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THE ATHEIST.

6 Hermann expects

66

BY THE AUTHOR OF “ The Five Nights OF ST. ALBANS." For Heaven's sake! Frederick, do not go,” exclaimed the terrified Adolphine, holding her brother by the arm to detain hiin.

Why not ?" replied Frederick. “ If Hermann can do his part, I'll be sworn to go through mine."

“ 'Tis unholy ! 'tis hellish ! 'tis an impious daring of the Almighty! And you shall not go,” said Adolphine. “My blood curdles at my heart to think only of what you have said !”

“Why, look you, Adolphine," answered Frederick, laughing, as he disengaged himself gently from the clinging arms of his sister; “ what is it after all ? Hermann says he can raise the dead; and I say, if he can, I am he that will hold a parley with the dead : a conference such as living man ne'er yet had.”

“ Oh, God !" exclaimed Adolphine, covering her eyes with her hands and shuddering as she spoke, “the bare imagination of it is horrible.”

“ Shall I tell you a secret?” continued Frederick. “ I believe Hermann less able to perform his part than I mine."

“ Still, it is sinful mockery—if it be only mockery,” said Adolphine.

The deep heavy bell of the cathedral struck eleven. Frederick starting up, threw his cloak round him, put on his hat, and prepared to quit the house.

“ I have not a moment to play with now," said he. me before twelve, and it is a long walk to where he lives.”

“ Do not, do not go !” exclaimed Adolphine, in a tone of earnest supplication, as she once more flung herself upon his bosom to detain him.

By my faith, but I must. If Hermann have spoken truly, he has ere this gone through pains and torments, to vex the graves which are to yield up their pale inhabitants, for my pleasure, that I dare not trifle with. 'Besides, would he not ever after despise nie as a coward, big of speech but faint of resolution, should I leave to him the boast of having prepared a scene which I was too sick at heart to look upon ? To-morrow, with the dawn, I shall return; and then, Adolphine”

“ And then, it will be time to tell her more, thou loitering babbler,” exclaimed a voice, whose freezing breath fell upon the ear of Frederick like an icy current of keen winter air. He alone heard it. He started and shivered at the mysterious rebuke. The next moment he was on his way to Hermann's dwelling in the mountains, and Adolphine was on her knees, praying fervently for his safety.

Hermann and Frederick were fellow-students in one of the German universities. It matters little what one; as little, when the compact we are describing was made; whether a century, or two centuries ago. It was made -for its history is extant. Hermann, who was older by some years than Frederick, was reputed to be deeply skilled in the lore of necromancy and magic, and to have acquired the fearful power of controlling the spirits of darkness, so as to make them work his will.

Whether he really possessed this power, no one knew, though every one asserted it, and Herman himself did not deny it.

It chanced, on one occasion, when he and Frederick were walking through a churchyard, the latter, who deliglıted in strange, wild fancies, observed, as he paused to survey the tombs around them, “ If a man now could bid these graves yawn, and cast forth their dead, to be questioned of what they once were, and what they are, and they constrained to answer truly whatsoever might be demanded of them-God of Heaven! what marvellous secrets we should learn !"

“ As how ?" inquired Hermann.

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“Oh! think ye not that we should find innocence that had bled upon the scaffold, for unacted crimes ? Murder, and sacrilege, and robbery, and sin of every kind, dying on beds of down, cozening to the last,all but Heaven and a howling conscience? Should we not see hearts broken by secret griefs, that were never told to mortal ears? Fathers and mothers killed by their unnatural children ?—the young and beautiful withered by love's perjuries? poison and steel shortening the years that lay between heirs and their inheritance ? And all these undiscovered villanies smuggled out of the world, with certificates of old age-consumption—apoplexy—from grave physicians who take fees to give names to what they cannot cure ?"

Hermann mused in silence. “ Here,” continued Frederick, planting his foot upon a new-made grave “ here lies one who but yesterday was laid in the earth, perhaps. Imagine I could say to him or her arise—that I could call back speech and memory to the dull clod—that I could hold in my hand, as a book, the heart that has ceased to throb. Should I not read there something which the world had never read, during all the long years it dwelt in it ?”

“ 'Tis an odd fancy,” Frederick," exclaimed Hermann; “ a very odd fancy. Since when has such a notion possessed you?”

“Since my mother died," replied Frederick, emphatically. “ Aud she died”

Oh, ask the doctor. He'll tell you 'twas of atrophy, and prove it by his art. I laughed amid my tears to hear them talk; and then it was I first thought how the dead would answer for themselves."

“ Let us go,” said Hermann; and they quitted the churchyard.

Many times afterwards the two friends discoursed upon this theme, which Hermann could not banish from his thoughts; and one evening, when they were passing through this same churchyard, he thus addressed Frederick :

“Do you remember," said he, “ our conversation here, some months

ago ?

“I do; and our frequent ones since.”

I can perform the thing you wish.” “ Would you were able !" answered Frederick. 6 I can do it." 6 What?” “ Lay open these graves !"

u Pooh !” exclaimed Frederick, laughing. 6 Come along, Hermann; you are making sport of me.”

“ Hear me,” said Hermann, remaining fixed to the spot where he stood. “ I am not, as you imagine, merrily disposed; but I mean to use no persuasion-no argument with you. Simply, and in plain words, I repeat, I can lay these graves open, and command the dust and ashes they contain to take forms of life: even the very shapes they bore when living." « Thou canst do this?"

This, and more. They shall reveal to you those marvellous secrets you spoke of."

“Hermann!" exclaimed Frederick, looking at his friend with an eye that flashed horrible delight. “Hermann! swear that you will do this; swear, by some oath terrible as the thing itself, and I will pawn my soul to the eternal enemy of man for the pledge of my part in it.”

“There needs nor oath nor plight to bind the willing and the bold. I am the first; are you the second ?»

“ Here is my hand. When shall it be?” replied Frederick.
“ We will settle that as we walk along," answered Hermann.

They did settle it; and the night was now come in which Frederick was to be convinced (for he doubted to the last): whether Hermann could really perform this fearful feat of sorcery. He arrived at his house later than the time appointed, in consequence of the delay occasioned by Adolphine's entreaties to forego the meeting altogether; and Hermann was looking out for him. He returned to his room, followed by Frederick.

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“ I had worked for nothing,” said he, angrily, “ had I not gone beyond the need of this night's labour, to break the spell of a fond girl. Are these matters that women should know ? Adolphine is on her knees still, and her prayers have a holiness in them that thwarts and disturbs my purpose. But I can perform–I can perform !” he muttered to himself as he rolled something in the palms of his hands that emitted sparks of a crimson hue, with a loud crackling. “I can-ba! bravely! bravely!” and he increased the rolling motion of his hands; "her eyes close—her head droops—’tis a sound sleep: it will last till the lark sings."

As he uttered these words, his hands unclosed; the palms were of a deep blood-red colour, but there was no visible appearance of any substance that had been rubbed between them.

Frederick remembered the freezing voice that had rebuked him, and no longer doubted of Hermann's power. If he could thus hold communion with the living, why might not the dead be subject to his art ?

The room was lighted by a single taper, which burned thick and duskily, On a table in the middle of it lay several open books, traced with strange characters, and encircled with the skeletons of birds, reptiles, and animals. The appearance of Hermann himself was so strangely altered that Frederick could scarcely recognise him. His face was pallid even to ghastliness; his arms were naked to the elbow; his long black hair knotted; and his tall gaunt figure enveloped in a robe made from the skin of a leopard. The girdle by which it was fastened looked like twisted snakes, for there was a constant heaving and writhing of it about his body.

Frederick noted these things while Hermann was speaking. When he ceased, he said, with an air of gaiety,

“ I like your dress vastly, Hermann; 'tis excellent masquerade; but am not I, too, to be equipped for this great occasion ?

There hangs thy robe," replied Hermann, pointing with his finger.

Frederick started. Was it Hermann that had spoken ? or was it a voice creaked from the bony lungs of death himself? He turned rouud in the direction of the pointed finger. Again he started, recoiling several paces.An arm—an arm merely-joined to no body, was extended behind him, holding a winding-sheet. The flesh was upon it, but livid and in corruption; and there it hung, suspended in mid air, balanced and supported he knew not how, offering him a shroud that had the soil of the grave upon it!

“ There needs nor oath nor plight to bind the willing and the bold,” said Hermann, in the same unearthly tone. 6 I am the first: art thou the second ?"

“ Ay!" responded Frederick; “ thou hast my word, Herman; but—"

“ 'Tis past questioning now," interrupted Hermann. 6 The dead are waiting for us, and we must go. Quick, quick; clothe thyself.”

Frederick rallied from his trepidation, and advancing with a resolute step, plucked the winding-sheet from the spectre hand. At the same moment There was heard a low wailing sound, which continued till he had folded round his creeping flesh the sepulchral garment.

The horrible half-decayed arnı remained. Hermann drew from his bosom a charmed glove, woven of the down that lines the screech-owl's wings. He gave it to Frederick.

That must with us,” said he, pointing to the arm; “ but at the touch of living flesh it would dissolve to putrid jelly: Put on this; grasp it boldly; and all is done till we stand in the churchyard."

Frederick did as he was commanded without uttering a word. He put on the charmed glove; he grasped the arm. It had substance; it was heavy; and so chilling cold that it benumbed his own, as if it were solid ice. His teeth chattered; his body shook; the shroud struck a freezing shudder through his veins; and this seemed to heighten it. He looked at Hermann. He would have spoken, but his lips were rigid; as unapt for motion as the marble lips of a statue.

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“ From this moment until sunrise,” said Hermann,“ you have no power to exchange thoughts but with the dead. You hunger for their secrets; but know you not that the grave is a curtain dropped between two worlds ? He who uplifts it, cannot be of both, save at the price you have to pay.Come !"

Frederick heard this terrible denunciation with an appalled spirit. He determined to renounce his design. He strove to Aling the arm from him.It clung to his hand, as if had been rivetted there with clasps of iron. He endeavoured to tear off the shroud. It seemed to have grown to him; and that it would have been as easy to wrench away his limbs.

Hermann laughed aloud as he repeated Frederick's own words : ‘Swear that you will do this,swear by some oath terrible as the thing itself, and I will pawn my soul to the eternal enemy of man for the pledge of my part in it!”-“ Saidst thou not so? And dost thou quail already ? Summon all that's man in thee for what remains. Come! They who wait for us will grow impatient.

Hermann led the way; Frederick followed with a staggering step. The night was preternaturally dark; it appeared as if they were walking under a thick canopy of black mist, which veiled the heavens from their sight. The path that Hermann took was through the tangled alleys of the forest; a nearer, but more difficult road to the churchyard. He talked, sung, laughed, and acted, the whole way, the part of a man whose spirits were elated by the prospect of a festal meeting. He jeered Frederick ironically upon what he called “his dogged silence :" the forest rang with his laughter at every stumble he made; and he bade him note how nimbly he threaded the narrow paths, though he had nor more nor better eyes than himself. Frederick listened to him with feelings which it were impossible to describe. It was not Hermann he was following—he was sure it was not Hermann—it was some fiend, in Hermann's shape, for Hermann was grave, austere, melancholynever given to gamesome moods; and least of all could Hermann, his friend, his brother almost, exult so like a fiend in the agony of mind he was enduring

They stand beside a grave. Hermann sprinkles upon it a powder, which falls in sparkles of light from his fingers. The earth begins to heave; and presently, as a volcano casts up its ashes, the grave empties itself. Slowly and slowly, like the rippling waves of a becalmed ocean, it rises to the surface, divides, and falls in crumbling heaps on either side. Then there ascends the venerable figure of an aged man, clothed in robes of purple and scarlet, the ensigns of senatorial dignity. At the same moment, the spectre arm, by wondrous motion of its own, rears itself aloft, and becomes a dimlygleaming torch ; each livid finger sending forth pale-red dusky flames, which fling a horrid glare upon the cadaverous features of the phantom.

“ I cannot hold him longer than while thy quickened pulse shall beat a hundred,” said Herman in a whisper. “In that space thou must master what secrets thou wouldst learn.".

“I know thee !” exclamed Frederick, with a faltering voice; “ thou wert the traitor, Wulfstein, who conspired against thy prince's life! I saw the headsman execute justice on thee, thou, to the last, calling Heaven to witness thy innocence : but all men knew thee guilty."

One man knew I was not,” said the phantom ; and a grim smile grew upon his corpse-like face. “ And he

,” rejoined Frederick. “ Shall I name him ?"

" Ay~"

“ Was THY FATHER ! Most foully he shed my blood to save his own !"

The phantom vanished the grave closed—the pale-red dusky flames of the unhallowed torch expired—a yell of exulting voices, as if the fiends of the abyss were triumphing, sounded in the air—and Frederick was again mute. Hermann clapped him on the shoulder, exclaiming, in a tone of taunting bitterness, “ Rare secrets ! brave secrets ! marvellous revelations for the living !

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They stand beside a second grave. The same ceremonies— the same effects: the earth heaves, the sepulchre yawns, the torch of the charnel-house uprears itself, and burns. The resemblance of a fair beautiful youth, with radiant eyes and clustering locks, stands before them.

“ I know thee, too !” exclaimed Frederick, striving in vain to draw down his arm, so that the lurid flame might not glean upon the shape" My brother !"

“ Who died by a brother's hand !"

“ But I was guiltless, I was guiltless, dear Francis !" rejoined Frederick, in a tone of piercing anguish. “My arrow flew at the fierce wolf, when thou, crossing its path, receivedst it in thy heart !”

“Did I upbraid thee for my death, as that heart's blood fell upon thee ? Were not my words words of consolation ? Strove I not to sooth the pangs with which that blameless deed of slaughter filled thee ?"

“ Thou didst—thou didst! Avaunt! Hide thee from mine eyes, or I shall grow mad. Oh ! I sought not this !

“ Think of the wretched misery our mother bore, whilst thou whole days and nights didst suffer her to mourn, in ignorance, my loss ! Think what a stain, even to this hour, lies upon the innocent name of one who lives dishonoured in the suspicion of thy act! Thou canst not redeem the past ; but thou mayst make the future witness of thy tardy justice.”

Frederick had covered his eyes with his hand, unable to look upon this vision. When he withdrew his hand, it was gone. They were again in silence and in darkness; but he heard the voice of Hermann at his side, in the same tone of taunting bitterness, repeating his own words :

“ Thou saidst truly, my friend. Thou hast now read something which the world never read.' Oh, these dead ! how they answer for themselves,' Frederick! 'Tis rare sport to bid them thus arise—to call back speech and memory to the dull clods'—to hold their hearts in our hands, and peruse them as a book !' Truth is not of this world ; and they were fools who looked for her in the bottom of a well: her temple is the grave ! her oracles, dust and ashes !”

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The scene was changed. They stood beneath the ruined porch of the church. The doors flew open with a rattling sound; they entered : the vast edifice was wrapped in impenetrable gloom, except the little circle of dismal light from the horrible torch. They advanced to the altar, the steps of which Hermann ascended alone, silently motioning his companion to remain. He waved his hands over the tall wax tapers that stood upon the table of the altar, when, by some strange spell, blue forked flames decended upon them, and they burned with dim ghastly flashes that shot forth each moment. By this fitful glare, Frederick could perceive all he did and all he looked ; for his aspect was now wild, terrific, demon-like.

He took the sacramental chalice, and stretching forth his bare arm, cried in a loud voice, “ Come, ye viewless ministers of this dread hour! come from the fenny lake, the hanging rock, and the midnight cave! The moon is red -the stars are out-the sky is burning--and all nature stands aghast at what we do!" Then, replacing the sacred vessel on the altar, he drew, one by one, from different parts of his body, from his knotted hair, from his bosom, from beneath his nails, the unholy things which he cast into it.

“ This,” said he, “ I plucked from the beak of a raven, feeding on a murderer's brains! This is the mad dog's foam! These, the spurgings of a dead man's eyes, gathered since the rising of the evening star ! This is a screech-owl's egg ! This a single drop of black blood, squeezed from the heart of a sweltered toad ! . This, an adder's tongue ! And here, ten

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