Four Men in A Cave by Stephen Crane
LIKEWISE FOUR QUEENS, AND A SULLIVAN COUNTY HERMIT
The moon rested for a moment on the top of a tall pine on a hill.
The little man was standing in front of the campfire making orations to
"We can tell a great tale when we get back to the city if we
investigate this thing," said he, in conclusion.
They were won.
The little man was determined to explore a cave, because its black
mouth had gaped at him. The four men took a lighted pine-knot and
clambered over boulders down a hill. In a thicket on the mountainside
lay a little tilted hole. At its side they halted.
"Well?" said the little man.
They fought for last place and the little man was overwhelmed. He tried
to struggle from under by crying that if the fat, pudgy man came after,
he would be corked. But he finally administered a cursing over his
shoulder and crawled into the hole. His companions gingerly followed.
A passage, the floor of damp clay and pebbles, the walls slimy,
green-mossed, and dripping, sloped downward. In the cave atmosphere the
torches became studies in red blaze and black smoke.
"Ho!" cried the little man, stifled and bedraggled, "let's go back."
His companions were not brave. They were last. The next one to the
little man pushed him on, so the little man said sulphurous words and
cautiously continued his crawl.
Things that hung seemed to be on the wet, uneven ceiling, ready to drop
upon the men's bare necks. Under their hands the clammy floor seemed
alive and writhing. When the little man endeavored to stand erect the
ceiling forced him down. Knobs and points came out and punched him. His
clothes were wet and mud-covered, and his eyes, nearly blinded by
smoke, tried to pierce the darkness always before his torch.
"Oh, I say, you fellows, let's go back," cried he. At that moment he
caught the gleam of trembling light in the blurred shadows before him.
"Ho!" he said, "here's another way out."
The passage turned abruptly. The little man put one hand around the
corner, but it touched nothing. He investigated and discovered that the
little corridor took a sudden dip down a hill. At the bottom shone a
The little man wriggled painfully about, and descended feet in advance.
The others followed his plan. All picked their way with anxious care.
The traitorous rocks rolled from beneath the little man's feet and
roared thunderously below him, lesser stone loosened by the men above
him, hit him on the back. He gained seemingly firm foothold, and,
turning halfway about, swore redly at his companions for dolts and
careless fools. The pudgy man sat, puffing and perspiring, high in the
rear of the procession. The fumes and smoke from four pine-knots were
in his blood. Cinders and sparks lay thick in his eyes and hair. The
pause of the little man angered him.
"Go on, you fool!" he shouted. "Poor, painted man, you are afraid."
"Ho!" said the little man. "Come down here and go on yourself,
The pudgy man vibrated with passion. He leaned downward. "Idiot—"
He was interrupted by one of his feet which flew out and crashed into
the man in front of and below. It is not well to quarrel upon a
slippery incline, when the unknown is below. The fat man, having lost
the support of one pillar-like foot, lurched forward. His body smote
the next man, who hurtled into the next man. Then they all fell upon
the cursing little man.
They slid in a body down over the slippery, slimy floor of the passage.
The stone avenue must have wibble-wobbled with the rush of this ball of
tangled men and strangled cries. The torches went out with the combined
assault upon the little man. The adventurers whirled to the unknown in
darkness. The little man felt that he was pitching to death, but even
in his convolutions he bit and scratched at his companions, for he was
satisfied that it was their fault. The swirling mass went some twenty
feet, and lit upon a level, dry place in a strong, yellow light of
candles. It dissolved and became eyes.
The four men lay in a heap upon the floor of a grey chamber. A small
fire smoldered in the corner, the smoke disappearing in a crack. In
another corner was a bed of faded hemlock boughs and two blankets.
Cooking utensils and clothes lay about, with boxes and a barrel.
Of these things the four men took small cognisance. The pudgy man did
not curse the little man, nor did the little man swear, in the
abstract. Eight widened eyes were fixed upon the center of the room of
A great, gray stone, cut squarely, like an altar, sat in the middle of
the floor. Over it burned three candles, in swaying tin cups hung from
the ceiling. Before it, with what seemed to be a small volume clasped
in his yellow fingers, stood a man. He was an infinitely sallow person
in the brown-checked shirt of the ploughs and cows. The rest of his
apparel was boots. A long grey beard dangled from his chin. He fixed
glinting, fiery eyes upon the heap of men, and remained motionless.
Fascinated, their tongues cleaving, their blood cold, they arose to
their feet. The gleaming glance of the recluse swept slowly over the
group until it found the face of the little man. There it stayed and
The little man shrivelled and crumpled as the dried leaf under the
Finally, the recluse slowly, deeply spoke. It was a true voice from a
cave, cold, solemn, and damp.
"It's your ante," he said.
"What?" said the little man.
The hermit tilted his beard and laughed a laugh that was either the
chatter of a banshee in a storm or the rattle of pebbles in a tin box.
His visitors' flesh seemed ready to drop from their bones.
They huddled together and cast fearful eyes over their shoulders. They
"A vampire!" said one.
"A ghoul!" said another.
"A Druid before the sacrifice," murmured another.
"The shade of an Aztec witch doctor," said the little man.
As they looked, the inscrutable face underwent a change. It became a
livid background for his eyes, which blazed at the little man like
impassioned carbuncles. His voice arose to a howl of ferocity. "It's
your ante!" With a panther-like motion he drew a long, thin knife and
advanced, stooping. Two cadaverous hounds came from nowhere, and,
scowling and growling, made desperate feints at the little man's legs.
His quaking companions pushed him forward.
Tremblingly he put his hand to his pocket.
"How much?" he said, with a shivering look at the knife that glittered.
The carbuncles faded.
"Three dollars," said the hermit, in sepulchral tones which rang
against the walls and among the passages, awakening long-dead spirits
with voices. The shaking little man took a roll of bills from a pocket
and placed "three ones" upon the altar-like stone. The recluse looked
at the little volume with reverence in his eyes. It was a pack of
Under the three swinging candles, upon the altar-like stone, the grey
beard and the agonized little man played at poker. The three other men
crouched in a corner, and stared with eyes that gleamed with terror.
Before them sat the cadaverous hounds licking their red lips. The
candles burned low, and began to flicker. The fire in the corner
Finally, the game came to a point where the little man laid down his
hand and quavered: "I can't call you this time, sir. I'm dead broke."
"What?" shrieked the recluse. "Not call me! Villain Dastard! Cur! I
have four queens, miscreant." His voice grew so mighty that it could
not fit his throat. He choked wrestling with his lungs for a moment.
Then the power of his body was concentrated in a word: "Go!"
He pointed a quivering, yellow finger at a wide crack in the rock. The
little man threw himself at it with a howl. His erstwhile frozen
companions felt their blood throb again. With great bounds they plunged
after the little man. A minute of scrambling, falling, and pushing
brought them to open air. They climbed the distance to their camp in
The sky in the east was a lurid yellow. In the west the footprints of
departing night lay on the pine trees. In front of their replenished
camp fire sat John Willerkins, the guide.
"Hello!" he shouted at their approach. "Be you fellers ready to go deer
Without replying, they stopped and debated among themselves in whispers.
Finally, the pudgy man came forward.
"John," he inquired, "do you know anything peculiar about this cave
"Yes," said Willerkins at once; "Tom Gardner."
"What?" said the pudgy man.
"Well, you see," said Willerkins slowly, as he took dignified pulls at
his pipe, "Tom Gardner was once a fambly man, who lived in these here
parts on a nice leetle farm. He uster go away to the city orften, and
one time he got a-gamblin' in one of them there dens. He went ter the
dickens right quick then. At last he kum home one time and tol' his
folks he had up and sold the farm and all he had in the worl'. His
leetle wife she died then. Tom he went crazy, and soon after—"
The narrative was interrupted by the little man, who became possessed
"I wouldn't give a cuss if he had left me 'nough money to get home on
the doggoned, grey-haired red pirate," he shrilled, in a seething
sentence. The pudgy man gazed at the little man calmly and sneeringly.
"Oh, well," he said, "we can tell a great tale when we get back to the
city after having investigated this thing."
"Go to the devil," replied the little man.