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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online
X THE SEVEN LIGHTS
The singular conduct of this woman threw a damp over all who were present. They felt chilled, they knew not how; and were sensible of the influence of an indefinable terror, for which they could not account. For once, therefore, the feeling of comfort and security, of which all were conscious who were seated around M'Pherson's cheerful and hospitable hearth, was banished, and a scene of awe and dread supplied its place.
No one could conjecture who this strange personage was, whence she had come, nor whither she was going; nor were there any means of acquiring this information, as it was a rule of the house--one of M'Pherson's special points of etiquette--that no stranger should ever be questioned on such subjects. All being allowed to depart as they came, without question or inquiry, there was never anything more known at Morvane, regarding any stranger who visited it, than what he himself chose to communicate.
Under the painful feelings already described, the inmates of M'Pherson's house found, with more than usual satisfaction, the hour for retiring to rest arrive. The general attention being called to this circumstance by the hostess, everyone hastened to his appointed dormitory, with an alacrity which but too plainly showed how glad they were to escape from the presence of the mysterious stranger who, however, also retired to bed with the rest. The place appointed for her to sleep in, was the loft of an outbuilding, as there was no room for her accommodation within the house itself; all the spare beds being occupied.
We have already said that M'Pherson was from home on the evening of which we are speaking, attending a market at some distance. He, however, returned shortly after midnight. On arriving at his own house, he was much surprised, and not a little alarmed, to perceive a window in one of the outhouses blazing with light (it was that in which the stranger slept), while all around and within the house was as silent as the tomb. Afraid that some accident from fire had taken place, he rode up to the building, and standing up in his stirrups--which brought his head on a level with the window--looked in, when a sight presented itself that made even the stout heart of M'Pherson beat with unusual violence.
In the middle of the floor, extended on her pallet, lay the mysterious stranger, surrounded by seven bright and shining lights, arranged at equal distances--three on one side of the bed, three on the other, and one at the head. M'Pherson gazed steadily at the extraordinary and appalling sight for a few seconds, when three of the lights suddenly vanished. In an instant afterwards, two more disappeared, and then another. There was now only that at the head of the bed remaining. When this light had alone been left, M'Pherson saw the person who lay on the pallet, raise herself slowly up, and gaze intently on the portentous beam, whose light showed, to the terrified onlooker, a ghastly and unearthly countenance, surrounded with dishevelled hair, which hung down in long, thick, irregular masses over her pale, clayey visage, so as almost to conceal it entirely. This light, like all the others, at length suddenly disappeared, and with its last gleam the person on the couch sank down with a groan that startled M'Pherson from the trance of horror into which the extraordinary sight had thrown him. He was a bold and fearless man, however; and, therefore, though certainly appalled by what he had seen, he made no outcry, nor evinced any other symptom of alarm. He resolutely and calmly awaited the conclusion of the extraordinary scene; and when the last light had disappeared, he deliberately dismounted, led his horse into the stable, put him up, entered the house without disturbing any one, and slipped quietly into bed, trusting that the morning would bring some explanation of the mysterious occurrence of the night; but resolving, at the same time that, if it should not, he would mention the circumstance to no one.