For the Blood is the Life by F. Marion Crawford
We had dined at sunset on the broad roof of the old tower, because
it was cooler there during the great heat of summer. Besides, the
little kitchen was built at one corner of the great square platform,
which made it more convenient than if the dishes had to be carried
down the steep stone steps broken in places and everywhere worn with
age. The tower was one of those built all down the west coast of
Calabria by the Emperor Charles V early in the sixteenth century, to
keep off the Barbary pirates, when the unbelievers were allied with
Francis I against the Emperor and the Church. They have gone to ruin,
a few still stand intact, and mine is one of the largest. How it came
into my possession ten years ago, and why I spend a part of each year
in it, are matters which do not concern this tale. The tower stands
in one of the loneliest spots in Southern Italy, at the extremity of
a curving, rocky promontory, which forms a small but safe natural
harbour at the southern extremity of the Gulf of Policastro, and just
north of Cape Scalea, the birthplace of Judas Iscariot, according to
the old local legend. The tower stands alone on this hooked spur of
the rock, and there is not a house to be seen within three miles of
it. When I go there I take a couple of sailors, one of whom is a fair
cook, and when I am away it is in charge of a gnome-like little being
who was once a miner and who attached himself to me long ago.
My friend, who sometimes visits me in my summer solitude, is an
artist by profession, a Scandinavian by birth, and a cosmopolitan by
force of circumstances.
We had dined at sunset; the sunset glow had reddened and faded
again, and the evening purple steeped the vast chain of the mountains
that embrace the deep gulf to eastward and rear themselves higher and
higher towards the south. It was hot, and we sat at the landward
corner of the platform, waiting for the night breeze to come down
from the lower hills. The colour sank out of the air, there was a
little interval of deep-grey twilight, and a lamp sent a yellow
streak from the open door of the kitchen, where the men were getting
Then the moon rose suddenly above the crest of the promontory,
flooding the platform and lighting up every little spur of rock and
knoll of grass below us, down to the edge of the motionless water. My
friend lighted his pipe and sat looking at a spot on the hillside. I
knew that he was looking at it, and for a long time past I had
wondered whether he would ever see anything there that would fix his
attention. I knew that spot well. It was clear that he was interested
at last, though it was a long time before he spoke. Like most
painters, he trusts to his own eyesight, as a lion trusts his
strength and a stag his speed, and he is always disturbed when he
cannot reconcile what he sees with what he believes that he ought to
"It's strange," he said. "Do you see that little mound just on
this side of the boulder?"
"Yes," I said, and I guessed what was coming.
"It looks like a grave," observed Holger.
"Very true. It does look like a grave."
"Yes," continued my friend, his eyes still fixed on the spot. "But
the strange thing is that I see the body lying on the top of it. Of
course," continued Holger, turning his head on one side as artists
do, "it must be an effect of light. In the first place, it is not a
grave at all. Secondly, if it were, the body would be inside and not
outside. Therefor, it's an effect of the moonlight. Don't you see
"Perfectly; I always see it on moonlight nights."
"It doesn't seem it interest you much," said Holger.
"On the contrary, it does interest me, though I am used to it.
You're not so far wrong, either. The mound is really a grave."
"Nonsense!" cried Holger incredulously. "I suppose you'll tell me
that what I see lying on it is really a corpse!"
"No," I answered, "it's not. I know, because I have taken the
trouble to go down and see."
"Then what is it?" asked Holger.
"You mean that it's an effect of light, I suppose?"
"Perhaps it is. But the inexplicable part of the matter is that it
makes no difference whether the moon is rising or setting, or waxing
or waning. If there's any moonlight at all, from east or west or
overhead, so long as it shines on the grave you can see the outline
of the body on top."
Holger stirred up his pipe with the point of his knife, and then
used his finger for a stopper. When the tobacco burned well, he rose
from his chair.
"If you don't mind," he said, "I'll go down and take a look at
He left me, crossed the roof, and disappeared down the dark steps.
I did not move, but sat looking down until he came out of the tower
below. I heard him humming an old Danish song as he crossed the open
space in the bright moonlight, going straight to the mysterious
mound. When he was ten paces from it, Holger stopped short, made two
steps forward, and then three or four backward, and then stopped
again. I know what that meant. He had reached the spot where the
Thing ceased to be visible--where, as he would have said, the effect
of light changed.
Then he went on till he reached the mound and stood upon it. I
could see the Thing still, but it was no longer lying down; it was on
its knees now, winding its white arms round Holger's body and looking
up into his face. A cool breeze stirred my hair at that moment, as
the night wind began to come down from the hills, but it felt like a
breath from another world.
The Thing seemed to be trying to climb to its feet helping itself
up by Holger's body while he stood upright, quite unconcious of it
and apparently looking toward the tower, which is very picturesque
when the moonlight falls upon it on that side.
"Come along!" I shouted. "Don't stay there all night!"
It seemed to me that he moved reluctantly as he stepped from the
mound, or else with difficulty. That was it. The Thing's arms were
still round his waist, but its feet could not leave the grave. As he
came slowly forward it was drawn and lengthened like a wreath of
mist, thin and white, till I saw distinctly that Holger shook
himself, as a man does who feels a chill. At the same instant a
little wail of pain came to me on the breeze--it might have been the
cry of the small owl that lives amongst the rocks--and the misty
presence floated swiftly back from Holger's advancing figure and lay
once more at its length upon the mound.
Again I felt the cool breeze in my hair, and this time an icy
thrill of dread ran down my spine. I remembered very well that I had
once gone down there alone in the moonlight; that presently, being
near, I had seen nothing; that, like Holger, I had gone and had stood
upon the mound; and I remembered how when I came back, sure that
there was nothing there, I had felt the sudden conviction that there
was something after all if I would only look back, a temptation I had
resisted as unworthy of a man of sense, until, to get rid of it, I
had shaken myself just as Holger did.
And now I knew that those white, misty arms had been round me,
too; I knew it in a flash, and I shuddered as I remembered that I had
heard the night owl then, too. But it had not been the night owl. It
was the cry of the Thing.
I refilled my pipe and poured out a cup of strong southern wine;
in less than a minute Holger was seated beside me again.
"Of course there's nothing there," he said, "but it's creepy, all
the same. Do you know, when I was coming back I was so sure that
there was something behind me that I wanted to turn around and look?
It was an effort not to."
He laughed a little, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and poured
himself out some wine. For a while neither of us spoke, and the moon
rose higher and we both looked at the Thing that lay on the
"You might make a story about that," said Holger after a long
"There is one," I answered. "If you're not sleepy, I'll tell it to
"Go ahead," said Holger, who likes stories.
Old Aderio was dying up there in the village beyond the hill. You
remember him, I have no doubt. They say that he made his money by
selling sham jewelry in South America, and escaped with his gains
when he was found out.. Like all those fellows, if they bring
anything back with them, he at once set to work to enlarge his house,
and as there are no masons here, he sent all the way to Paola for two
workmen. They were a rough-looking pair of scoundrels--a Neapolitan
who had lost one eye and a Sicilian with an old scar half an inch
deep across his left cheek. I often saw them, for on Sundays they
used to come down here and fish off the rocks. When Alario caught the
fever that killed him the masons were still at work. As he had agreed
that part of their pay should be their board and lodging, he made
them sleep in the house. His wife was dead, and he had an only son
called Angelo, who was a much better sort than himself. Angelo was to
marry the daughter of the richest man in the village, and, strange to
say, though the marriage was arranged by their parents, the young
people were said to be in love with eachother.
For that matter, the whole village was in love with Angelo, and
among the rest a wild, good-looking creature called Cristina, who was
more like a gipsy than any girl I ever saw about here. She had very
red lips and very black eyes, she was built like a greyhound, and had
the tongue of the devil. But Angelo did not care a straw for her. He
was rather a simpleminded fellow, quite different from his old
scoundrel of a father, and under what I should call normal
circumstances I really believe that he would never have looked at any
girl except the nice plump little creature, with a fat dowry, whom
his father meant him to marry. But things turned up which were
neither normal nor natural.
On the other hand, a very handsome young shepherd from the hills
above Maratea was in love with Cristina, who seems to have been quite
indifferent to him. Cristina had no regular means of subsistence, but
she was a good girl and willing to do any work or go on errands to
any distance for the sake of a loaf of bread or a mess of beans, and
permission to sleep under cover. She was especially glad when she
could get something to do about the house of Angelo's father. There
is no doctor in the village, and when the neighbours saw that old
Alario was dying they sent Cristina to Scalea to fetch one. That was
late in the afternoon, and if they had waited so long it was because
the dying miser refused to allow any such extravagance while he was
able to speak. But while Cristina was gone matters grew rapidly
worse, the priest was brough tothe bedside, and when he had done what
he could he gave it as his opinion to the bystanders that the old man
was dead, and left the house.
You know these people. They have a physical horror of death. Until
the priest spoke, the room had been full of people. The words were
hardly out of his mouth before it was empty. It was night now. They
hurried down the dark steps and out into the street.
Angelo, as I have said, was away, Cristina had not come back--the
simple woman-servant who had nursed the sick man fled with the rest,
and the body was left alone in the flickering light of the earthen
Five minutes later two men looked in cautiously and crept forward
toward the bed. They were the one-eyed Neapolitan mason and his
Sicilian companion. They knew what they wanted. In a moment they had
dragged from under the bed a small but heavy iron-bound box, and long
before anyone thought of coming back to the dead man they had left
the house and the village under cover of darkness. It was easy
enough, for Alario's house is the last toward the gorge which leads
down here, and the thieves merely went out by the back door, got over
the stone wall, and had nothing to risk after that except that
possibility of meeting some belated countryman, which was very small
indeed, since few of the people use that path. They had a mattock and
shovel, and they made their way without accident.
I am telling you this story as it must have happened, for, of
course, there were no witnesses to this part of it. The men brought
the box down by the gorge, intending to bury it on the beach in the
wet sand, where it would have been much safer. But the paper would
have rotted if they had been obliged to leave it there long, so they
dug their hole down there, close to that boulder. Yes, just where the
mound is now.
Cristina did not find the doctor in Scalea, for he had been sent
for from a place up the valley, half-way to San Domenico. If she had
found him we would have come on his mule by the upper road, which is
smoother but much longer. But Cristina took the short cut by the
rocks, which passes about fifty feet above the mound, and goes round
that corner. The men were digging when she passed, and she heard them
at work. It would not hav been like her to go by without finding out
what the noise was, for she was never afraid of anything in her life,
and, besides, the fishermen sometimes come ashore here at night to
get a stone for an anchor or to gather sticks to make a little fire.
The night was dark and Cristina probably came close to the two men
before she could see what they were doing. She knew them, of course,
and they knew her, and understood instantly that they were in her
power. There was only one thing to be done for their safety, and they
did it. They knocked her on the head, they dug the hole deep, and
they buried her quickly with the iron-bound chest. They must have
understood that their only chance of escaping suspicion lay in
getting back to the village before their absence was noticed, for
they returned immediately, and were found half and hour later
gossiping quietly with the man who was making Alario's coffin. He was
a crony of theirs, and had been working at the repairs in the old
man's house. So far as I have been able to make out, the only persons
who were supposed to know where Alario kept his treasure were Angelo
and the one woman-servant I have mentioned. Angelo was away; it was
the woman who discovered the theft.
It was easy enough to understand why no one else knew where the
money was. The old man kept his door locked and the key in his pocket
when he was out, and did not let the woman enter to clean the place
unless he was there himself. The whole village knew that he had money
somewhere, however, and the masons had probably discovered the
whereabouts of the chest by climbing in at the window in his absence.
If the old man had not been delirious until he lost conciousness he
would have been in frightful agony of mind for his riches. The
faithful woman-servant forgot their existence only for a few moments
when she fled with the rest, overcome by the horror of death. Twenty
minutes had not passed before she returned with the two hideous old
hags who are always called in to prepare the dead for burial. Even
then she had not at first the courage to go near the bed with them,
but she made a pretence of dropping something, went down on her knees
as if to find it, and looked under the bedstead. The walls of the
room were newly whitewashed down to the floor and she saw at a glance
that the chest was gone. It had been there in the afternoon, it had
therefore been stolen in the short interval since she had left the
There are no carabineers stationed in the village; there is not so
much as a municipal watchman, for there is no municipality. There
never was such a place, I believe. Scalea is supposed to look after
it in some mysterious way, and it takes a couple of hours to get
anybody from there. As the old woman had lived in the village all her
life, it did not even occur to her to apply to any civil authority
for help. She simply set up a howl and ran through the village in the
dark, screaming out that her dead master's house had been robbed.
Many of the people looked out, but at first no one seemed inclined to
help her. Most of them, judging her by themselves, whispered to each
other that she had probably stolen the money herself. The first man
to move was the father of the girl whom Angelo was to marry; having
collected his household, all of whom felt a personal interest in the
wealth which was to have come into the family, he declared it to be
his opinion that the chest had been stolen by the two journeymen
masons who lodged in the house. He headed a search for them, which
naturally began in Alario's house and ended in the carpenter's
workshop, where the thieves were found discussing a measure of wine
with the carpenter over the half-finished coffin, by the light of one
earthen lamp filled with oil and tallow. The search-party at once
accused the delinquents of the crime, and threatened to lock them up
in the cellar till the carabineers could be fetched from Scalea. The
two men looked at each other for one moment, and then without the
slightest hesitation they put out the single light, seized the
unfinished coffin between them, and using it as a sort of battering
ram, dashed upon their assailants in the dark. In a few moments they
were beyond pursuit.
That is the end of the first part of the story. The tresure had
disappeared, and as no trace of it could be found the people supposed
that the thieves had succeeded in carrying it off. The old man was
buried, and when Angelo came back at last he had to borrow money to
pay for the miserable funeral, and had some difficulty in doing so.
He hardly needed to be told that in losing his inheritance he had
lost his bride. In this part of the world marriages are made on
strictly business principles, and if the promised cash is not
forthcoming on the appointed day, the bride or the bridegroom whose
parents have failed to produce it may as well take themselves off,
for there will be no wedding. Poor Angelo knew that well enough. His
father had been possessed of hardly any land, and now that the hard
cash which he had brought from South America was gone, there was
nothing left but debts for the building materials that were to have
been used for enlarging and improving the old house. Angelo was
beggared, and the nice plump little creature who was to have been
his, turned up her nose at him in the most approved fashion. As for
Cristina, it was several days before she was missed, for no one
remembered that she had been sent to Scalea for the doctor, who had
never come. She often disappeared in the same way for days together,
when she could find a little work here and there at the distant farms
among the hills. But when she did not come back at all, people began
to wonder, and at last made up their minds that she had connived with
the masons and had escaped with them.
I paused and emptied my glass.
"That sort of thing could not happen anywhere else," observed
Holger, filling his everlasting pipe again. "It is wonderful what a
natural charm there is about murder and sudden death in a romantic
country like this. Deeds that would be simply brutal and disgusting
anywhere else become dramatic and mysterious because this is Italy,
and we are living in a genuine tower of Charles V built against
"There's something in that," I admitted. Holger is the most
romantic man in the world inside of himself, but he always thinks it
necessary to explain why he feels anything.
"I suppose the found the poor girl's body with the box," he said
"As it seems to interest you," I answered, "I'll tell you the rest
of the story."
The mood had risen by this time; the outline of the Thing on the
mound was clearer to our eyes than before.
The village very soon settled down to its small dull life. No one
missed old Alario, who had been away so much on his voyages to South
America that he had never been a familiar figure in his native place.
Angelo lived in the half-finished house, and because he had no money
to pay the old woman-servant, she would not stay with him, but once
in a long time she would come and wash a shirt for him for old
acquaintance' sake. Besides the house, he had inherited a small patch
of ground at some distance from the village; he tried to cultivate
it, but he had no heart in the work, for he knew he could neer pay
the taxes on it and on the house, which would certainly be
confiscated by the Government, or seized for the debt of the building
material, which the man who had supplied it refused to take back.
Angelo was very unhappy. So long as his father had been alive and
rich, every girl in the village had been in love with him; but that
was all changed now. It had been pleasant to be admired and courted,
and invited to drink wine by fathers who had girls to marry. It was
hard to be stared at coldly, and sometimes laughed at because he had
been robbed of his inheritance. He cooked his miserable meals for
himself, and from being sad became melancholy and morose.
At twilight, when the day's work was done, instead of hanging
about in the open space before the church with young fellows of his
own age, he took to wandering in lonely places on the outskirts of
the village till it was quite dark. Then he slunk home and went to
bed to save the expense of a light. But in those lonely twilight
hours he began to have strange waking dreams. He was not always
alone, for often when he sat on the stump of a tree, where the narrow
path turns down the gorge, he was sure that a woman came up
noiselessly over the rough stones, as if her feet were bare; and she
stood under a clump of chestnut trees only half a dozen yards down
the path, and beckoned to him without speaking. Though she was in the
shadow he knew that her lips were red, and that when they parted a
little and smiled at him she showed two small sharp teeth. He knew
this at first rather than saw it, and he knew that it was Cristina,
and that she was dead. Yet he was not afraid; he only wondered
whether it was a dream, for he thought that if he had been awake he
should have been frightened.
Besides, the dead woman had red lips, and that could only happen
in a dream. Whenever he went near the gorget after sunset she was
already there waiting for him, or else she very soon appeared, and he
began to be sure of her blood-red mouth, but now each feature grew
distinct, and the pale face looked at him with deep and hungry
It was the eyes that grew dim. Little by little he came to know
that someday the dream would not end when he turned away to go home,
but would lead him down the gorge out of which the vision rose. She
was nearer now when she beckoned to him. Her cheeks were not livid
like those of the dead, but pale with starvation, with the furious
and unappeased physical hunger of her eyes that devoured him. They
feasted on his soul and cast a spell over him, and at last they were
close to his own and held him. He could not tell whether her breath
was as hot as fire, or as cold as ice; he could not tell whether her
red lips burned his or froze them, or whether her five fingers on his
wrists seared scorching scars or bit his flesh like frost; he could
not tell whether he was awake or asleep, whether she was alive or
dead, but he knew that she loved him, she alone of all creatures,
earthly or unearthly, and her spell had power over him.
When the moon rose high that night the shadow of that Thing was
not alone down there upon the mound.
Angelo awoke in the cool dawn, drenched with dew and chilled
through flesh, and blood, and bone. He opened his eyes to the faint
grey light, and saw the stars were still shining overhead. He was
very weak, and his heart was beating so slowly that he was almost
like a man fainting. Slowly he turned his head on the mound, as on a
pillow, but the other face was not there. Fear seized him suddenly, a
fear unspeakable and unknown; he sprang to his feet and fled up the
gorge, and he never looked behind him until he reached the door of
the house on the outskirts of the village. Drearily he went to his
work that day, and wearily the hours dragged themselves after the
sun, till at last it touched the sea and sank, and the great sharp
hills above Maratea turned purple against the dove-coloured eastern
Angelo shouldered his heavy hoe and left the field. He felt less
tired now than in the morning when he had begun to work, but he
promised himself that he would go home without lingering by the
gorge, and eat the best supper he could get himself, and sleep all
night in his bed like a Christian man. Not again would he be tempted
down the narrow way by a shadow with red lips and icy breath; not
again would he dream that dream of terror and delight. He was near
the village now; it was half an hour since the sun had set, and the
cracked church bell sent little discordant echoes across the rocks
and ravines to tell all good people that the day was done. Angelo
stood still a moment where the path forked, where it led toward the
village on the left, and down to the gorge on the right, where a
clump of chestnut trees overhung the narrow way. He stood still a
minute, lifting his battered hat from his head and gazing at the
fast-fading sea westward, and his lips moved as he silently repeated
the familiar evening prayer. His lips moved, but the words that
followed them in his brain lost their meaning and turned into others,
and ended in a name that he spoke aloud--Cristina! With the name, the
tension of his will relaxed suddenly, reality went out and the dream
took him again, and bore him on swiftly and surely like a man walking
in his sleep, down, down, by the steep path in the gathering
darkness. And as she glided beside him, Cristina whispered strange,
sweet things in his ear, which somehow, if he had been awake, he knew
that he could not quite have understood; but now they were the most
wonderful words he had ever heard in his life. And she kissed him
also, but not upon his mouth. He felt her sharp kisses upon his white
throat, and he knew that her lips were red. So the wild dream sped on
through twilight and darkness and moonrise, and all the glory of the
summer's night. But in the chilly dawn he lay as one half dead upon
the mound down there, recalling and not recalling, drained of his
blood, yet strangely longing to give those red lips more. Then came
the fear, the awful nameless panic, the mortal horror that guards the
confines of the world we see not, neither know of as we know of other
things, but which we feel when its icy chill freezes our bones and
stirs our hair with the touch of a ghostly hand. Once more Angelo
sprang from the mound and fled up the gorge in the breaking day, but
his step was less sure this time, and he panted for breath as he ran;
and when he came to the bright spring of water that rises half way up
the hillside, he dropped upon his knees and hands and plunged his
whole face in and drank as he had never drunk before--for it was the
thirst of the wounded man who has lain bleeding all night upon the
She had him fast now, and he could not escape her, but would come
to her every evening at dusk until she had drained him of his last
drop of blood. It was in vain that when the day was done he tried to
take another turning and to go home by a path that did not lead near
the gorge. It was in vain that he made promises to himself each
morning at dawn when he climbed the lonely way up from the shore to
the village. It was all in vain, for when the sun sank burning into
the sea, and the coolness of the evening stole out as from a
hiding-place to delight the weary world, his feet turned toward the
old way, and she was waiting for him in the shadow under the chestnut
trees; and then all happened as before, and she fell to kissing his
white throat even as she flitted lightly down the way, winding one
arm about him. And as his blood failed, she grew more hungry and more
thirsty every day, and every day when he awoke in the early dawn it
was harder to rouse himself to the effort of climbing the steep path
to the village; and when he went to his work his feet dragged
painfully, and there was hardly strength in his arms to wield the
heavy hoe. He scarcely spoke to anyone now, but the people said he
was "consuming himself" for love of the girl he was to have married
when he lost his inheritance; and they laughed heartily at the
thought, for this is not a very romantic country. At this time
Antonio, the man who stays here to look after the tower, returned
from a visit to his people, who live near Salerno. He had been away
all the time since before Alario's death and knew nothing of what had
happened. He has told me that he came back late in the afternoon and
shut himself up in the tower to eat and sleep, for he was very tired.
It was past midnight when he awoke, and when he looked out toward the
mound, and he saw something, and he did not sleep again that night.
When he went out again in the morning it was broad daylight, and
there was nothing to be seen on the mound but loose stones and driven
sand. Yet he did not go very near it; he went straight up the path to
the village and directly to the house of the old priest.
"I have seen an evil thing this night," he said; "I have seen how
the dead drink the blood of the living. And the blood is the
"Tell me what you have seen," said the priest in reply.
Antonio told him everything he had seen.
"You must bring your book and your holy water to-night," he added.
"I will be here before sunset to go down with you, and if it pleases
your reverence to sup with me while we wait, I will make ready."
"I will come," the priest answered, "for I have read in old books
of these strange beings which are neither quick nor dead, and which
lie ever fresh in their graves, stealing out in the dusk to taste
life and blood."
Antonio cannot read, but he was glad to see that the priest
understood the business; for, of course, the books must have been
instructed him as to the best means of quieting the half-living Thing
So Antonio went away to his work, which consists largely in
sitting on the shady side of the tower, when he is not perched upon a
rock with a fishing-line catching nothing. But on that day he went
twice to look at the mound in the bright sunlight, and he searched
round and round it for some hole through which the being might get in
and out; but he found none. When the sun began to sink and the air
was cooler in the shadows, he went up to fetch the old priest,
carrying a little wicker basket with him; and in this they placed a
bottle of holy water, and the basin, and sprinkler, and the stole
which the priest would need; and they came down and waited in the
door of the tower till it should be dark. But while the light still
lingered very grey and faint, they saw something moving, just there,
two figures, a man's that walked, and a woman's that flitted beside
him, and while her head lay on his shoulder she kissed his throat.
The priest has told me that, too, and that his teeth chattered and he
grasped Antonio's arm. The vision passed and disappeared into the
shadow. Then Antonio got the leathern flask of strong liquor, which
he kept for great occasions, and poured such a draught as made the
old man feel almost young again; and gave the priest his stole to put
on and the holy water to carry, and they went out together toward the
spot where the work was to be done. Antonio says that in spite of the
rum his own knees shook together, and the priest stumbled over his
Latin. For when they were yet a few yards from the mound the
flickering light of the lantern fell upon Angelo's white face,
unconscious as if in sleep, and on his upturned throat, over which a
very thin red line of blood trickled down into his collar; and the
flickering light of the lantern played upon another face that looked
up from the feast, upon two deep, dead eyes that saw in spite of
death--upon parted lips, redder than life itself--upon two gleaming
teeth on which glistened a rosy drop. Then the priest, good old man,
shut his eyes tight and showered holy water before him, and his
cracked voice rose almost to a scream; and then Antonio, who is no
coward after all, raised his pick in one hand and the lantern in the
other, as he sprang forward, not knowing what the end should be; and
then he swears that he heard a woman's cry, and the Thing was gone,
and Angelo lay alone on the mound unconscious, with the red line on
his throat and the beads of deathly sweat on his cold forehead. They
lifted him, half-dead as he was, and laid him on the ground close by;
then Antonio went to work, and the priest helped him, thought he was
old and could not do much; and they dug deep, and at last Antonio,
standing in the grave, stooped down with his lantern to see what he
His hair used to be dark brown, with grizzled streaks about the
temples; in less than a month from that day he was as grey as a
badger. He was a miner when he was young, and most of these fellows
have seen ugly sights now and then, when accidents have happened, but
he had never seen what he saw that night--that Thing which is neither
alive nor dead, that Thing that will abide neither above ground nor
in the grave. Antonio had brought something with him which the priest
had not noticed--a sharp stake shaped from a piece of tough old
driftwood. He had it with him now, and he had his heavy pick, and he
had taken the lantern down into the grave. I don't think any power on
earth could make him speak of what happened then, and the old priest
was too frightened to look in. He says he heard Antonio breathing
like a wild beast, and moving as if he were fighting with something
almost as strong as himself; and he heard an evil sound also, with
blows, as of something violently driven through flesh and bone; and
then, the most awful sound of all--a woman's shriek, the unearthly
scream of a woman neither dead nor alive, but buried deep for many
days. And he, the poor old priest, could only rock himself as he
knelt there in the sand, crying aloud his prayers and exorcisms to
drown these dreadful sounds. Then suddenly a small iron-bound chest
was thrown up and rolled over against the old man's knee, and in a
moment more Antonio was beside him, his face as white as tallow in
the flickering light of the lantern, shoveling the sand and pebbles
into the grave with furious haste, and looking over the edge till the
pit was half full; and the priest said that there was much fresh
blood on Antonio's hands and on his clothes.
I had come to the end of my story. Holger finished his wine and
leaned back in his chair.
"So Angelo got his own again." he said. "Did he marry the prim and
plump young person to whom he had been betrothed?"
"No; he had been badly frightened. He went to South America, and
has not been heard of since."
"And that poor thing's body is there still, I suppose," said
Holger. "Is it quite dead yet, I wonder?"
I wonder, too. But whether it be dead or alive, I should hardly care to see
it, even in broad daylight. Antonio is as grey as a badger, and he has never
been quite the same man since that night.