Tales of Terror and Mystery
Arthur Conan Doyle
8:58 h
Level 6
Tales of Terror and Mystery is a collection of 12 short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in 1922 by John Murray. The collection is divided in two parts: Tales of Terror, which consists of horror stories, and Tales of Mystery, which consists of stories with strange schemes. Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a British writer and physician. Doyle was a prolific writer; other than Holmes stories, his works include fantasy and science fiction stories about Professor Challenger and humorous stories about the Napoleonic soldier Brigadier Gerard, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, and historical novels.

Tales of Terror and Mystery

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Tales of Terror

The Horror of the Heights

The idea that the extraordinary narrative which has been called theJoyce-Armstrong Fragment is an elaborate practical joke evolved by someunknown person, cursed by a perverted and sinister sense of humour, hasnow been abandoned by all who have examined the matter. The mostmacabre and imaginative of plotters would hesitate before linking hismorbid fancies with the unquestioned and tragic facts which reinforcethe statement. Though the assertions contained in it are amazing andeven monstrous, it is none the less forcing itself upon the generalintelligence that they are true, and that we must readjust our ideas tothe new situation. This world of ours appears to be separated by aslight and precarious margin of safety from a most singular andunexpected danger. I will endeavour in this narrative, whichreproduces the original document in its necessarily somewhatfragmentary form, to lay before the reader the whole of the facts up todate, prefacing my statement by saying that, if there be any who doubtthe narrative of Joyce-Armstrong, there can be no question at all as tothe facts concerning Lieutenant Myrtle, R. N., and Mr. Hay Connor, whoundoubtedly met their end in the manner described.

The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment was found in the field which is calledLower Haycock, lying one mile to the westward of the village ofWithyham, upon the Kent and Sussex border. It was on the 15thSeptember last that an agricultural labourer, James Flynn, in theemployment of Mathew Dodd, farmer, of the Chauntry Farm, Withyham,perceived a briar pipe lying near the footpath which skirts the hedgein Lower Haycock. A few paces farther on he picked up a pair of brokenbinocular glasses. Finally, among some nettles in the ditch, he caughtsight of a flat, canvas-backed book, which proved to be a note-bookwith detachable leaves, some of which had come loose and werefluttering along the base of the hedge. These he collected, but some,including the first, were never recovered, and leave a deplorablehiatus in this all-important statement. The note-book was taken by thelabourer to his master, who in turn showed it to Dr. J. H. Atherton, ofHartfield. This gentleman at once recognized the need for an expertexamination, and the manuscript was forwarded to the Aero Club inLondon, where it now lies.

The first two pages of the manuscript are missing. There is also onetorn away at the end of the narrative, though none of these affect thegeneral coherence of the story. It is conjectured that the missingopening is concerned with the record of Mr. Joyce-Armstrong’squalifications as an aeronaut, which can be gathered from other sourcesand are admitted to be unsurpassed among the air-pilots of England.For many years he has been looked upon as among the most daring and themost intellectual of flying men, a combination which has enabled him toboth invent and test several new devices, including the commongyroscopic attachment which is known by his name. The main body of themanuscript is written neatly in ink, but the last few lines are inpencil and are so ragged as to be hardly legible — exactly, in fact, asthey might be expected to appear if they were scribbled off hurriedlyfrom the seat of a moving aeroplane. There are, it may be added,several stains, both on the last page and on the outside cover whichhave been pronounced by the Home Office experts to be blood — probablyhuman and certainly mammalian. The fact that something closelyresembling the organism of malaria was discovered in this blood, andthat Joyce-Armstrong is known to have suffered from intermittent fever,is a remarkable example of the new weapons which modern science hasplaced in the hands of our detectives.

And now a word as to the personality of the author of this epoch-makingstatement. Joyce-Armstrong, according to the few friends who reallyknew something of the man, was a poet and a dreamer, as well as amechanic and an inventor. He was a man of considerable wealth, much ofwhich he had spent in the pursuit of his aeronautical hobby. He hadfour private aeroplanes in his hangars near Devizes, and is said tohave made no fewer than one hundred and seventy ascents in the courseof last year. He was a retiring man with dark moods, in which he wouldavoid the society of his fellows. Captain Dangerfield, who knew himbetter than anyone, says that there were times when his eccentricitythreatened to develop into something more serious. His habit ofcarrying a shot-gun with him in his aeroplane was one manifestation ofit.

Another was the morbid effect which the fall of Lieutenant Myrtle hadupon his mind. Myrtle, who was attempting the height record, fell froman altitude of something over thirty thousand feet. Horrible tonarrate, his head was entirely obliterated, though his body and limbspreserved their configuration. At every gathering of airmen,Joyce-Armstrong, according to Dangerfield, would ask, with an enigmaticsmile: “And where, pray, is Myrtle’s head?”

On another occasion after dinner, at the mess of the Flying School onSalisbury Plain, he started a debate as to what will be the mostpermanent danger which airmen will have to encounter. Having listenedto successive opinions as to air-pockets, faulty construction, andover-banking, he ended by shrugging his shoulders and refusing to putforward his own views, though he gave the impression that they differedfrom any advanced by his companions.

It is worth remarking that after his own complete disappearance it wasfound that his private affairs were arranged with a precision which mayshow that he had a strong premonition of disaster. With theseessential explanations I will now give the narrative exactly as itstands, beginning at page three of the blood-soaked note-book:

“Nevertheless, when I dined at Rheims with Coselli and Gustav Raymond Ifound that neither of them was aware of any particular danger in thehigher layers of the atmosphere. I did not actually say what was in mythoughts, but I got so near to it that if they had any correspondingidea they could not have failed to express it. But then they are twoempty, vainglorious fellows with no thought beyond seeing their sillynames in the newspaper. It is interesting to note that neither of themhad ever been much beyond the twenty-thousand-foot level. Of course,men have been higher than this both in balloons and in the ascent ofmountains. It must be well above that point that the aeroplane entersthe danger zone — always presuming that my premonitions are correct.

“Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years, and onemight well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing itself in ourday? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak engines, when ahundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered ample for every need,the flights were very restricted. Now that three hundred horse-poweris the rule rather than the exception, visits to the upper layers havebecome easier and more common. Some of us can remember how, in ouryouth, Garros made a world-wide reputation by attaining nineteenthousand feet, and it was considered a remarkable achievement to flyover the Alps. Our standard now has been immeasurably raised, andthere are twenty high flights for one in former years. Many of themhave been undertaken with impunity. The thirty-thousand-foot level hasbeen reached time after time with no discomfort beyond cold and asthma.What does this prove? A visitor might descend upon this planet athousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers exist, and if hechanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured. There arejungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers whichinhabit them. I believe in time they will map these jungles accuratelyout. Even at the present moment I could name two of them. One of themlies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France. Another is just over myhead as I write here in my house in Wiltshire. I rather think there isa third in the Homburg-Wiesbaden district.

“It was the disappearance of the airmen that first set me thinking. Ofcourse, everyone said that they had fallen into the sea, but that didnot satisfy me at all. First, there was Verrier in France; his machinewas found near Bayonne, but they never got his body. There was thecase of Baxter also, who vanished, though his engine and some of theiron fixings were found in a wood in Leicestershire. In that case, Dr.Middleton, of Amesbury, who was watching the flight with a telescope,declares that just before the clouds obscured the view he saw themachine, which was at an enormous height, suddenly rise perpendicularlyupwards in a succession of jerks in a manner that he would have thoughtto be impossible. That was the last seen of Baxter. There was acorrespondence in the papers, but it never led to anything. There wereseveral other similar cases, and then there was the death of HayConnor. What a cackle there was about an unsolved mystery of the air,and what columns in the halfpenny papers, and yet how little was everdone to get to the bottom of the business! He came down in atremendous vol-plane from an unknown height. He never got off hismachine and died in his pilot’s seat. Died of what? ‘Heart disease,’said the doctors. Rubbish! Hay Connor’s heart was as sound as mineis. What did Venables say? Venables was the only man who was at hisside when he died. He said that he was shivering and looked like a manwho had been badly scared. ‘Died of fright,’ said Venables, but couldnot imagine what he was frightened about. Only said one word toVenables, which sounded like ‘Monstrous.’ They could make nothing ofthat at the inquest. But I could make something of it. Monsters! Thatwas the last word of poor Harry Hay Connor. And he DID die of fright,just as Venables thought.

“And then there was Myrtle’s head. Do you really believe — does anybodyreally believe — that a man’s head could be driven clean into his bodyby the force of a fall? Well, perhaps it may be possible, but I, forone, have never believed that it was so with Myrtle. And the greaseupon his clothes — ‘all slimy with grease,’ said somebody at theinquest. Queer that nobody got thinking after that! I did — but, then,I had been thinking for a good long time. I’ve made three ascents — howDangerfield used to chaff me about my shot-gun — but I’ve never beenhigh enough. Now, with this new, light Paul Veroner machine and itsone hundred and seventy-five Robur, I should easily touch the thirtythousand tomorrow. I’ll have a shot at the record. Maybe I shall havea shot at something else as well. Of course, it’s dangerous. If afellow wants to avoid danger he had best keep out of flying altogetherand subside finally into flannel slippers and a dressing-gown. ButI’ll visit the air-jungle tomorrow — and if there’s anything there Ishall know it. If I return, I’ll find myself a bit of a celebrity. IfI don’t this note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and how Ilost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or mysteries,if YOU please.

“I chose my Paul Veroner monoplane for the job. There’s nothing like amonoplane when real work is to be done. Beaumont found that out in veryearly days. For one thing it doesn’t mind damp, and the weather looksas if we should be in the clouds all the time. It’s a bonny littlemodel and answers my hand like a tender-mouthed horse. The engine is aten-cylinder rotary Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five.It has all the modern improvements — enclosed fuselage, high-curvedlanding skids, brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, workedby an alteration of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blindprinciple. I took a shot-gun with me and a dozen cartridges filledwith buck-shot. You should have seen the face of Perkins, my oldmechanic, when I directed him to put them in. I was dressed like anArctic explorer, with two jerseys under my overalls, thick socks insidemy padded boots, a storm-cap with flaps, and my talc goggles. It wasstifling outside the hangars, but I was going for the summit of theHimalayas, and had to dress for the part. Perkins knew there wassomething on and implored me to take him with me. Perhaps I should ifI were using the biplane, but a monoplane is a one-man show — if youwant to get the last foot of life out of it. Of course, I took anoxygen bag; the man who goes for the altitude record without one willeither be frozen or smothered — or both.

“I had a good look at the planes, the rudder-bar, and the elevatinglever before I got in. Everything was in order so far as I could see.Then I switched on my engine and found that she was running sweetly.When they let her go she rose almost at once upon the lowest speed. Icircled my home field once or twice just to warm her up, and then witha wave to Perkins and the others, I flattened out my planes and put heron her highest. She skimmed like a swallow down wind for eight or tenmiles until I turned her nose up a little and she began to climb in agreat spiral for the cloud-bank above me. It’s all-important to riseslowly and adapt yourself to the pressure as you go.

“It was a close, warm day for an English September, and there was thehush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there came suddenpuffs of wind from the south-west — one of them so gusty and unexpectedthat it caught me napping and turned me half-round for an instant. Iremember the time when gusts and whirls and air-pockets used to bethings of danger — before we learned to put an overmastering power intoour engines. Just as I reached the cloud-banks, with the altimetermarking three thousand, down came the rain. My word, how it poured!It drummed upon my wings and lashed against my face, blurring myglasses so that I could hardly see. I got down on to a low speed, forit was painful to travel against it. As I got higher it became hail,and I had to turn tail to it. One of my cylinders was out of action — adirty plug, I should imagine, but still I was rising steadily withplenty of power. After a bit the trouble passed, whatever it was, andI heard the full, deep-throated purr — the ten singing as one. That’swhere the beauty of our modern silencers comes in. We can at lastcontrol our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak and sob whenthey are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted in the olddays, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous racket of themachine. If only the early aviators could come back to see the beautyand perfection of the mechanism which have been bought at the cost oftheir lives!