James Payn.

Halves, a novel (Volume 3) online

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face, very white and frightened (or at least
mine was), staring back into the room, and
a great turn it gave you. It was a little
past midnight. The drip, drip, drip of the
rain was ceaseless, but for all that, as I lay
awake, I could hear men's steps without,
splashing in the pools it made, as the
wretches walked round the house looking
for the most convenient point of entry. Then
I heard the back-door "go" — it burst open
with a sort of muffled violence, like the
sudden outpour of a waste-pipe — and then
that *' pit-a-pat" I knew so well, of feet



MY FBIGHTS. 255



coming up the stairs. Then a pause of
frightful significance.

''Chailotte!'' cried I, in an agony, "they
are really here. They really are, this time.
Wake, wake!"

" Eubbish," cried she. "I am wide
awake, and I hear nothing."

" They are just outside the door," whis-
pered I ; " they are listening at the key-
hole. Hark ! "

''I certainly hear eaves - dropping," was
her heartless answer (she was a woman who
enjoyed a joke, and her fat sides wobbled
with mirth at this one) ; " but it's only the
rain from the roof"

"I tell you," said I solemnly, "there are
robbers in the "

Here somethinof fell in the drawinp^-room
beneath us with a hideous crash. In an
instant, and before I could recover from the
sort of collapse into which this shock had
thrown me, Charlotte had flopped out of
bed, seized the lamp, and was about to



254 TOLD IN THE DBAWING-BOOM.

Lurry from the room. "No," said she,
pausing in the doorway ; " it is better that
they should not see me, but that I should
see them."

It was certainly much better, con-
sidering Charlotte's very slight attire, that
the robbers should not see her ; but why
she should want to see the robbers was
quite unintelligible to me.

'' Stop ! " cried I ; but the fatal deed
was done, and I was left in darkness.

Dreadful as it was to accompany her
upon such an expedition, it seemed a thou-
sand times worse to remain in the room
alone, and, trembling in every limb, I
hurried after her.

To reach the drawing-room, it was neces-
sary to pass through the dining-room. It
was pitch-dark, but I could hear her breath-
ing hard (for her stoutness made her very
short of breath) as she made her way round
the table that occupied the centre of the
room. Fear lent me wings, and I hurried



MT FRIGHTS. 255



round the other way to meet her, and
rushed into her arms just as she was feel-
ing for the drawing-room doorway. Directly
I did so, she uttered a shrill scream, and
fell on the floor in a dead faint. I had for-
gotten that the poor dear did not know I
was pursuing her, and she very naturally
took me for the robbers. I suppose I
fainted too, for the first thing I remember
was hearing a loud purr close to my ear,
which proceeded from our favourite cat, who,
having knocked down the fire-irons in the
next room (which was the noise we had
heard), had come, as it were, to assure us
that there was nothing the matter. That
was the last night we spent in our country-
house ; and I remained in town for three
whole summers afterwards. Though fresh
air and " change," I was told, were indis-
pensable, I resolved to do without them,
since one might just as well die in the
usual way as be frightened to death.

In the July of the fourth year, however,



256 TOLD IN THE DUAWING-BOOM.

I received an invitation to the seaside, which
I really thought it safe to accept. My host
and hostess lived at Disney Point, in Corn-
wall, a very lonely spot, it is true, but one
in w^iich no burglary had ever been com-
mitted within the memory of woman.
" There were no bad people," wrote my
friends, who were aware of my nervous pecu-
liarities, *' within a hundred miles of them."
"When I reached their house, I was really
inclined to believe that this was the case.
A more beautiful and retired spot than the
little village in which they dwelt, or one
inhabited by a more simple and innocent set
of people, it was impossible to imagine. It
was situated in a wooded ravine, through
which a trout-stream ran down to the sea ;
and upon the hill-top, between it and the
ocean, were the most picturesque church
and churchyard I, or anybody's eye, ever
beheld. From the house we could only hear
the distant whisper of the waves, like the
murmuring hum of bees, but they were giant



MY FRIGHTS. 257



waves, and the rocks were torn and split
with their fury into weird and horrid shapes.
It was the grandest sea-coast I had yet
visited, and all day long I sat beside it with
my sketch-book, or merely watching the white
wrath of the breakers, and listening to the
thunder in the caverns at my feet. I was
not at all afraid of the st^a — when I was
upon the land. Indeed, I am not alarmed
at anything (notwithstanding what some
people say to the contrary), unless there is
a reasonable cause for fear. For instance,
I am not afraid — at least, I ivas not, until
the terrible catastrophe occurred which I am
about to relate — of supernatural apparitions.
When I announced my intention, one even-
ing, of going up the hill to sketch the
churchyard by moonlight, there arose quite
a rude titter in the cbawing-room. " Surely
not alone, Mary Anne ? Let one of the
girls go with you," said my hostess.

'•' What is there to be afraid of in a
churchyard? No, I thank you," replied I

\0L. III. S



258 TOLD IN TEE DBAWING-BOOM.

proudly. '' The miserable superstitions of
the country do not affect me, I do assure
you."

" But it is so lonely up there, my dear I"
''What of that ? Solitude and stillness
are the fit accompaniments of such a solemn
scene. I had much rather go there by my-
self"

I was resolved to exhibit my independence,
as well as to do away with any false im-
pressions my excellent hostess might have
received from Charlotte or others with
respect to my courage ; but at the same
time she need not have reminded me that
it was " so lonely up there." I did not
expect to find Disney churchyard the centre
of fashion, or the scene of an excursion
pic-nic at ten o'clock at night, of course :
her remark was officious and unnecessary,
and at the same time it made my blood
run cold. However, when the moon rose,
so did I, and, sketch-book in hand, toiled
up to the old church, which was also, from



MY FRIGILTS. 259



its prominent position, a landmark used by
sailors, wHeh taught them to avoid the
rocks at Disney Point. Whatever might
be the matter, there was always a wind up
there, and even in that still summer nis^ht
it was wandering about the grasses of the
graves, and whispering into the ears of the
stone gargoyles of the church, which seemed
to grin in malice at its news of storm and
wreck to come.

I seated myself on my camp-stool, just
in front of the porch, and began what I
intended to be a hasty sketch, just a few
strokes, to be filled in at my leisure, for I
felt the situation to be "uncanny," and
already wished myself at home. My fingers
shook a little, certainly not with cold, and,
though the architecture was said to be a
'■ fine specimen of the perpendicular," it did
not appear so in my sketch-book.

Suddenly I heard a subdued sob ; the
utterance, as it seemed to me, of some poor
creature of my own sex in distress. It came



260 TOLD IN THE BBAWING-BOOM.



from an obscure corner of the cliurchyardy
where the graves were not so well cared for
and tended as the others were — a spot, I
had been told, where those were laid whom
the pitiless sea had drowned. When a ship
was cast upon the rocks yonder, it was
rare even for one of its crew to reach that
]'Ock-bound shore alivr ; and after a great
storm, whole ships' companies were some-
times ^ buried at once in the churchyard of
Disney Head.

I listened with beating heart, and the
sound was repeated ; and this time I felt
sure it was as I had supposed. Doubtless,
some woman had come to weep in secret
over the grave of her sailor son or husband ;
there was no need to be frightened in such
a case. It might be that I should be able
to give her comfort. I rose, and moving
towards the wreck-corner (as it was called),
could dimly make out a woman's figure
kneeling at the head of a grave. In the
presence of so great a sorrow, I seemed to



MT FEIGHTS. 261



lose all selfish fear, and ventured softly to
address her. She did not reply, nor even
so much as turn her head, though I felt
certain she must liave heard me ; and since
she was a woman, and did not speak, I
felt there must be something very wrong
with her. As I drew nearer, I beheld a
spectacle that overwhelmed me with pity.
The unhappy creature before me was naked
to the waist, and with her arms straight
down by her side, was gazing on the grave
beneath her with a look of indescribable
despair. She shed no tear, but her eyes
wore a look of hopeless woe and yearning
beyond all ordinary sorrow.

" You are killing yourself, my poor
woman," reasoned I, '' to kneel there in
such a plight. The dead you mourn can
ask no such sacrifice as this that you should
join them."

But again she answered nothing ; and
then, to my horror, I observed that she
had dug another grave, at the head of that



262 TOLD IN THE DUAWING-BOOM.

she was watching, and was already buried
in it up to her waist ! Was she then bent
upon committing suicide, or was she herself
an inhabitant of the tomb, like those around
her, and were the graves indeed giving up
their dead at that witching hour of night,
as I had read of, but had not believed ?

In an agony of terror, such as even I
had never before experienced, 1 flung down
my sketch-book, and rushed from the church-
yard and down the hill.

" What is the matter, Mary Anne ? " cried
my amazed hostess, who was sitting up for
me with her husband in the parlour, as I tore
into the room shrieking for help.

"Matter!" cried I. "There is a poor
young woman, with nothing upon her, half-
buried alive in the wreck-corner of the church-
yard. She has already lost her sight and
hearing', for she took no notice of me at all."

" Impossible ! " cried my hostess.

"But I've seen her," shrieked I. "Not
a moment is to be lost."



MY FBIGHTS. 2G3



'' Ah, bless you ! we've seen her too/' said
my host, laughing. '' It's the figure-head of
the Bella. When the ship came ashore, we
stuck it up at the captain's grave, by way
of headstone — poor fellow ! She has not
got much on her, it's true ; but I don't think
she'll hurt."



CHARLES DICKENS JLKD EVAKS, CBXSTAL PALACE PBSSS.



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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 10 of 10)