me about the expedition.
‘There are two aims,’ he began, looking very earnest and more like a schoolboy hero than ever. ‘One, to study High Arctic biology, geology and ice dynamics. To that end we’ll be establishing a base camp on the coast, and another on the icecap itself – which is why we’ll be needing a team of dogs. Secondly, and more importantly, a meteorological survey, transmitting observations three times a day for a year, to the Government forecasting system. That’s why we’re getting help from the Admiralty and the War Office. They seem to think our data will be of use if – well, if there’s another war.’
There was an uneasy pause, and I could see them hoping we wouldn’t get side-tracked into discussing the situation in Spain and the neutrality of the Low Countries.
Turning my back on world politics, I said, ‘And you’re planning to achieve all that with only five men?’
This drew sharp glances from the others, but Gus
Balfour took it in good part. ‘I know it’s a tall order. But you see, we have thought about this. The plan is, Algie will be chief huntsman, dog-driver and geologist. Teddy’s the photographer and medico. Hugo’s the glaciologist for the icecap side of things. We’ll all lend a hand with the meteorology. I’ll be the biologist and, um, Expedition Leader. And you’ll be—’ He broke off with a rueful laugh. ‘Sorry, we hope you’ll be our communications man.’
He seemed genuinely keen to win me over, and I couldn’t help feeling flattered. Then Hugo Charteris-Black, the Inquisitor, spoiled it by demanding to know why I wanted to come, and was I quite sure I understood what I’d be letting myself in for?
‘You do realise what the winter will be like?’ he said, fixing me with his coal-black stare. ‘Four months of darkness. Think you can take it?’
I gritted my teeth and told him that was why I wanted to go: for the challenge.
Oh, they liked that. I expect it’s the sort of thing you’re taught at public school. I was glad I hadn’t told them the real reason. They’d have been mortified if I’d said I was desperate.
I couldn’t put off buying my round any longer. Pints for Algie Carlisle, Teddy Wintringham and Hugo Charteris-Black (at sevenpence a go), a half for me (that’s another threepence halfpenny). I was
thinking I wasn’t going to manage it when Gus Balfour said, ‘Nothing for me.’ He made quite a convincing job of it, but I could tell that he was trying to help me out. It made me feel ashamed.
After that, things went OK for a while. We worked our way through our drinks, and then Gus Balfour glanced at the others and nodded, and said to me, ‘Well, now, Miller. Would you care to join our expedition?’
I’m afraid I got a bit choked. ‘Um, yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I should think I would.’
The others looked merely relieved, but Gus Balfour seemed genuinely delighted. He kept clapping me on the back and saying, ‘Good show, good show!’ I don’t think he was putting it on.
After that we fixed our next meeting, and then I said my goodbyes and headed for the door. But at the last moment, I glanced over my shoulder – and caught Teddy Wintringham’s grimace and Algie Carlisle’s fatalistic shrug.
Not exactly a sahib, but I suppose he’ll have to do.
Stupid to be so angry. I wanted to march back and smash their smug faces into their overpriced drinks. Do you know what it’s like to be poor? Hiding your cuffs, inking the holes in your socks? Knowing that you smell because you can’t afford more than one bath a week? Do you think I like it?