The formless longing was now pulling at me with an attraction I could not deny, though within me there rose and fought against it a horror only less strong. Here, as in the Blue Room, two souls were struggling for me. It was the soul of Philip Cardinnock that drew me towards the tarn and the soul of Samuel Wraxall that resisted. Only, what was the thing towards which I was being pulled?
I must have stood at least a minute on the brink before I descried a black object floating at the far end of the tarn. What this object was I could not make out; but I knew it on the instant to be that for which I longed, and all my will grew suddenly intent on drawing it nearer. Even as my volition centred upon it, the black spot began to move slowly out into the pale radiance towards me. Silently, surely, as though my wish drew it by a rope, it floated nearer and nearer over the bosom of the tarn; and while it was still some twenty yards from me I saw it to be a long black box, shaped somewhat like a coffin.
There was no doubt about it. I could hear the water now sucking at its dark sides. I stepped down the bank, and waded up to my knees in the icy water to meet it. It was a plain box, with no writing upon the lid, nor any speck of metal to relieve the dead black: and it moved with the same even speed straight up to where I stood.
As it came, I laid my hand upon it and touched wood. But with the touch came a further sensation that made me fling both arms around the box and begin frantically to haul it towards the shore.
It was a feeling of suffocation; of a weight that pressed in upon my ribs and choked the lungs’ action. I felt that I must open that box or die horribly; that until I had it upon the bank and had forced the lid up I should know no pause from the labour and torture of dying.
This put a wild strength into me. As the box grated upon the few pebbles by the shore, I bent over it, caught it once more by the sides, and with infinite effort dragged it up out of the water. It was heavy, and the weight upon my chest was heavier yet: but straining, panting, gasping, I hauled it up the bank, dropped it on the turf, and knelt over it, tugging furiously at the lid.
I was frenzied—no less. My nails were torn until the blood gushed. Lights danced before me; bells rang in my ears; the pressure on my lungs grew more intolerable with each moment; but still I fought with that lid. Seven devils were within me and helped me; and all the while I knew that I was dying, that unless the box were opened in a moment or two it would be too late.
The sweat ran off my eyebrows and dripped on the box. My breath came and went in sobs. I could not die. I could not, must not die. And so I tugged and strained and tugged again.
Then, as I felt the black anguish of the Blue Room descending a second time upon me, I seemed to put all my strength into my hands. From the lid or from my own throat—I could not distinguish—there came a creak and a long groan. I tore back the board and fell on the heath with one shuddering breath of relief.