Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

whom thrust the figure of the bleeding Jesus out at the window, whilst with the other hand he held up the lanthorn. Twice more did the calèche stop-twice receive corpses. Another light was produced, and placed in the last conveyance, and Delmé took the opportunity of their arranging this, to pass by the calèche. The light that had been placed in it shone full on George. The coffins were on a level with the lower part of his face. Nothing of his body, which was jammed in between the seat and the coffins, could be seen. But the features, which glared over the pall, were indeed terrific; apathy no longer marked them. George seemed wound up to an extraordinary state of excitement. Gone was the glazed expression of his eye, which now gleamed like that of a famished eagle. The Maltese leant back in the carriage, with a sardonic smile, his dark face affording a strange contrast to the stained, but yet ghastly hue of George Delmé's.

“ They intend to take them to the vault at Floriana, your honor,” said the servant, “shall I call a calèche, and we can follow them?”

Without waiting a reply, for the man saw that Sir Henry's faculties, were totally sbsorbed in the strange scene he had witnessed ; Thompson called a carriage, which passed the other two—now commencing at a funeral pace to proceed to the vault --and, taking the same direction which they had done on entering the town, a short time sufficed to put them down immediately opposite the church. They had time allowed them to dismiss their carriage, and screen themselves from observation, before the funeral procession arrived.

This stopped in front of the vault, and Delmé anxiously scrutinised the proceedings. Another man-probably, the one whose place George had supplied—had joined them outside the town, and now walked by the side of the calèche. He assisted George's companion in bearing out the coffins. The huge door grated on its hinges, as they opened it. The coffins were borne in, and the whole party entered; the priest mumbling a short Latin prayer. In a short time, the priest alone returned ; and looking cautiously around, and seeing no one, struck a light from a tinder box, and lighted his cigar. The other two men brought back the coffins, evidently relieved of their weight; and the priest—the boy—with the man who had last joined them, and who had also lit his cigarentered the first calèche, after exchanging some jokes with George's companion, and returned at a rapid pace towards the town. During this time, George Delmé had been left alone in the vault. His companion returned to him, after taking the precaution to fasten its doors inside.

Sir Henry was now at a loss what plan to adopt ; but Thompson, after a moment's hesitation, suggested one.

“ There is an iron grating, Sir, over part of the vault, through which, when a bar was loose, I know one of our soldiers went down. Shall I get a

[ocr errors]

The man ran towards his barrack, and returned with it. To wrench by their united efforts, one bar from its place, and to fasten the rope to another, was the work of an instant. Space was just left them to creep through the aperture. Sir Henry was the first to breathe the confined air of the sepulchre. A voice warned him in what direction to proceed ; and not waiting for the domestic, he groped his way forward through a narrow passage. At first, Delmé thought there was a wall on either side him ; but as he made a false step, and the bones crumbled beneath, he knew that it was a wall, formed of the bleached remains of the bygone dead. As he drew nearer the voice, he was guided by the lanthorn brought by George's companion ; and towards this he proceeded, almost overpowered by the horrible stench of the charnel house. As . he drew near enough to distinguish objects, what a scene presented itself! In one corner of the vault, lay a quantity of lime used to consume the bodies, whilst nearer the light, lay corpses in every stage of putrefaction. In some, the lime had but half accomplished its purpose; and while in parts of the body, the bones lay bare and exposed; in others, corruption in its most loathsome form prevailed. Here the meaner reptiles-active and prolific—might be seen busily at work, battening on human decay. Sir Henry stepped over a dead ody, and started, as a rat, scared from its prey,

[graphic]

rustled through a wreath of withered flowers, and hid itself amid a mouldering heap of bones. But there were some forms lovely still! In them the pulse of life had that day ceased to beat. The rigidity of Death—his impressive stillness was there—but he had not yet “swept the lines where beauty lingers.”

The Maltese stood with folded arms, closely regarding George Delmé.

George leant against a pillar, with one knee bent. Over it was stretched the corpse of a girl, with the face horribly decomposed. The dull and flagging winds of the vault moved her dank and matted hair.

“ Acmé,” said he, as he parted the dry hair from the blackened brow, do but speak to your own George! Be not angry with me, dearest!” He held the disgusting object to his lips, and lavished endearments on the putrid corpse.

Delmé staggered—and Thompson supported him-as he gasped for breath in the extremity of his agony. At this moment his eye caught the face of the Maltese. He had advanced to

« AnteriorContinuar »