I paused not to question the Devil's suggestion,
But o'er the cliff, headlong, the living was thrown;
A scream and a plashing, a foam and a flashing,
And the smothering water accomplish'd his slaughter,
All was silent, and I was alone!
With heart-thrilling spasm I leant o'er the chasm;
There was blood on the wave that closed o'er his head,
And in bubbles his breath, as he struggled with death,
Rose up to the surface. I shudder'd and fled.
With footsteps that stagger'd and countenance haggard,
I stole to my dwelling, bewilder'd, dismay'd,
Till whisperings stealthy said---"Psha! he was wealthy,
Thou'rt his heir---no one saw thee---then be not afraid."
I summon'd the neighbours, I join'd in their labours,
We sought for the missing by day and by night;
We ransack'd each single height, hollow, or dingle,
Till shoreward we wended, when starkly extended,
His corpse lay before us---Oh God! what a sight!
And yet was there nothing for terror or loathing.
The blood had been wash'd from his face and his clothing,
But by no language, no pen, his life-like wide open
Eyes can be painted;---
They stared at me, flared at me, angrily glared at me,
I felt murder-attainted;
Yet my guilty commotion seem'd truth and devotion,
When I shudder'd and fainted.
No hint finds emission that breathes of suspicion,
None dare utter a sound when an inquest has found
His death accidental;
Whence then and wherefore, having nothing to care for,
These agonies mental?
Why grieve and why sicken, frame-wither'd, soul-stricken?
Age-paralysed, sickly, he must have died quickly,
Each day brought some new ill;
Why leave him to languish and struggle with anguish,
The deed that relieved him from all that aggrieved him,
Was kindly, not cruel.
In procession extended a funeral splendid,
With banner'd displays and escutcheons emblazon'd,
To church slowly pass'd,
When a dread apparition astounded my vision;
Like an aspen leaf shaking, dumfounded and quaking,
I stood all aghast!
From its nail'd coffin prison the corpse had arisen,
And in all its shroud vesture, with menacing gesture,
And eye-balls that stared at me, flared at me, glared at me,
It pointed---it flouted its slayer, and shouted
In accents that thrill'd me,
"That ruthless dissembler, that guilt-stricken trembler,
Is the villain who kill'd me!"
'Twas fancy's creation---mere hallucination---
A lucky delusion, for again my confusion,
Guilt's evidence sinister, seem'd to people and minister
The painful achievement of grief and bereavement.
Then why these probations, these self-condemnations
Incessant and fearful?
Some with impunity snatch opportunity,
Slay---and exult in concealment's immunity;
Free from forebodings and heartfelt corrodings,
They fear no disclosure, no public exposure,
And sleeping unhaunted, and waking undaunted,
Live happy and cheerful.
To 'scape the ideal let me dwell on the real,
I, a pauper so lately,
In abundance possessing life's every blessing,
Fine steeds in my stable, rare wines on my table,
Servants dress'd gaily, choice banquets daily,
A wife fond and beautiful, children most dutiful,
I, a pauper so lately, live rich and greatly,
In a mansion-house stately.
Life's blessings? O liar! all are curses most dire,
In the midst of my revels,
His eyes ever stare at me, flare at me, glare at me,
Before me when treading my manors outspreading,
There yawns an abysmal cliff precipice dismal.
Isolation has vanish'd, all silence is banish'd,
Where'er I immew me his death shrieks pursue me,
I am hunted by devils.
My wine clear and ruddy seems turbid and bloody,
I cannot quaff water:---recalling his slaughter,
My terror it doubles---'tis beaded with bubbles,
Each fill'd with his breath,
And in every glass each hisses---"Assassin!
My curse shall affright thee, haunt, harrow, and blight thee
In life and in death!"
My daughters, their mother, contend with each other
Who shall show most affection, best soothe my dejection:
Revolting endearments! their garments seem cerements,
And I shudder with loathing at their grave-tainted clothing.
Home and the mercies
That to others are dearest, to me are the drearest
And deadliest curses.
When free from this error I thrill with the terror,
(Thought horrid to dwell on!)
That the wretch whom they cherish may shamefully perish,
Be publicly gibbetted, branded, exhibited,
As a murderous felon!
O punishment hellish! the house I embellish
From centre to corner upbraids its adorner,---
A door's lowest creaking swells into a shrieking,
Against me each column bears evidence solemn,
Each statue's a Nemesis.
They follow, infest me, they strive to arrest me,
Till in terrified sadness that verges on madness,
I rush from the premises.
The country's amenity brings no serenity.
Each rural sound seeming a menace or screaming,
There is not a bird or beast but cries---"Murder!
There goes the offender!
Dog him, waylay him, encompass him, stay him,
And make him surrender!"
My flower-beds splendid seem eyes blood-distended,
His eyes, ever flaring, and staring, and glaring!
I turn from them quickly, but phantoms more sickly
Drive me hither and thither.
I would forfeit most gladly wealth stolen so madly,
Quitting grandeur and revelry to fly from this devilry,
But whither---O whither?
Hence idle delusions! hence fears and confusions!
Not a single friend's severance lessens men's reverence,
No neighbour of rank quits my sumptuous banquets
Without lauding their donor;
Throughout the wide county I'm famed for my bounty,
All hold me in honour.
Let the dotard and craven by fear be enslaven.
They have vanish'd! How fast fly these images ghastly,
When in firm self-reliance,
You determine on treating the brain's sickly cheating,
With scorn and defiance!
Ha ha! I am fearless henceforward and tearless,
No coinage of fancy, no dream's necromancy
Shall sadden and darken---God help me!---hist---harken!
'Tis the shriek soul-appalling he utter'd when falling!
By day thus affrighted, 'tis worse when benighted;
With the clock's midnight boom, from the church on his tomb,
There comes a sharp screaming too fearful for dreaming;
Bone fingers unholy draw the foot curtains slowly,
O God! how they stare at me, flare at me, glare at me,
Those eyes of a Gorgon!
Beneath the clothes sinking with shuddering shrinking,
A mental orgasm and bodily spasm
Convulse every organ.
Nerves a thousand times stronger could bear it no longer.
Grief, sickness, compunction, dismay in conjunction,
Nights and days ghost-prolific, more grim and terrific
Than judges and juries,
Make the heart writhe and falter more than gibbet and halter.
Arrest me, secure me, seize, handcuff, immure me!
I own my transgression---will make full confession,
Quick---quick! Let me plunge in some dark-vaulted dungeon,
Where, tho' tried and death-fated, I may not be baited
By devils and furies!
Horace Smith, The Poetical Works, 1846