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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online

The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys


She calmly took it off, and he immediately tore it into pieces, and stamped upon the fragments as he flung them on the ground.

"Come," said the despairing man--"come--there is a shelter for you, _but no peace_!--food, and drink, and raiment, but _no peace_!--NO PEACE!" As he uttered these words, in a voice that sank to its deepest pitch, he took her hand, and they both departed to his own residence.

The amazement and horror of those who were assembled in Bartley's house cannot be described. Our readers may be assured that they deepened in character as they spread through the parish. An undefined fear of this mysterious pair seized upon the people, for their images were associated in their minds with darkness and crime, and supernatural communion. The departing words of Father Philip rang in their ears: they trembled, and devoutly crossed themselves, as fancy again repeated the awful exclamation of the priest--"No peace! no peace!"

When Father Philip and his unhappy associate went home, he instantly made her a surrender of his small property; but with difficulty did he command sufficient calmness to accomplish even this. He was distracted--his blood seemed to have been turned to fire--he clenched his hands, and he gnashed his teeth, and exhibited the wildest symptoms of madness. About ten o'clock he desired fuel for a large fire to be brought into the kitchen, and got a strong cord, which he coiled, and threw carelessly on the table. The family were then ordered to bed. About eleven they were all asleep; and at the solemn hour of twelve he heaped additional fuel upon the living turf, until the blaze shone with scorching light upon everything around. Dark and desolating was the tempest within him, as he paced, with agitated steps, before the crackling fire.

"She is risen!" he exclaimed--"the spectre of all my crimes is risen to haunt me through life! I _am_ a murderer--yet she lives, and my guilt is not the less! The stamp of eternal infamy is upon me--the finger of scorn will mark me out--the tongue of reproach will sting me like that of the serpent--the deadly touch of shame will cover me like a leper--the laws of society will crush the murderer, not the less that his wickedness in blood has miscarried: after that comes the black and terrible tribunal of the Almighty's vengeance--of His fiery indignation! Hush!--What sounds are those? They deepen--they deepen! Is it thunder? It cannot be the crackling of the blaze! It _is_ thunder!--but it speaks only to _my_ ear! Hush!--Great God, there is a change in my voice! It is hollow and supernatural! Could a change have come over me? Am I living? Could I have--Hah!--Could I have departed? and am I now at length given over to the worm that never dies? If it be at my heart, I may feel it. God!--I am damned! Here is a viper twined about my limbs, trying to dart its fangs into my heart! Hah!--there are feet pacing in the room, too, and I hear voices! I am surrounded by evil spirits! Who's there?--What are you?--Speak!--They are silent!--There is no answer! Again comes the thunder! But perchance this is not my place of punishment, and I will try to leave these horrible spirits!"

He opened the door, and passed out into a small green field that lay behind the house. The night was calm, and the silence profound as death. Not a cloud obscured the heavens;--the light of the moon fell upon the stillness of the scene around him, with all the touching beauty of a moonlit midnight in summer. Here he paused a moment, felt his brow, then his heart, the palpitations of which fell audibly upon his ear. He became somewhat cooler; the images of madness which had swept through his stormy brain disappeared, and were succeeded by a lethargic vacancy of thought, which almost deprived him of the consciousness of his own identity. From the green field he descended mechanically to a little glen which opened beside it. It was one of those delightful spots to which the heart clingeth. Its sloping sides were clothed with patches of wood, on the leaves of which the moonlight glanced with a soft lustre, rendered more beautiful by their stillness. That side on which the light could not fall, lay in deep shadow, which occasionally gave to the rocks and small projecting precipices an appearance of monstrous and unnatural life. Having passed through the tangled mazes of the glen, he at length reached its bottom, along which ran a brook, such as, in the description of the poet,--