The Saturday Night Special: “Lost in a Pyramid or The Mummy’s Curse” by Louisa May Alcott (1869)


“And what are these, Paul?” asked Evelyn, opening a tarnished gold box
and examining its contents curiously.

“Seeds of some unknown Egyptian plant,” replied Forsyth, with a sudden
shadow on his dark face, as he looked down at the three scarlet grains
lying in the white hand lifted to him.

“Where did you get them?” asked the girl.

“That is a weird story, which will only haunt you if I tell it,” said
Forsyth, with an absent expression that strongly excited the girl’s

Piramida Cheopsa Photo by Janusz Reclaw, 2000

Piramida Cheopsa
Photo by
Janusz Reclaw, 2000

“Please tell it, I like weird tales, and they never trouble me. Ah, do  tell it; your stories are always so interesting,” she cried, looking up with such a pretty blending of entreaty and command in her charming face, that refusal was impossible.

“You’ll be sorry for it, and so shall I, perhaps; I warn you
beforehand, that harm is foretold to the possessor of those mysterious seeds,” said Forsyth, smiling, even while he knit his black brows, and regarded the blooming creature before him with a fond yet foreboding glance.

“Tell on, I’m not afraid of these pretty atoms,” she answered, with an
imperious nod.

“To hear is to obey. Let me read the facts, and then I will begin,”
returned Forsyth, pacing to and fro with the far-off look of one who
turns the pages of the past.

Evelyn watched him a moment, and then returned to her work, or play,
rather, for the task seemed well suited to the vivacious little
creature, half-child, half-woman.

“While in Egypt,” commenced Forsyth, slowly, “I went one day with my
guide and Professor Niles, to explore the Cheops. Niles had a mania
for antiquities of all sorts, and forgot time, danger and fatigue in
the ardor of his pursuit. We rummaged up and down the narrow passages,
half choked with dust and close air; reading inscriptions on the
walls, stumbling over shattered mummy-cases, or coming face to face
with some shriveled specimen perched like a hobgoblin on the little
shelves where the dead used to be stowed away for ages. I was
desperately tired after a few hours of it, and begged the professor to
return. But he was bent on exploring certain places, and would not
desist. We had but one guide, so I was forced to stay; but Jumal, my
man, seeing how weary I was, proposed to us to rest in one of the
larger passages, while he went to procure another guide for Niles. We
consented, and assuring us that we were perfectly safe, if we did not
quit the spot, Jumal left us, promising to return speedily. The
professor sat down to take notes of his researches, and stretching my
self on the soft sand, I fell asleep.

“I was roused by that indescribable thrill which instinctively warns
us of danger, and springing up, I found myself alone. One torch burned
faintly where Jumal had struck it, but Niles and the other light were
gone. A dreadful sense of loneliness oppressed me for a moment; then I
collected myself and looked well about me. A bit of paper was pinned
to my hat, which lay near me, and on it, in the professor’s writing
were these words:

“‘I’ve gone back a little to refresh my memory on certain points.
Don’t follow me till Jumal comes. I can find my way back to you, for I
have a clue. Sleep well, and dream gloriously of the Pharaohs. N N.’

“I laughed at first over the old enthusiast, then felt anxious then
restless, and finally resolved to follow him, for I discovered a
strong cord fastened to a fallen stone, and knew that this was the
clue he spoke of. Leaving a line for Jumal, I took my torch and
retraced my steps, following the cord along the winding ways. I often
shouted, but received no reply, and pressed on, hoping at each turn to
see the old man poring over some musty relic of antiquity. Suddenly
the cord ended, and lowering my torch, I saw that the footsteps had
gone on.

“‘Rash fellow, he’ll lose himself, to a certainty,’ I thought, really
alarmed now.

“As I paused, a faint call reached me, and I answered it, waited,
shouted again, and a still fainter echo replied.

“Niles was evidently going on, misled by the reverberations of the low
passages. No time was to be lost, and, forgetting myself, I stuck my
torch in the deep sand to guide me back to the clue, and ran down the
straight path before me, whooping like a madman as I went. I did not
mean to lose sight of the light, but in my eagerness to find Niles I
turned from the main passage, and, guided by his voice, hastened on.
His torch soon gladdened my eyes, and the clutch of his trembling
hands told me what agony he had suffered.

“‘Let us get out of this horrible place at once,’ he said, wiping the
great drops off his forehead.

“‘Come, we’re not far from the clue. I can soon reach it, and then we
are safe’; but as I spoke, a chill passed over me, for a perfect
labyrinth of narrow paths lay before us.

“Trying to guide myself by such land-marks as I had observed in my
hasty passage, I followed the tracks in the sand till I fancied we
must be near my light. No glimmer appeared, however, and kneeling down
to examine the footprints nearer, I discovered, to my dismay, that I
had been following the wrong ones, for among those marked by a deep
boot-heel, were prints of bare feet; we had had no guide there, and
Jumal wore sandals.

“Rising, I confronted Niles, with the one despairing word, ‘Lost!’ as
I pointed from the treacherous sand to the fast-waning light.

“I thought the old man would be overwhelmed but, to my surprise, he
grew quite calm and steady, thought a moment, and then went on,
saying, quietly:

“‘Other men have passed here before us; let us follow their steps,
for, if I do not greatly err, they lead toward great passages, where
one’s way is easily found.’

“On we went, bravely, till a misstep threw the professor violently to
the ground with a broken leg, and nearly extinguished the torch. It
was a horrible predicament, and I gave up all hope as I sat beside the
poor fellow, who lay exhausted with fatigue, remorse and pain, for I
would not leave him.

“‘Paul,’ he said suddenly, ‘if you will not go on, there is one more
effort we can make. I remember hearing that a party lost as we are,
saved themselves by building a fire. The smoke penetrated further than
sound or light, and the guide’s quick wit understood the unusual mist;
he followed it, and rescued the party. Make a fire and trust to

“‘A fire without wood?’ I began; but he pointed to a shelf behind me,
which had escaped me in the gloom; and on it I saw a slender mummy-
case. I understood him, for these dry cases, which lie about in
hundreds, are freely used as firewood. Reaching up, I pulled it down,
believing it to be empty, but as it fell, it burst open, and out
rolled a mummy. Accustomed as I was to such sights, it startled me a
little, for danger had unstrung my nerves. Laying the little brown
chrysalis aside, I smashed the case, lit the pile with my torch, and
soon a light cloud of smoke drifted down the three passages which
diverged from the cell-like place where we had paused.

“While busied with the fire, Niles, forgetful of pain and peril, had
dragged the mummy nearer, and was examining it with the interest of a
man whose ruling passion was strong even in death.

“‘Come and help me unroll this. I have always longed to be the first
to see and secure the curious treasures put away among the folds of
these uncanny winding-sheets. This is a woman, and we may find
something rare and precious here,’ he said, beginning to unfold the
outer coverings, from which a strange aromatic odor came.

“Reluctantly I obeyed, for to me there was something sacred in the
bones of this unknown woman. But to beguile the time and amuse the
poor fellow, I lent a hand, wondering as I worked, if this dark, ugly
thing had ever been a lovely, soft-eyed Egyptian girl.

“From the fibrous folds of the wrappings dropped precious gums and
spices, which half intoxicated us with their potent breath, antique
coins, and a curious jewel or two, which Niles eagerly examined.

“All the bandages but one were cut off at last, and a small head laid
bare, round which still hung great plaits of what had once been
luxuriant hair. The shriveled hands were folded on the breast, and
clasped in them lay that gold box.”

“Ah!” cried Evelyn, dropping it from her rosy palm with a shudder.

“Nay; don’t reject the poor little mummy’s treasure. I never have
quite forgiven myself for stealing it, or for burning her,” said
Forsyth, painting rapidly, as if the recollection of that experience
lent energy to his hand.

“Burning her! Oh, Paul, what do you mean?” asked the girl, sitting up
with a face full of excitement.

“I’ll tell you. While busied with Madame la Momie, our fire had burned
low, for the dry case went like tinder. A faint, far-off sound made
our hearts leap, and Niles cried out: ‘Pile on the wood; Jumal is
tracking us; don’t let the smoke fail now or we are lost!’

“‘There is no more wood; the case was very small, and is all gone,’ I
answered, tearing off such of my garments as would burn readily, and
piling them upon the embers.

“Niles did the same, but the light fabrics were quickly consumed, and
made no smoke.

“‘Burn that!’ commanded the professor, pointing to the mummy.

“I hesitated a moment. Again came the faint echo of a horn. Life was
dear to me. A few dry bones might save us, and I obeyed him in

“A dull blaze sprung up, and a heavy smoke rose from the burning
mummy, rolling in volumes through the low passages, and threatening to
suffocate us with its fragrant mist. My brain grew dizzy, the light
danced before my eyes, strange phantoms seemed to people the air, and,
in the act of asking Niles why he gasped and looked so pale, I lost

Evelyn drew a long breath, and put away the scented toys from her lap
as if their odor oppressed her.

Forsyth’s swarthy face was all aglow with the excitement of his story,
and his black eyes glittered as he added, with a quick laugh:

“That’s all; Jumal found and got us out, and we both forswore pyramids
for the rest of our days.”

“But the box: how came you to keep it?” asked Evelyn, eyeing it
askance as it lay gleaming in a streak of sunshine.

“Oh, I brought it away as a souvenir, and Niles kept the other

“But you said harm was foretold to the possessor of those scarlet
seeds,” persisted the girl, whose fancy was excited by the tale, and
who fancied all was not told.

“Among his spoils, Niles found a bit of parchment, which he
deciphered, and this inscription said that the mummy we had so
ungallantly burned was that of a famous sorceress who bequeathed her
curse to whoever should disturb her rest. Of course I don’t believe
that curse has anything to do with it, but it’s a fact that Niles
never prospered from that day. He says it’s because he has never
recovered from the fall and fright and I dare say it is so; but I
sometimes wonder if I am to share the curse, for I’ve a vein of
superstition in me, and that poor little mummy haunts my dreams

A long silence followed these words. Paul painted mechanically and
Evelyn lay regarding him with a thoughtful face. But gloomy fancies
were as foreign to her nature as shadows are to noonday, and presently
she laughed a cheery laugh, saying as she took up the box again:

“Why don’t you plant them, and see what wondrous flower they will

“I doubt if they would bear anything after lying in a mummy’s hand for
centuries,” replied Forsyth, gravely.

“Let me plant them and try. You know wheat has sprouted and grown that
was taken from a mummy’s coffin; why should not these pretty seeds? I
should so like to watch them grow; may I, Paul?”

“No, I’d rather leave that experiment untried. I have a queer feeling
about the matter, and don’t want to meddle myself or let anyone I love
meddle with these seeds. They may be some horrible poison, or possess
some evil power, for the sorceress evidently valued them, since she
clutched them fast even in her tomb.”

“Now, you are foolishly superstitious, and I laugh at you. Be
generous; give me one seed, just to learn if it will grow. See I’ll
pay for it,” and Evelyn, who now stood beside him, dropped a kiss on
his forehead as she made her request, with the most engaging air.

But Forsyth would not yield. He smiled and returned the embrace with
lover-like warmth, then flung the seeds into the fire, and gave her
back the golden box, saying, tenderly:

“My darling, I’ll fill it with diamonds or bonbons, if you please, but
I will not let you play with that witch’s spells. You’ve enough of
your own, so forget the ‘pretty seeds’ and see what a Light of the
Harem I’ve made of you.”

Evelyn frowned, and smiled, and presently the lovers were out in the
spring sunshine reveling in their own happy hopes, untroubled by one
foreboding fear.


“I have a little surprise for you, love,” said Forsyth, as he greeted
his cousin three months later on the morning of his wedding day.

“And I have one for you,” she answered, smiling faintly.

“How pale you are, and how thin you grow! All this bridal bustle is
too much for you, Evelyn.” he said, with fond anxiety, as he watched
the strange pallor of her face, and pressed the wasted little hand in his.

“I am so tired,” she said, and leaned her head wearily on her lover’s
breast. “Neither sleep, food, nor air gives me strength, and a curious
mist seems to cloud my mind at times. Mamma says it is the heat, but I
shiver even in the sun, while at night I burn with fever. Paul, dear,
I’m glad you are going to take me away to lead a quiet, happy life
with you, but I’m afraid it will be a very short one.”

“My fanciful little wife! You are tired and nervous with all this
worry, but a few weeks of rest in the country will give us back our
blooming Eve again. Have you no curiosity to learn my surprise?” he
asked, to change her thoughts.

The vacant look stealing over the girl’s face gave place to one of
interest, but as she listened it seemed to require an effort to fix
her mind on her lover’s words.

“You remember the day we rummaged in the old cabinet?”

“Yes,” and a smile touched her lips for a moment.

“And how you wanted to plant those queer red seeds I stole from the

“I remember,” and her eyes kindled with sudden fire.

“Well, I tossed them into the fire, as I thought, and gave you the
box. But when I went back to cover up my picture, and found one of
those seeds on the rug, a sudden fancy to gratify your whim led me to
send it to Niles and ask him to plant and report on its progress.
Today I hear from him for the first time, and he reports that the seed
has grown marvelously, has budded, and that he intends to take the
first flower, if it blooms in time, to a meeting of famous scientific
men, after which he will send me its true name and the plant itself.
From his description, it must be very curious, and I’m impatient to
see it.”

“You need not wait; I can show you the flower in its bloom,” and
Evelyn beckoned with the mechante smile so long a stranger to her

Much amazed, Forsyth followed her to her own little boudoir, and
there, standing in the sunshine, was the unknown plant. Almost rank in
their luxuriance were the vivid green leaves on the slender purple
stems, and rising from the midst, one ghostly-white flower, shaped
like the head of a hooded snake, with scarlet stamens like forked
tongues, and on the petals glittered spots like dew.

“A strange, uncanny flower! Has it any odor?” asked Forsyth, bending
to examine it, and forgetting, in his interest, to ask how it came

“None, and that disappoints me, I am so fond of perfumes,” answered
the girl, caressing the green leaves which trembled at her touch,
while the purple stems deepened their tint.

“Now tell me about it,” said Forsyth, after standing silent for
several minutes.

“I had been before you, and secured one of the seeds, for two fell on
the rug. I planted it under a glass in the richest soil I could find,
watered it faithfully, and was amazed at the rapidity with which it
grew when once it appeared above the earth. I told no-one, for I meant
to surprise you with it; but this bud has been so long in blooming, I
have had to wait. It is a good omen that it blossoms today, and as it
is nearly white, I mean to wear it, for I’ve learned to love it,
having been my pet for so long.”

“I would not wear it, for, in spite of its innocent color, it is an
evil-looking plant, with its adder’s tongue and unnatural dew. Wait
till Niles tells us what it is, then pet it if it is harmless.”

“Perhaps my sorceress cherished it for some symbolic beauty–those old
Egyptians were full of fancies. It was very sly of you to turn the
tables on me in this way. But I forgive you, since in a few hours, I
shall chain this mysterious hand forever. How cold it is! Come out
into the garden and get some warmth and color for tonight, my love.”

But when night came, no-one could reproach the girl with her pallor,
for she glowed like a pomegranate-flower, her eyes were full of fire,
her lips scarlet, and all her old vivacity seemed to have returned. A
more brilliant bride never blushed under a misty veil, and when her
lover saw her, he was absolutely startled by the almost unearthly
beauty which transformed the pale, languid creature of the morning
into this radiant woman.

They were married, and if love, many blessings, and all good gifts
lavishly showered upon them could make them happy, then this young
pair were truly blest. But even in the rapture of the moment that made
her his, Forsyth observed how icy cold was the little hand he held,
how feverish the deep color on the soft cheek he kissed, and what a
strange fire burned in the tender eyes that looked so wistfully at

Blithe and beautiful as a spirit, the smiling bride played her part in
all the festivities of that long evening, and when at last light, life
and color began to fade, the loving eyes that watched her thought it
but the natural weariness of the hour. As the last guest departed,
Forsyth was met by a servant, who gave him a letter marked “Haste.”
Tearing it open, he read these lines, from a friend of the

“DEAR SIR–Poor Niles died suddenly two days ago, while at the
Scientific Club, and his last words were: ‘Tell Paul Forsyth to beware
of the Mummy’s Curse, for this fatal flower has killed me.’ The
circumstances of his death were so peculiar, that I add them as a
sequel to this message. For several months, as he told us, he had been
watching an unknown plant, and that evening he brought us the flower
to examine. Other matters of interest absorbed us till a late hour,
and the plant was forgotten. The professor wore it in his buttonhole–
a strange white, serpent-headed blossom, with pale glittering spots,
which slowly changed to a glittering scarlet, till the leaves looked
as if sprinkled with blood. It was observed that instead of the pallor
and feebleness which had recently come over him, that the professor
was unusually animated, and seemed in an almost unnatural state of
high spirits. Near the close of the meeting, in the midst of a lively
discussion, he suddenly dropped, as if smitten with apoplexy. He was
conveyed home insensible, and after one lucid interval, in which he
gave me the message I have recorded above, he died in great agony,
raving of mummies, pyramids, serpents, and some fatal curse which had
fallen upon him.

“After his death, livid scarlet spots, like those on the flower,
appeared upon his skin, and he shriveled like a withered leaf. At my
desire, the mysterious plant was examined, and pronounced by the best
authority one of the most deadly poisons known to the Egyptian
sorceresses. The plant slowly absorbs the vitality of whoever
cultivates it, and the blossom, worn for two or three hours, produces
either madness or death.”

Down dropped the paper from Forsyth’s hand; he read no further, but
hurried back into the room where he had left his young wife. As if
worn out with fatigue, she had thrown herself upon a couch, and lay
there motionless, her face half-hidden by the light folds of the veil,
which had blown over it.

“Evelyn, my dearest! Wake up and answer me. Did you wear that strange
flower today?” whispered Forsyth, putting the misty screen away.

There was no need for her to answer, for there, gleaming spectrally on
her bosom, was the evil blossom, its white petals spotted now with
flecks of scarlet, vivid as drops of newly spilt blood.

But the unhappy bridegroom scarcely saw it, for the face above it
appalled him by its utter vacancy. Drawn and pallid, as if with some
wasting malady, the young face, so lovely an hour ago, lay before him
aged and blighted by the baleful influence of the plant which had
drunk up her life. No recognition in the eyes, no word upon the lips,
no motion of the hand–only the faint breath, the fluttering pulse,
and wide-opened eyes, betrayed that she was alive.

Alas for the young wife! The superstitious fear at which she had
smiled had proved true: the curse that had bided its time for ages was
fulfilled at last, and her own hand wrecked her happiness for ever.
Death in life was her doom, and for years Forsyth secluded himself to
tend with pathetic devotion the pale ghost, who never, by word or
look, could thank him for the love that outlived even such a fate as


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“Diabolical: Three Tales of Jack Thurston and Revenge” is Available on Kindle and in Print

Please go to or Goodreads or any other social media to leave a review.

Jack Thurston is a retired professor of medieval literature and history. He is also a widower and father and a retired sorcerer who has returned to the black arts to exact revenge for the death of his wife, daughter, and brother. He has an intriguing position in the universe at a focal point of life, the afterlife, logic and reason, anger and hatred, the ancient and the modern worlds, grief and his attempts to escape grief through self-destruction. Though he wants to have the peace he once found with his wife, Agatha, he is pulled in many directions by circumstance and by his powerful negative emotions.

I am a fan of the old school horror practiced by such authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Edward Lucas White, and Arthur Machen.  I endeavor to make a story as terrifying and suspenseful for the reader as possible without resorting to gratuitous blood and gore for a simple shock or quick feeling of disgust.

This collection of three short tales is perfect for those who have only a few short breaks to escape into the hidden world of horror, black magic, sorcery, and anger-fueled revenge.

You can find this and other works at my Amazon author’s page:

Currently, Jack has a Twitter account (@jthurston666), where he has attracted a small following and where it has only recently been revealed that he is fictional. Jack has his own blog at (a work in progress) and his own e-mail at

Information on more social media accounts and other characters (as they are developed) can be found at: Please interact with him at any of his social media accounts as you would with a real person.

Show your appreciation for these stories by leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other social media.

If you enjoy horror, check out my collection of horror short stories A Tale of Hell and Other Works of Horror: Stories of wizards, werewolves, serial killers, alien worlds, and the damned, which includes these stories.

Reviews Needed

I am seeking people to review my works and who post their reviews to markets in the US, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. I offer my Kindle e-books for free periodically according to Amazon policy.  You can find my works on my Amazon author’s page.  Let me know which you would like to review and I will let you know when it available for free or set up a date that you can have it for fee. I am most interested in having reviewed either my short horror (A Tale of Hell and Other Works of Horror), my collected poetry (Nocturne: Poems of Love, Distance, and the Night, a callous and disinterested lover), my short fiction on relationships (The Scent and Other Stories), or my action-adventure novelette (Click).  The other two works are contained in A Tale of Hell and Other Works of Horror.

“Diabolical: Three Tales of Jack Thurston and Revenge” is Available on Kindle and in Print

Please go to or Goodreads or any other social media to leave a review.

Jack Thurston is a retired professor of medieval literature and history. He is also a widower and father and a retired sorcerer who has returned to the black arts to exact revenge for the death of his wife, daughter, and brother. He has an intriguing position in the universe at a focal point of life, the afterlife, logic and reason, anger and hatred, the ancient and the modern worlds, grief and his attempts to escape grief through self-destruction. Though he wants to have the peace he once found with his wife, Agatha, he is pulled in many directions by circumstance and by his powerful negative emotions.

I am a fan of the old school horror practiced by such authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Edward Lucas White, and Arthur Machen.  I endeavor to make a story as terrifying and suspenseful for the reader as possible without resorting to gratuitous blood and gore for a simple shock or quick feeling of disgust.

This collection of three short tales is perfect for those who have only a few short breaks to escape into the hidden world of horror, black magic, sorcery, and anger-fueled revenge.

You can find this and other works at my Amazon author’s page:

Currently, Jack has a Twitter account (@jthurston666), where he has attracted a small following and where it has only recently been revealed that he is fictional. Jack has his own blog at (a work in progress) and his own e-mail at

Information on more social media accounts and other characters (as they are developed) can be found at: Please interact with him at any of his social media accounts as you would with a real person.

Show your appreciation for these stories by leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other social media.

If you enjoy horror, check out my collection of horror short stories A Tale of Hell and Other Works of Horror: Stories of wizards, werewolves, serial killers, alien worlds, and the damned, which includes these stories.

The Saturday Night Special: “The Drunkard’s Dream” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1838)

Being a Fourth Extract from the Legacy of the Late F. Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh

“All this he told with some confusion and
Dismay, the usual consequence of dreams
Of the unpleasant kind, with none at hand
To expound their vain and visionary gleams.
I’ve known some odd ones which seemed really planned
Prophetically, as that which one deems
‘A strange coincidence,’ to use a phrase
By which such things are settled now-a-days.”



Dreams–What age, or what country of the world has not felt and acknowledged the mystery of their origin and end? I have thought not a little upon the subject, seeing it is one which has been often forced upon my attention, and sometimes strangely enough; and yet I have never arrived at any thing which at all appeared a satisfactory conclusion. It does appear that a mental phenomenon so extraordinary cannot be wholly without its use. We know, indeed, that in the olden times it has been made the organ of communication between the Deity and his creatures; and when, as I have seen, a dream produces upon a mind, to all appearance hopelessly reprobate and depraved, an effect so powerful and so lasting as to break down the

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu 1814-1873

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu

inveterate habits, and to reform the life of an abandoned sinner. We see in the result, in the reformation of morals, which appeared incorrigible in the reclamation of a human soul which seemed to be irretrievably lost, something more than could be produced by a mere chimaera of the slumbering fancy, something more than could arise from the capricious images of a terrified imagination; but once prevented, we behold in all these things, in the tremendous and mysterious results, the operation of the hand of God. And while Reason rejects as absurd the superstition which will read a prophecy in every dream, she may, without violence to herself, recognize, even in the wildest and most incongruous of the wanderings of a slumbering intellect, the evidences and the fragments of a language which may be spoken, which has been spoken to terrify, to warn, and to command. We have reason to believe too, by the promptness of action, which in the age of the prophets, followed all intimations of this kind, and by the strength of conviction and strange permanence of the effects resulting from certain dreams in latter times, which effects ourselves may have witnessed, that when this medium of communication has been employed by the Deity, the evidences of his presence have been unequivocal. My thoughts were directed to this subject, in a manner to leave a lasting impression upon my mind, by the events which I shall now relate, the statement of which, however extraordinary, is nevertheless accurately correct.

About the year l7– having been appointed to the living of C—-h, I rented a small house in the town, which bears the same name: one morning, in the month of November, I was awakened before my usual time, by my servant, who bustled into my bedroom for the purpose of announcing a sick call. As the Catholic Church holds her last rites to be totally indispensable to the safety of the departing sinner, no conscientious clergyman can afford a moment’s unnecessary delay, and in little more than five minutes I stood ready cloaked and booted for the road in the small front parlour, in which the messenger, who was to act as my guide, awaited my coming. I found a poor little girl crying piteously near the door, and after some slight difficulty I ascertained that her father was either dead, or just dying.

“And what may be your father’s name, my poor child?” said I. She held down her head, as if ashamed. I repeated the question, and the wretched little creature burst into floods of tears, still more bitter than she had shed before. At length, almost provoked by conduct which appeared to me so unreasonable, I began to lose patience, spite of the pity which I could not help feeling towards her, and I said rather harshly, “If you will not tell me the name of the person to whom you would lead me, your silence can arise from no good motive, and I might be justified in refusing to go with you at all.”

“Oh! don’t say that, don’t say that,” cried she. “Oh! sir, it was that I was afeard of when I would not tell you–I was afeard when you heard his name you would not come with me; but it is no use hidin’ it now–it’s Pat Connell, the carpenter, your honour.”

She looked in my face with the most earnest anxiety, as if her very existence depended upon what she should read there; but I relieved her at once. The name, indeed, was most unpleasantly familiar to me; but, however fruitless my visits and advice might have been at another time, the present was too fearful an occasion to suffer my doubts of their utility as my reluctance to re-attempting what appeared a hopeless task to weigh even against the lightest chance, that a consciousness of his imminent danger might produce in him a more docile and tractable disposition. Accordingly I told the child to lead the way, and followed her in silence. She hurried rapidly through the long narrow street which forms the great thoroughfare of the town. The darkness of the hour, rendered still deeper by the close approach of the old fashioned houses, which lowered in tall obscurity on either side of the way; the damp dreary chill which renders the advance of morning peculiarly cheerless, combined with the object of my walk, to visit the death-bed of a presumptuous sinner, to endeavour, almost against my own conviction, to infuse a hope into the heart of a dying reprobate–a drunkard, but too probably perishing under the consequences of some mad fit of intoxication; all these circumstances united served to enhance the gloom and solemnity of my feelings, as I silently followed my little guide, who with quick steps traversed the uneven pavement of the main street. After a walk of about five minutes she turned off into a narrow lane, of that obscure and comfortless class which are to be found in almost all small old fashioned towns, chill without ventilation, reeking with all manner of offensive effluviae, dingy, smoky, sickly and pent-up buildings, frequently not only in a wretched but in a dangerous condition.

“Your father has changed his abode since I last visited him, and, I am afraid, much for the worse,” said I.

“Indeed he has, sir, but we must not complain,” replied she; “we have to thank God that we have lodging and food, though it’s poor enough, it is, your honour.”

Poor child! thought I, how many an older head might learn wisdom from thee–how many a luxurious philosopher, who is skilled to preach but not to suffer, might not thy patient words put to the blush! The manner and language of this child were alike above her years and station; and, indeed, in all cases in which the cares and sorrows of life have anticipated their usual date, and have fallen, as they sometimes do, with melancholy prematurity to the lot of childhood, I have observed the result to have proved uniformly the same. A young mind, to which joy and indulgence have been strangers, and to which suffering and self-denial have been familiarised from the first, acquires a solidity and an elevation which no other discipline could have bestowed, and which, in the present case, communicated a striking but mournful peculiarity to the manners, even to the voice of the child. We paused before a narrow, crazy door, which she opened by means of a latch, and we forthwith began to ascend the steep and broken stairs, which led upwards to the sick man’s room. As we mounted flight after flight towards the garret floor, I heard more and more distinctly the hurried talking of many voices. I could also distinguish the low sobbing of a female. On arriving upon the uppermost lobby, these sounds became fully audible.

“This way, your honor,” said my little conductress, at the same time pushing open a door of patched and half rotten plank, she admitted me into the squalid chamber of death and misery. But one candle, held in the fingers of a scared and haggard-looking child, was burning in the room, and that so dim that all was twilight or darkness except within its immediate influence. The general obscurity, however, served to throw into prominent and startling relief the death-bed and its occupant. The light was nearly approximated to, and fell with horrible clearness upon, the blue and swollen features of the drunkard. I did not think it possible that a human countenance could look so terrific. The lips were black and drawn apart–the teeth were firmly set–the eyes a little unclosed, and nothing but the whites appearing–every feature was fixed and livid, and the whole face wore a ghastly and rigid expression of despairing terror such as I never saw equalled; his hands were crossed upon his breast, and firmly clenched, while, as if to add to the corpse-like effect of the whole, some white cloths, dipped in water, were wound about the forehead and temples. As soon as I could remove my eyes from this horrible spectacle, I observed my friend Dr. D—-, one of the most humane of a humane profession, standing by the bedside. He had been attempting, but unsuccessfully, to bleed the patient, and had now applied his finger to the pulse.

“Is there any hope?” I inquired in a whisper.

A shake of the head was the reply. There was a pause while he continued to hold the wrist; but he waited in vain for the throb of life, it was not there, and when he let go the hand it fell stiffly back into its former position upon the other.

“The man is dead,” said the physician, as he turned from the bed where the terrible figure lay.

Dead! thought I, scarcely venturing to look upon the tremendous and revolting spectacle–dead! without an hour for repentance, even a moment for reflection–dead! without the rites which even the best should have. Is there a hope for him? The glaring eyeball, the grinning mouth, the distorted brow–that unutterable look in which a painter would have sought to embody the fixed despair of the nethermost hell–these were my answer.

The poor wife sat at a little distance, crying as if her heart would break–the younger children clustered round the bed, looking, with wondering curiosity, upon the form of death, never seen before. When the first tumult of uncontrollable sorrow had passed away, availing myself of the solemnity and impressiveness of the scene, I desired the heart-stricken family to accompany me in prayer, and all knelt down, while I solemnly and fervently repeated some of those prayers which appeared most applicable to the occasion. I employed myself thus in a manner which, I trusted, was not unprofitable, at least to the living, for about ten minutes, and having accomplished my task, I was the first to arise. I looked upon the poor, sobbing, helpless creatures who knelt so humbly around me, and my heart bled for them. With a natural transition, I turned my eyes from them to the bed in which the body lay, and, great God! what was the revulsion, the horror which I experienced on seeing the corpse-like, terrific thing seated half upright before me–the white cloths, which had been wound about the head, had now partly slipped from their position, and were hanging in grotesque festoons about the face and shoulders, while the distorted eyes leered from amid them–

“A sight to dream of, not to tell.”

I stood actually rivetted to the spot. The figure nodded its head and lifted its arm, I thought with a menacing gesture. A thousand confused and horrible thoughts at once rushed upon my mind. I had often read that the body of a presumptuous sinner, who, during life, had been the willing creature of every satanic impulse, after the human tenant had deserted it, had been known to become the horrible sport of demoniac possession. I was roused from the stupefaction of terror in which I stood, by the piercing scream of the mother, who now, for the first time, perceived the change which had taken place. She rushed towards the bed, but, stunned by the shock and overcome by the conflict of violent emotions, before she reached it, she fell prostrate upon the floor. I am perfectly convinced that had I not been startled from the torpidity of horror in which I was bound, by some powerful and arousing stimulant, I should have gazed upon this unearthly apparition until I had fairly lost my senses. As it was, however, the spell was broken, superstition gave way to reason: the man whom all believed to have been actually dead, was living! Dr. D—- was instantly standing by the bedside, and, upon examination, he found that a sudden and copious flow of blood had taken place from the wound which the lancet had left, and this, no doubt, had effected his sudden and almost preternatural restoration to an existence from which all thought he had been for ever removed. The man was still speechless, but he seemed to understand the physician when he forbid his repeating the painful and fruitless attempts which he made to articulate, and he at once resigned himself quietly into his hands.

I left the patient with leeches upon his temples, and bleeding freely–apparently with little of the drowsiness which accompanies apoplexy; indeed, Dr. D—- told me that he had never before witnessed a seizure which seemed to combine the symptoms of so many kinds, and yet which belonged to none of the recognized classes; it certainly was not apoplexy, catalepsy, nor delirium tremens, and yet it seemed, in some degree, to partake of the properties of all–it was strange, but stranger things are coming.

During two or three days Dr. D—- would not allow his patient to converse in a manner which could excite or exhaust him, with any one; he suffered him merely, as briefly as possible, to express his immediate wants, and it was not until the fourth day after my early visit, the particulars of which I have just detailed, that it was thought expedient that I should see him, and then only because it appeared that his extreme importunity and impatience were likely to retard his recovery more than the mere exhaustion attendant upon a short conversation could possibly do; perhaps, too, my friend entertained some hope that if by holy confession his patient’s bosom were eased of the perilous stuff, which no doubt, oppressed it, his recovery would be more assured and rapid. It was, then, as I have said, upon the fourth day after my first professional call, that I found myself once more in the dreary chamber of want and sickness. The man was in bed, and appeared low and restless. On my entering the room he raised himself in the bed, and muttered twice or thrice–“Thank God! thank God.” I signed to those of his family who stood by, to leave the room, and took a chair beside the bed. So soon as we were alone, he said, rather doggedly–“There’s no use now in telling me of the sinfulness of bad ways–I know it all–I know where they lead to–I seen everything about it with my own eyesight, as plain as I see you.” He rolled himself in the bed, as if to hide his face in the clothes, and then suddenly raising himself, he exclaimed with startling vehemence–“Look, sir, there is no use in mincing the matter; I’m blasted with the fires of hell; I have been in hell; what do you think of that?–in hell–I’m lost for ever–I have not a chance–I am damned already–damned–damned–.” The end of this sentence he actually shouted; his vehemence was perfectly terrific; he threw himself back, and laughed, and sobbed hysterically. I poured some water into a tea-cup, and gave it to him. After he had swallowed it, I told him if he had anything to communicate, to do so as briefly as he could, and in a manner as little agitating to himself as possible; threatening at the same time, though I had no intention of doing so, to leave him at once, in case he again gave way to such passionate excitement. “It’s only foolishness,” he continued, “for me to try to thank you for coming to such a villain as myself at all; it’s no use for me to wish good to you, or to bless you; for such as me has no blessings to give.” I told him that I had but done my duty, and urged him to proceed to the matter which weighed upon his mind; he then spoke nearly as follows:–“I came in drunk on Friday night last, and got to my bed here, I don’t remember how; sometime in the night, it seemed to me, I wakened, and feeling unasy in myself, I got up out of the bed. I wanted the fresh air, but I would not make a noise to open the window, for fear I’d waken the crathurs. It was very dark, and throublesome to find the door; but at last I did get it, and I groped my way out, and went down as asy as I could. I felt quite sober, and I counted the steps one after another, as I was going down, that I might not stumble at the bottom. When I came to the first landing-place, God be about us always! the floor of it sunk under me, and I went down, down, down, till the senses almost left me. I do not know how long I was falling, but it seemed to me a great while. When I came rightly to myself at last, I was sitting at a great table, near the top of it; and I could not see the end of it, if it had any, it was so far off; and there was men beyond reckoning, sitting down, all along by it, at each side, as far as I could see at all. I did not know at first was it in the open air; but there was a close smothering feel in it, that was not natural, and there was a kind of light that my eyesight never saw before, red and unsteady, and I did not see for a long time where it was coming from, until I looked straight up, and then I seen that it came from great balls of blood-coloured fire, that were rolling high over head with a sort of rushing, trembling sound, and I perceived that they shone on the ribs of a great roof of rock that was arched overhead instead of the sky. When I seen this, scarce knowing what I did, I got up, and I said, ‘I have no right to be here; I must go,’ and the man that was sitting at my left hand, only smiled, and said, ‘sit down again, you can never leave this place,’ and his voice was weaker than any child’s voice I ever heerd, and when he was done speaking he smiled again. Then I spoke out very loud and bold, and I said–‘in the name of God, let me out of this bad place.’ And there was a great man, that I did not see before, sitting at the end of the table that I was near, and he was taller than twelve men, and his face was very proud and terrible to look at, and he stood up and stretched out his hand before him, and when he stood up, all that was there, great and small, bowed down with a sighing sound, and a dread came on my heart, and he looked at me, and I could not speak. I felt I was his own, to do what he liked with, for I knew at once who he was, and he said, ‘if you promise to return, you may depart for a season’; and the voice he spoke with was terrible and mournful, and the echoes of it went rolling and swelling down the endless cave, and mixing with the trembling of the fire overhead; so that, when he sate down, there was a sound after him, all through the place like the roaring of a furnace, and I said, with all the strength I had, ‘I promise to come back; in God’s name let me go,’ and with that I lost the sight and the hearing of all that was there, and when my senses came to me again, I was sitting in the bed with the blood all over me, and you and the rest praying around the room.” Here he paused and wiped away the chill drops of horror which hung upon his forehead.

I remained silent for some moments. The vision which he had just described struck my imagination not a little, for this was long before Vathek and the “Hall of Iblis” had delighted the world; and the description which he gave had, as I received it, all the attractions of novelty beside the impressiveness which always belongs to the narration of an eye-witness, whether in the body or in the spirit, of the scenes which he describes. There was something, too, in the stern horror with which the man related these things, and in the incongruity of his description, with the vulgarly received notions of the great place of punishment, and of its presiding spirit, which struck my mind with awe, almost with fear. At length he said, with an expression of horrible, imploring earnestness, which I shall never forget–“Well, sir, is there any hope; is there any chance at all? or, is my soul pledged and promised away for ever? is it gone out of my power? must I go back to the place?”

In answering him I had no easy task to perform; for however clear might be my internal conviction of the groundlessness of his fears, and however strong my scepticism respecting the reality of what he had described, I nevertheless felt that his impression to the contrary, and his humility and terror resulting from it, might be made available as no mean engines in the work of his conversion from profligacy, and of his restoration to decent habits, and to religious feeling. I therefore told him that he was to regard his dream rather in the light of a warning than in that of a prophecy; that our salvation depended not upon the word or deed of a moment, but upon the habits of a life; that, in fine, if he at once discarded his idle companions and evil habits, and firmly adhered to a sober, industrious, and religious course of life, the powers of darkness might claim his soul in vain, for that there were higher and firmer pledges than human tongue could utter, which promised salvation to him who should repent and lead a new life.

I left him much comforted, and with a promise to return upon the next day. I did so, and found him much more cheerful, and without any remains of the dogged sullenness which I suppose had arisen from his despair. His promises of amendment were given in that tone of deliberate earnestness, which belongs to deep and solemn determination; and it was with no small delight that I observed, after repeated visits, that his good resolutions, so far from failing, did but gather strength by time; and when I saw that man shake off the idle and debauched companions, whose society had for years formed alike his amusement and his ruin, and revive his long discarded habits of industry and sobriety, I said within myself, there is something more in all this than the operation of an idle dream. One day, sometime after his perfect restoration to health, I was surprised on ascending the stairs, for the purpose of visiting this man, to find him busily employed in nailing down some planks upon the landing place, through which, at the commencement of his mysterious vision, it seemed to him that he had sunk. I perceived at once that he was strengthening the floor with a view to securing himself against such a catastrophe, and could scarcely forbear a smile as I bid “God bless his work.”

He perceived my thoughts, I suppose, for he immediately said,

“I can never pass over that floor without trembling. I’d leave this house if I could, but I can’t find another lodging in the town so cheap, and I’ll not take a better till I’ve paid off all my debts, please God; but I could not be asy in my mind till I made it as safe as I could. You’ll hardly believe me, your honor, that while I’m working, maybe a mile away, my heart is in a flutter the whole way back, with the bare thoughts of the two little steps I have to walk upon this bit of a floor. So it’s no wonder, sir, I’d thry to make it sound and firm with any idle timber I have.”

I applauded his resolution to pay off his debts, and the steadiness with which he pursued his plans of conscientious economy, and passed on.

Many months elapsed, and still there appeared no alteration in his resolutions of amendment. He was a good workman, and with his better habits he recovered his former extensive and profitable employment. Every thing seemed to promise comfort and respectability. I have little more to add, and that shall be told quickly. I had one evening met Pat Connell, as he returned from his work, and as usual, after a mutual, and on his side respectful salutation, I spoke a few words of encouragement and approval. I left him industrious, active, healthy–when next I saw him, not three days after, he was a corpse. The circumstances which marked the event of his death were somewhat strange–I might say fearful. The unfortunate man had accidentally met an early friend, just returned, after a long absence, and in a moment of excitement, forgetting everything in the warmth of his joy, he yielded to his urgent invitation to accompany him into a public house, which lay close by the spot where the encounter had taken place. Connell, however, previously to entering the room, had announced his determination to take nothing more than the strictest temperance would warrant. But oh! who can describe the inveterate tenacity with which a drunkard’s habits cling to him through life. He may repent–he may reform–he may look with actual abhorrence upon his past profligacy; but amid all this reformation and compunction, who can tell the moment in which the base and ruinous propensity may not recur, triumphing over resolution, remorse, shame, everything, and prostrating its victim once more in all that is destructive and revolting in that fatal vice.

The wretched man left the place in a state of utter intoxication. He was brought home nearly insensible, and placed in his bed, where he lay in the deep calm lethargy of drunkenness. The younger part of the family retired to rest much after their usual hour; but the poor wife remained up sitting by the fire, too much grieved and shocked at the recurrence of what she had so little expected, to settle to rest; fatigue, however, at length overcame her, and she sunk gradually into an uneasy slumber. She could not tell how long she had remained in this state, when she awakened, and immediately on opening her eyes, she perceived by the faint red light of the smouldering turf embers, two persons, one of whom she recognized as her husband noiselessly gliding out of the room.

“Pat, darling, where are you going?” said she. There was no answer–the door closed after them; but in a moment she was startled and terrified by a loud and heavy crash, as if some ponderous body had been hurled down the stair. Much alarmed, she started up, and going to the head of the staircase, she called repeatedly upon her husband, but in vain. She returned to the room, and with the assistance of her daughter, whom I had occasion to mention before, she succeeded in finding and lighting a candle, with which she hurried again to the head of the staircase. At the bottom lay what seemed to be a bundle of clothes, heaped together, motionless, lifeless–it was her husband. In going down the stairs, for what purpose can never now be known, he had fallen helplessly and violently to the bottom, and coming head foremost, the spine at the neck had been dislocated by the shock, and instant death must have ensued. The body lay upon that landing-place to which his dream had referred. It is scarcely worth endeavouring to clear up a single point in a narrative where all is mystery; yet I could not help suspecting that the second figure which had been seen in the room by Connell’s wife on the night of his death, might have been no other than his own shadow. I suggested this solution of the difficulty; but she told me that the unknown person had been considerably in advance of the other, and on reaching the door, had turned back as if to communicate something to his companion–it was then a mystery. Was the dream verified?–whither had the disembodied spirit sped?–who can say? We know not. But I left the house of death that day in a state of horror which I could not describe. It seemed to me that I was scarce awake. I heard and saw everything as if under the spell of a nightmare. The coincidence was terrible.