‘Are you all right?’ His voice was deep and as velvet dark as the night. ‘Are you injured?’
Nell shook her head.
‘Where did it come from?’ he asked.
Again she shook her head dully, still hypnotized by the bright blue eyes that glittered in the cruel face.
‘The scream, girl,’ he urged, his voice impatient. ‘Where did that scream come from?’
‘I don’t know, sir,’ she stammered. ‘It was like it came from all around. But the first time...’
She pointed vaguely down into the gulley beside them.
‘Do you know who I am?’ he asked.
Nell once more took in his face, the glitter of eyes from under the shadow of both hat and heavy brow, the wide, sharp-angled shields of cheekbone, the broad bulk of the jaw. It was like a face carved from some material harder than stone. She nodded, still fearful.
‘You are Captain Hyde, sir.’
‘What is your name, child?’
‘Nell, sir. Nell McCrossan.’
‘Do you work in the mill, Nell?’
She nodded again.
‘Then run there now and tell your foreman I need men to help me search – and tell him to send someone to the Dean police office to bring constables.’
She neither replied nor moved, instead fixed and immobile in her study of Hyde’s face.
‘Go now!’ he urged with more severity than he intended, and the jolt of his words sent her running in the direction of the mill.
Hyde took a battery lantern from the pocket of his Ulster topcoat and scanned the path, the trees and the river around him. Its light gave menacing life to his surroundings: the rushing water glistened blackly and oil-sleek in the lantern’s beam; the shadows of trees and bushes that edged the river writhed sinuously. Yet there was no sign of anything wrong.
He surrendered the path and took to the river’s edge, following it in the direction indicated by the terrified girl. The river became a sleek-backed snake, writhing its dark way towards distant Leith and the sea, while all around the sounds of industry clamoured louder in the night. Hyde startled at a loud metallic clang as the buffers of unseen locomotives clashed in Balerno railway goods yard.
As he made his way further along the water’s edge, the sounds beyond became lost. The currents of the Water of Leith drove the water-wheels of the mills along its course, and at intervals the tumbling torrent would cascade over weirs and cataracts. Hyde could hear he now approached the thunderous rush of water over a weir. The tangle of branches and bush along the river’s edge slowed his progress and he had briefly to retake the path.
Over the roar of the waterfall he could just and no more hear the sound of voices calling him: the men brought from the mill. To indicate the direction he had taken, Hyde removed his service whistle from his pocket and gave three sharp summoning blasts.
He walked on, along the path in the direction of the weir, but the river was shielded from him by a screen of dense vegetation. He reached the cataract and the water’s edge suddenly cleared of undergrowth. A short section of iron railing, rusted and time bent, offered the only security from where the river dropped twenty feet to the lower level. The darkness of the night and the thunder of the waterfall disconcertingly rendered him deaf and blind to anything outside this small theatre of his awareness.
He shone the light from his battery lantern along the riverbank on his side, then across the foaming edge of the waterfall to the other bank. It was then he saw it. It moved in the light, turning, twisting and shuddering: something sallow and fleshlike. At first, he could make no sense of it.
The bough of an elm reached out across the water as if offering Hyde its pale fruit. The form which hung from it was at first unrecognisable in the insufficient illumination of Hyde’s hand lantern. What added to the confusion was the movement of the thing, as if alive. Then he made dark sense of it: close to the far bank, suspended by a long rope fastened around the tree’s bough, a naked man hung upside down, his ankles rope bound...
Tomorrow: The Banshee
Hyde, by Craig Russell, is published by Constable in hardback next month, priced £16.99