Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: No Haid Pawn
Author: Thomas Nelson Page
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606201.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html


To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au


No Haid Pawn
Thomas Nelson Page



It was a ghostly place in broad daylight, if the glimmer that stole in
through the dense forest that surrounded it when the sun was directly
overhead deserved this delusive name. At any other time it was--why,
we were afraid even to talk about it! and as to venturing within its
gloomy borders, it was currently believed among us that to do so was
to bring upon the intruder certain death. I knew every foot of ground,
wet and dry, within five miles of my father's house, except this
plantation, for I had hunted by day and night every field, forest, and
marsh within that radius; but the swamp and "ma'shes" that surrounded
this place I had never invaded. The boldest hunter on the plantation
would call off his dogs and go home if they struck a trail that
crossed the sobby boundary-line of "No Haid Pawn."

"Jack 'my lanterns" and "evil sperits" only infested those woods, and
the earnest advice of those whom we children acknowledged to know most
about them was, "Don't you never go nigh dyah honey; hit's de evil-
speritest place in dis wull."

Had not Big William and Cephas and Poliam followed their dogs in there
one night, and cut down a tree in which they had with their own eyes
seen the coon, and lo! when it fell "de warn no mo' coon dyah 'n a
dog!" and the next tree they had "treed in" not only had no coon in
it, but when it was cut down it had fallen on Poliam and broken his
leg. So the very woods were haunted. From this time they were
abandoned to the "jack 'my lanterns" and ghosts, and another shadow
was added to No Haid Pawn.

The place was as much cut off from the rest of the country as if a sea
had divided it. The river, with marshy banks, swept around it in a
wide horseshoe on three sides, and when the hammocks dammed it up it
washed its way straight across and scoured out a new bed for itself,
completely isolating the whole plantation.

The owners of it, if there were any, which was doubtful, were aliens,
and in my time it had not been occupied for forty years. The negroes
declared that it was "gin up" to the "ha'nts an' evil sperits," and
that no living being could live there. It had grown up in forest and
had wholly reverted to original marsh. The road that once ran through
the swamp had long since been choked up, and the trees were as thick
and the jungle as dense now, in its track, as in the adjacent "ma'sh."
Only one path remained. That, it was currently believed by the entire
portion of the population who speculated on the subject, was kept open
by the evil spirits. Certain it was that no human foot ever trod the
narrow, tortuous line that ran through the brakes as deviously as the
noiseless, stagnant ditches that curved through the jungle, where the
musk-rats played and the moccasin slept unmolested. Yet there it lay,
plain and well-defined, month after month and year after year, as No
Haid Pawn itself stood, amid its surrounding swamps, all undisturbed
and unchanging.

Even the runaway slaves who occasionally left their homes and took to
the swamps and woods, impelled by the cruelty of their overseers, or
by a desire for a vain counterfeit of freedom, never tried this swamp,
but preferred to be caught and returned home to invading its awful
shades.

We were brought up to believe in ghosts. Our fathers and mothers
laughed at us, and endeavored to reason us out of such a
superstition--the fathers with much of ridicule and satire, the
mothers giving sweet religious reasons for their argument--but what
could they avail against the actual testimony and the blood-curdling
experiences of a score of witnesses, who recounted their personal
observations with a degree of thrilling realism and a vividness that
overbore any arguments our childish reason could grasp! The old
mammies and uncles who were our companions and comrades believed in
the existence of evil spirits as truly as in the existence of hell or
heaven, as to which at that time no question had ever been raised, so
far as was known, in that slumberous world. [The Bible was the
standard, and all disputes were resolved into an appeal to that
authority, the single question as to any point being simply, "Is it in
the Bible?"] Had not Lazarus, and Mam' Celia, and William, and Twis'-
foot-Bob, and Aunt Sukie Brown, and others seen with their own eyes
the evil spirits, again and again, in the bodily shape of cats,
headless dogs, white cows, and other less palpable forms! And was not
their experience, who lived in remote cabins, or wandered night after
night through the loneliest woods, stronger evidence than the cold
reasoning of those who hardly ever stirred abroad except in daylight?
It certainly was more conclusive to us; for no one could have listened
to those narrators without being impressed with the fact that they
were recounting what they had actually seen with their bodily eyes.
The result of it all was, so far as we were concerned, the triumph of
faith over reason, and the fixed belief, on our part, in the actual
visible existence of the departed, in the sinister form of apparition
known as "evil sperits." Every graveyard was tenanted by them; every
old house and every peculiarly desolate spot was known to be their
rendezvous; but all spots and places sank into insignificance compared
with No Haid Pawn.

The very name was uncanny. Originally it had designated a long,
stagnant pool of water lying in the centre of the tract, which marked
the spot from which the soil had been dug to raise the elevation on
which to set the house. More modernly the place, by reason of the
filling up of ditches and the sinking of dikes, had become again
simple swamp and jungle, or, to use the local expression, "had turned
to ma'sh," and the name applied to the whole plantation.

The origin of the name of the pond had no source; but there was a
better explanation than that. Any how, the very name inspired dread,
and the place was our terror.

The house had been built many generations before by a stranger in this
section, and the owners never made it their permanent home. Thus, no
tie either of blood or friendship were formed with their neighbors,
who were certainly open-hearted and open-doored enough to overcome
anything but the most persistent unneighborliness. Why this spot was
selected for a mansion was always a mystery, unless it was that the
new-comer desired to isolate himself completely. Instead of following
the custom of those who were native and to the manner born, who always
chose some eminence for their seats, he had selected for his a spot in
the middle of the wide flat which lay in the horseshoe of the river.
The low ground, probably owing to the abundance of land in that
country, had never been "taken up," and up to the time of his
occupation was in a condition of primeval swamp. He had to begin by
making an artificial mound for his mansion. Even then, it was said, he
dug so deep that he laid the corner-stone in water. The foundation was
of stone, which was brought from a distance. Fabulous stories were
told of it. The negroes declared that under the old house were solid
rock chambers, which had been built for dungeons, and had served for
purposes which were none the less awful because they were vague and
indefinite. The huge structure itself was of wood, and was alleged to
contain many mysterious rooms and underground passages. One of the
latter was said to connect with the No Haid Pawn itself, whose dark
waters, according to the negroes' traditions, were some day, by some
process not wholly consistent with the laws of physics, to overwhelm
the fated pile. An evil destiny had seemed to overshadow the place
from the very beginning. One of the negro builders had been caught and
decapitated between two of the immense foundation stones. The
tradition was handed down that he was sacrificed in some awful and
occult rite connected with the laying of the corner-stone. The
scaffolding had given way and had precipitated several men to the
ground, most of whom had been fatally hurt. This also was alleged to
be by hideous design. Then the plantation, in the process of being
reclaimed, had proved unhealthy beyond all experience, and the negroes
employed in the work of diking and reclaiming the great swamp had
sickened and died by dozens. The extension of the dangerous fever to
the adjoining plantations had left a reputation for typhus malaria
from which the whole section suffered for a time. But this did not
prevent the colored population from recounting year after year the
horrors of the pestilence of No Haid Pawn as a peculiar visitation,
nor from relating with blood-curdling details the burial by scores, in
a thicket just beside the pond, of the stricken "befo' dee daid,
honey, befo' dee daid!" The bodies, it was said, used to float about
in the guts of the swamp and on the haunted pond; and at night they
might be seen, if any one were so hardy as to venture there, rowing
about in their coffins as if they were boats.

Thus the place from the beginning had an evil name, and when, year
after year, the river rose and washed the levees away, or the musk-
rats burrowed through and let the water in, and the strange masters
cursed not only the elements but Heaven itself, the continued
mortality of their negroes was not wholly unexpected nor unaccounted
for by certain classes of their neighbors.

At length the property had fallen to one more gloomy, more strange,
and more sinister than any who had gone before him--a man whose
personal characteristics and habits were unique in that country. He
was of gigantic stature and superhuman strength, and possessed
appetites and vices in proportion to his size. He could fell an ox
with a blow of his fist, or in a fit of anger could tear down the
branch of a tree, or bend a bar of iron like a reed. He, either from
caprice or ignorance, spoke only a patois not unlike the Creole French
of the Louisiana parishes. But he was a West Indian. His brutal temper
and habits cut him off from even the small measure of intercourse
which had existed between his predecessors and their neighbors, and he
lived at No Haid Pawn completely isolated. All the stories and
traditions of the place at once centred on him, and fabulous tales
were told of his prowess and of his life. It was said, among other
things, that he preserved his wonderful strength by drinking human
blood, a tale which in a certain sense I have never seen reason to
question. Making all allowances, his life was a blot upon
civilization. At length it culminated. A brutal temper, inflamed by
unbridled passions, after a long period of license and debauchery came
to a climax in a final orgy of ferocity and fury, in which he was
guilty of an act whose fiendishness surpassed belief, and he was
brought to judgment.

In modern times the very inhumanity of the crime would probably have
proved his security, and as he had destroyed his own property while he
was perpetrating a crime of appalling and unparalleled horror, he
might have found a defence in that standing refuge of extraordinary
scoundrelism--insanity. This defence, indeed, was put in, and was
pressed with much ability by his counsel, one of whom was my father,
who had just then been admitted to the bar; but, fortunately for the
cause of justice, neither courts nor juries were then so sentimental
as they have become of late years, and the last occupant of No Haid
Pawn paid under the law the full penalty of his hideous crime. It was
one of the curious incidents of the trial that his negroes all
lamented his death, and declared that he was a good master when he was
not drunk. He was hanged just at the rear of his own house, within
sight of the spot where his awful crime was committed.

At his execution, which, according to the custom of the country, was
public, a horrible coincidence occurred which furnished the text of
many a sermon on retributive justice among the negroes.

The body was interred near the pond, close by the thicket where the
negroes were buried; but the negroes declared that it preferred one of
the stone chambers under the mansion, where it made its home, and that
it might be seen at any time of the day or night stalking headless
about the place. They used to dwell with peculiar zest on the most
agonizing details of this wretch's dreadful crime, the whole
culminating in the final act of maniacal fury, when the gigantic
monster dragged the hacked and headless corpse of his victim up the
staircase and stood it up before the open window in his hall, in the
full view of the terrified slaves. After these narrations, the
continued reappearance of the murderer and his headless victim was as
natural to us as it was to the negroes themselves; and, as night after
night we would hurry up to the great house through the darkness, we
were ever on the watch lest he should appear to our frighted vision
from the shades of the shrubbery-filled yard.

Thus it was that of all ghostly places No Haid Pawn had the
distinction of being invested, to us, with unparalleled horror; and
thus to us, no less than because the dikes had given way and the
overflowed flats had turned again to swamp and jungle, it was
explicable that No Haid Pawn was abandoned, and was now untrodden by
any foot but that of its ghostly tenants.

The time of my story was 185-. The spring previous continuous rains
had kept the river full, and had flooded the low grounds, and this had
been followed by an exceptionally dense growth in the summer. Then,
public feeling was greatly excited at the time of which I write, over
the discovery in the neighborhood of several emissaries of the
underground railway, or--as they were universally considered in that
country--of the devil. They had been run off or had disappeared
suddenly, but had left behind them some little excitement on the part
of the slaves, and a great deal on the part of their masters, and more
than the usual number of negroes had run away. All, however, had been
caught, or had returned home after a sufficient interval of freedom,
except one who had escaped permanently, and who was supposed to have
accompanied his instigators on their flight.

This man was a well-known character. He belonged to one of our
neighbors, and had been bought and brought there from an estate on the
Lower Mississippi. He was the most brutal negro I ever knew. He was of
a type rarely found among our negroes, who, judging from their
physiognomy and general characteristics, came principally from the
coast of Africa. They are of moderate stature, with dull but amiable
faces. This man, however, was of immense size, and he possessed the
features and expression of a Congo desperado. In character also he
differed essentially from all the other slaves in our country. He was
alike without their amiability and their docility, and was as fearless
as he was brutal. He was the only negro I ever knew who was without
either superstition or reverence. Indeed, he differed so widely from
the rest of the slaves in that section that there existed some feeling
against him almost akin to a race feeling. At the same time that he
exercised considerable influence over them they were dreadfully afraid
of him, and were always in terror that he would trick them, to which
awful power he laid well-known claim. His curses in his strange
dialect used to terrify them beyond measure, and they would do
anything to conciliate him. He had been a continual source of trouble
and an object of suspicion in the neighborhood from the time of his
first appearance; and more than one hog that the negroes declared had
wandered into the marshes of No Haid Pawn, and had "cut his thote jes'
swinin' aroun' an' around' in de ma'sh," had been suspected of finding
its way to this man's cabin. His master had often been urged to get
rid of him, but he was kept, I think, probably because he was valuable
on the plantation. He was a fine butcher, a good work-hand, and a
first-class boatman. Moreover, ours was a conservative population, in
which every man minded his own business and let his neighbor's alone.

At the time of the visits of those secret agents to which I have
referred, this negro was discovered to be the leader in the secret
meetings held under their auspices, and he would doubtless have been
taken up and shipped off at once; but when the intruders fled, as I
have related, their convert disappeared also. It was a subject of
general felicitation in the neighborhood that he was gotten rid of,
and his master, instead of being commiserated on the loss of his
slave, was congratulated that he had not cut his throat.

No idea can be given at this date of the excitement occasioned in a
quiet neighborhood in old times by the discovery of the mere presence
of such characters as Abolitionists. It was as if the foundations of
the whole social fabric were undermined. It was the sudden darkening
of a shadow that always hung in the horizon. The slaves were in a
large majority, and had they risen, though the final issue could not
be doubted, the lives of every white on the plantations must have paid
the forfeit. Whatever the right and wrong of slavery might have been,
its existence demanded that no outside interference with it should be
tolerated. So much was certain; self-preservation required this.

I was, at the time of which I speak, a well-grown lad, and had been
for two sessions to a boarding school, where I had gotten rid of some
portion--I will not say of all--of the superstition of my boyhood. The
spirit of adventure was beginning to assert itself in me, and I had
begun to feel a sense of enjoyment in overcoming the fears which once
mastered me, though, I must confess, I had not entirely shaken off my
belief in the existence of ghosts--that is, I did not believe in them
at all in the day-time, but when night came I was not so certain about
it.

Duck-hunting was my favorite sport, and the marshes on the river were
fine ground for them usually, but this season the weather had been so
singularly warm that the sport had been poor, and though I had scoured
every canal in the marsh and every bend in the river as far as No Haid
Pawn Hammock, as the stretch of drifted timber and treacherous marsh
was called that marked the boundary-line of that plantation, I had had
bad luck. Beyond that point I had never penetrated; partly, no doubt,
because of the training of my earlier years, and partly because the
marsh on either side of the hammock would have mired a cat. Often, as
I watched with envious eyes the wild duck rise up over the dense trees
that surrounded the place and cut straight for the deserted marshes in
the horseshoe, I had had a longing to invade the mysterious domain,
and crawl to the edge of No Haid Pawn and get a shot at the fowl that
floated on its black surface; but something had always deterred me,
and the long reaches of No Haid Pawn were left to the wild-fowl and
the ghostly rowers. Finally, however, after a spell whose high
temperature was rather suited to August than April, in desperation at
my ill-luck I determined to gratify my curiosity and try No Haid Pawn.
So one afternoon, without telling any one of my intention, I crossed
the mysterious boundary and struck through the swamp for the unknown
land.

The marsh was far worse than I had anticipated, and no one but a duck-
hunter as experienced and zealous as myself, and as indifferent to
ditches, briers, mire, and all that make a swamp, could have
penetrated it at all. Even I could never have gotten on if I had not
followed the one path that led into the marsh, the reputed "parf" of
the evil spirits, and, as it was, my progress was both tedious and
dangerous.

The track was a mysterious one, for though I knew it had not been
trodden by a human foot in many years, yet there, a veritable "parf"
it lay. In some places it was almost completely lost, and I would fear
I should have to turn back, but an overhanging branch or a vine
swinging from one tree to another would furnish a way to some spot
where the narrow trail began again In other spots old logs thrown
across the miry canals gave me an uncomfortable feeling as I reflected
what feet had last crossed on them. On both sides of this trail the
marsh was either an impenetrable jungle or a mire apparently
bottomless.

I shall never forget my sensations as I finally emerged from the woods
into the clearing, if that desolate waste of willows, cane, and swamp
growth could be so termed. About me stretched the jungle, over which a
greenish lurid atmosphere brooded, and straight ahead towered the
gaunt mansion, a rambling pile of sombre white, with numberless vacant
windows staring at me from the leafless trees about it. Only one other
clump of trees appeared above the canes and brush, and that I knew by
intuition was the graveyard.

I think I should have turned back had not shame impelled me forward.
My progress from this point was even more difficult than it had been
hitherto, for the trail at the end of the wood terminated abruptly in
a gut of the swamp; however, I managed to keep on by walking on
hammocks, pushing through clumps of bushes, and wading as best I
could. It was slow and hot work, though.

It never once struck me that it must be getting late. I had become so
accustomed to the gloom of the woods that the more open ground
appeared quite light to me, and I had not paid any attention to the
black cloud that had been for some time gathering overhead, or to the
darkening atmosphere.

I suddenly became sensible that it was going to rain. However, I was
so much engrossed in the endeavor to get on that even then I took
little note of it. The nearer I came to the house the more it arrested
my attention, and the more weird and uncanny it looked. Canes and
bushes grew up to the very door; the window-shutters hung from the
hinges; the broken windows glared like eyeless sockets; the portico
had fallen away from the wall, while the wide door stood slightly
ajar, giving to the place a singularly ghastly appearance, somewhat
akin to the color which sometimes lingers on the face of a corpse. In
my progress wading through the swamp I had gone around rather to the
side of the house toward where I supposed the "pawn" itself to lie. I
was now quite near to it, and striking a little less miry ground, as I
pushed my way through the bushes and canes, which were higher than my
head, I became aware that I was very near the thicket that marked the
graveyard, just beyond which I knew the pond itself lay. I was
somewhat startled, for the cloud made it quite dusky, and, stepping on
a long piece of rotten timber lying on the ground, I parted the bushes
to look down the pond. As I did so the rattle of a chain grated on me,
and glancing up through the cane, before me appeared a heavy upright
timber with an arm or cross-beam stretching from it, from which
dangled a long chain, almost rusted away. I knew by instinct that I
stood under the gallows where the murderer of No Haid Pawn had
expiated his dreadful crime. His corpse must have fallen just where I
stood. I started back appalled.

Just then the black cloud above me was parted by a vivid flame, and a
peal of thunder seemed to rive the earth.

I turned in terror, but before I had gone fifty yards the storm was
upon me, and instinctively I made for the only refuge that was at
hand. It was a dreadful alternative, but I did not hesitate. Outside I
was not even sure that my life was safe. And with extraordinary
swiftness I had made my way through the broken iron fence that lay
rusting in the swamp, had traversed the yard, all grown up as it was
to the very threshold, had ascended the sunken steps, crossed the
rotted portico, and entered the open door.

A long dark hall stretched before me, extending, as well as I could
judge in the gloom, entirely across the house. A number of doors, some
shut, some ajar, opened on the hall on one side; and a broad' dark
stairway ascended on the other to the upper story. The walls were
black with mould. At the far end a large bow window, with all the
glass gone, looked out on the waste of swamp, unbroken save by the
clump of trees in the graveyard, and just beside this window was a
break where the dark staircase descended to the apartments below. The
whole place was in a state of advanced decay; almost the entire
plastering had fallen with the damp, and the hall presented a scene of
desolation that beggars description.

I was at last in the haunted house!

The rain, driven by the wind, poured in at the broken windows in such
a deluge that I was forced in self-defence to seek shelter in one of
the rooms. I tried several, but the doors were swollen or fastened, I
found one, however, on the leeward side of the house, and, pushing the
door, which opened easily, I entered. Inside I found something like an
old bed; and the great open fireplace had evidently been used at some
earlier time, for the ashes were still banked up in the cavernous
hearth, and the charred ends of the logs of wood were lying in the
chimney corners. To see, still as fresh and natural as though the fire
had but just died out, these remnants of domestic life that had
survived all else of a similar period struck me as unspeakably
ghastly. The bedstead, however, though rude, was convenient as a seat,
and I utilized it accordingly, propping myself up against one of the
rough posts. From my position I commanded through the open door the
entire length of the vacant hall, and could look straight out of the
great bow-window at the head of the stairs, through which appeared,
against the dull sky, the black mass of the graveyard trees, and a
stretch of one of the canals or guts of the swamp curving around it,
which gleamed white in the glare of the lightning.

I had expected that the storm would, like most thunder-storms in the
latitude, shortly exhaust itself, or, as we say, "blow over;" but I
was mistaken, and as the time passed, its violence, instead of
diminishing, increased. It grew darker and darker, and presently the
startling truth dawned on me that the gloom which I had supposed
simply the effect of the overshadowing cloud had been really
nightfall. I was shut up alone in No Haid Pawn for the night.

I hastened to the door with the intention of braving the storm and
getting away; but I was almost blown off my feet. A glance without
showed me that the guts with which the swamp was traversed in every
direction were now full to the brim, and to attempt to find my way
home in the darkness would be sheer madness; so, after a wistful
survey, I returned to my wretched perch. I thought I would try and
light a fire, but to my consternation I had not a match, and I finally
abandoned myself to my fate. It was a desolate, if not despairing,
feeling that I experienced. My mind was filled, not only with my own
unhappiness, but with the thought of the distress my absence would
occasion them at home; and for a little while I had a fleeting hope
that a party would be sent out to search for me. This, however, was
untenable, for they would not know where I was. The last place in
which they would ever think of looking for me was No Haid Pawn, and
even if they knew I was there they could no more get to me in the
darkness and storm than I could escape from it.

I accordingly propped myself up on my bed and gave myself up to my
reflections. I said my prayers very fervently. I thought I would try
and get to sleep, but sleep was far from my eyes.

My surroundings were too vivid to my apprehension. The awful
traditions of the place, do what I might to banish them, would come to
mind. The original building of the house, and its blood-stained
foundation stones; the dead who had died of the pestilence that had
raged afterward; the bodies carted by scores and buried in the sobby
earth of the graveyard, whose trees loomed up through the broken
window; the dreadful story of the dead paddling about the swamp in
their coffins; and, above all, the gigantic maniac whose ferocity even
murder could not satiate, and who had added to murder awful
mutilation: he had dragged the mangled corpse of his victim up those
very steps and flung it out of the very window which gaped just beyond
me in the glare of the lightning. It all passed through my mind as I
sat there in the darkness, and no effort of my will could keep my
thoughts from dwelling on it. The terrific thunder, outcrashing a
thousand batteries, at times engrossed my attention; but it always
reverted to that scene of horror; and if I dozed, the slamming of the
loose blinds, or the terrific fury of the storm, would suddenly
startle me. Once, as the sounds subsided for a moment, or else I
having become familiar with them, as I was sinking into a sleepy
state, a door at the other end of the hall creaked and then slammed
with violence, bringing me bolt upright on the bed, clutching my gun.
I could have sworn that I heard footsteps; but the wind was blowing a
hurricane, and, after another period of wakefulness and dreadful
recollection, nature succumbed, and I fell asleep.

I do not know that I can be said to have lost consciousness even then,
for my mind was still enchained by the horrors of my situation, and
went on clinging to them and dwelling upon them even in my slumber.

I was, however, certainly asleep; for the storm must have died
temporarily away about this hour without my knowing it, and I
subsequently heard that it did.

I must have slept several hours, for I was quite stiff from my
constrained posture when I became fully aroused.

I was awakened by a very peculiar sound; it was like a distant call or
halloo. Although I had been fast asleep a moment before, it startled
me into a state of the highest attention. In a second I was wide
awake. There was not a sound except the rumble and roll of the
thunder, as the storm once more began to renew itself, and in the
segment of the circle that I could see along the hall through my door,
and, indeed, out through the yawning window at the end, as far as the
black clump of trees in the graveyard just at the bend of the canal,
which I commanded from my seat whenever there was a flash of
lightning, there was only the swaying of the bushes in the swamp and
of the trees in the graveyard. Yet there I sat bolt upright on my bed,
in the darkness, with every nerve strained to its utmost tension, and
that unearthly cry still sounding in my ears. I was endeavoring to
reason myself into the belief that I had dreamed it, when a flash of
lightning lit up the whole field of my vision as if it had been in the
focus of a sun-glass, and out on the canal, where it curved around the
graveyard, was a boat--a something--small, black, with square ends,
and with a man in it, standing upright, and something lying in a lump
or mass at the bow.

I knew I could not be mistaken, for the lightning, by a process of its
own, photographs everything on the retina in minutest detail, and I
had a vivid impression of everything from the foot of the bed, on
which I crouched, to the gaunt arms of those black trees in the
graveyard just over that ghostly boatman and his dreadful freight. I
was wide awake.

The story of the dead rowing in their coffins was verified!

I am unable to state what passed in the next few minutes.

The storm had burst again with renewed violence and was once more
expending itself on the house; the thunder was again rolling overhead;
the broken blinds were swinging and slamming madly; and the dreadful
memories of the place were once more besetting me.

I shifted my position to relieve the cramp it had occasioned, still
keeping my face toward that fatal window. As I did so, I heard above,
or perhaps I should say under, the storm a sound more terrible to me--
the repetition of that weird halloo, this time almost under the great
window. Immediately succeeding this was the sound of something
scraping under the wall, and I was sensible when a door on the ground-
floor was struck with a heavy thud. It was pitch-dark, but I heard the
door pushed wide open, and as a string of fierce oaths, part English
and part Creole French, floated up the dark stairway, muffled as if
sworn through clinched teeth, I held my breath. I recalled the unknown
tongue the ghostly murderer employed; and I knew that the murderer of
No Haid Pawn had left his grave, and that his ghost was coming up that
stair. I heard his step as it fell on the first stair heavily yet
almost noiselessly. It was an unearthly sound--dull, like the tread of
a bared foot, accompanied by the scraping sound of a body dragging.
Step by step he came up the black stairway in the pitch darkness as
steadily as if it were daytime, and he knew every step, accompanied by
that sickening sound of dragging. There was a final pull up the last
step, and a dull, heavy thud, as, with a strange, wild laugh, he flung
his burden on the floor.

For a moment there was not a sound, and then the awful silence and
blackness were broken by a crash of thunder that seemed to tear the
foundations asunder like a mighty earthquake, and the whole house, and
the great swamp outside, were filled with a glare of vivid, blinding
light. Directly in front of me, clutching in his upraised hand a long,
keen, glittering knife, on whose blade a ball of fire seemed to play,
stood a gigantic figure in the very flame of the lightning, and
stretched at his feet lay, ghastly and bloody, a black and headless
trunk.

I staggered to the door and, tripping, fell prostrate over the sill.

When we could get there, nothing was left but the foundation. The
haunted house, when struck, had literally burned to the water's edge.
The changed current had washed its way close to the place, and in
strange verification of the negroes' traditions. No Haid Pawn had
reclaimed its own, and the spot with all its secrets lay buried under
its dark waters.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia