The Music on the Hill, Part 1

By Saki

Revenge of the gods was not even on her mind as Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney with a pleasant sense of ultimate victory. She felt that she had won her hardest and most important struggle. To have married Mortimer Seltoun, “Dead Mortimer” as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement.

Yesterday she had brought her victory to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its group of satellite watering places and “settling him down” in this remote wood-encircled manor farm, his country house.

There was a sombre almost savage wildness about the Yessney estate that was certainly not likely to appeal to town-bred tastes. Sylvia was accustomed to nothing much more woodsy than “leafy Kensington.” Distrust of town life had been a new thing with her, born of her marriage with Mortimer, and she had watched with satisfaction the gradual fading of what she called “the Street-look” in his eyes.

She smiled as she gazed with an art school appreciation at the landscape, and then all of a sudden she almost shuddered out of concern about the possible revenge of the gods, who seemed both ancient and present.

//Me: It is very wild, one could almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had never quite died out.

//Mortimer: The worship of Pan never has died out, Syl. Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. 

//Me: I am religious myself, and don’t like to hear my beliefs spoken of as mere aftergrowths. But it is at least hopeful to hear you talk with such energy and conviction.

//Me: You don’t really believe in Pan, of course?

//Mortimer: I’ve been a fool in most things, but I’m not such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I’m down here. And if you’re wise you won’t disbelieve in him too boastfully while you’re in his country.

(A week later.)

//Mortimer: You are shaking like a leaf. What happened on your walk?

//Me: I ventured on a tour of inspection of the farm. A farmyard suggests in my mind a scene of cheerful bustle, with churns and flails and smiling dairymaids, and teams of horses drinking knee-deep in duck-crowded ponds. But not down here at this time.

//Mortimer: Are you sure you are not over dramatising?

//Me: No. As I wandered among the buildings of the farm, my first impression was one of stillness and desolation, as though I had happened on some deserted homestead given over to owls and cobwebs. Then came a sense of furtive watchful hostility, the same shadow of unseen things that seemed to lurk in the wooded areas. From behind heavy doors and shuttered windows came the stamping of a hoof or rasp of chain halter, and at times a bellow from a beast. 

//Mortimer: You describe it vividly.

//Me: Then from a distant comer a shaggy dog watched me with intent unfriendly eyes; as I drew near, it slipped into its kennel, and slipped out again just as noiselessly when I had passed. I felt that if I had come across any human beings they would have fled wraith-like from my gaze. 

//Me: At last, turning a corner quickly, I came upon a living thing that did not fly from me. Astretch in a pool of mud was an enormous sow, gigantic beyond a town-girl’s wildest computation of swine-flesh, and speedily alert to resent and if necessary repel the unwonted intrusion. It was my turn to make an unobtrusive retreat. As I threaded my way past rickyards and cowsheds and long blank walls, I started suddenly at a strange sound — the echo of a boy’s laughter, golden and equivocal. 

//Mortimer: My God!

//Me: I thought at the time it was just Jan, the boy employed on the farm, that tow-headed, wizen-faced lad. But he was visibly hard at work on a potato clearing half-way up the nearest hillside. Could it have been somebody else laughing?

//Mortimer: No. I know of no other probable or possible begetter of the hidden mockery that you’ve described. 

//Me: The memory of that untraceable echo added to my other impressions of a furtive sinister “something” that hung around Yessney farm today.

//Mortimer: This farm is not ordinarily like that, Syl. You must wait awhile to be accepted by everyone.

//Me: I will never be accepted by the place itself, though. There is evil in it.