Man-size in Marble (2)
I walked up and down. Everything was silent. The wind was so high in the sky even the dead leaves on the path were still and quiet. Across the fields I could see the church tower standing black against the sky. I heard the church bell striking. It was eleven o'clock already.
I turned to go into the cottage, but the night held me. I couldn't go back into our warm rooms just yet. I decided to walk over to the church. I felt in a strange way I should offer up my thanks there for my faithful, loving wife. I imagined then our long, sweet life together.
As I walked slowly along the edge of the wood a sound from among the trees broke the stillness of the night. I could clearly hear footsteps that echoed mine. 'It's probably a villager looking for fallen branches for their fire, or hoping to catch some forest animal under cover of darkness,' I thought. 'But he really should learn to step more lightly.'
I turned into the wood. Now the footsteps seemed to come from the path behind me. 'It must be an echo,' I said to myself.
Soon I was crossing the churchyard. I stopped for a while at the seat where Laura and I had watched the sun go down. Then I saw the church door was open. I felt bad about not closing it well on our last visit, for we were the only people who came there except on Sundays. Then, suddenly, I remembered this was the day and the hour when the villagers believed 'the shapes in man-size marble' began to walk.
I knew I had to go into the church. I planned to tell Mrs Dorman I'd seen the knights there at eleven o'clock on Halloween and that her tale was just a crazy story, nothing more. When I walked inside, everything was in darkness.
As I went towards the eastern end of the church it seemed strangely larger. Then the moon came out and showed me the reason. The man-size marble bodies were gone!
Was I going crazy? I went forward and put my hand out to touch the flat tops of the tombs. Had someone stolen them? A sudden nameless fear filled my heart, and I shivered. Something unbelievably evil was going to happen, I knew. I ran from the church, biting my lip to stop myself from screaming.
I hurried across the fields towards the light that shone from our cottage window. Suddenly a black figure jumped out of the blackness in front of me. I ran towards it crazily, shouting, 'Get out of my way!'
But a hand took my arm and held it strongly. The big Irish doctor shook me repeatedly.
'Hey, there,' he cried.
'Let me go,' I shouted. 'You don't understand! The marble figures have gone from the church!'
He laughed long and loud at that. 'You've been listening to too many old village tales,' he said.
'I've seen the empty tombs, I tell you,'
'Look, come with me. I'm going over to old Palmer's. His daughter's ill. We can stop at the church on the way and you can show me what you think you saw.'
'All right,' I said.
He still held my arm as we entered the church and walked to the eastern end of it. I had my eyes closed. I knew that the figures wouldn't be there. I heard Kelly strike a match.
'Here they are,' said the doctor. 'As large as life.'
I opened my eyes and by the light of Kelly's match I saw the two shapes lying 'in their marble' on the tombs.
'Thank you,' I said. 'Perhaps it was a trick of the light, or perhaps I've been working too hard. I can't understand it. I was sure they were gone.'
'I know. Just don't let your thoughts run away with you.'
He was looking closely at the figure on the right, whose stony face was the most evil and deadly.
'Will you look at that!' he said, pointing. 'The hand on this one's broken.'
He was right, but I was sure that the last time Laura and I had been there it had been perfect.
'Perhaps someone was trying to steal them,' he said calmly.
'That still doesn't explain what I thought I saw.'
'Too much painting and too much of your old pipe explains that,' he laughed.
'Let's go,' I said, feeling a little better. 'My wife will be worried. Come and have a glass of whisky with me. We'll drink to logical explanations, and to hell with ghosts.'
'All right. It's late. I'll go to old Palmer's in the morning,' he replied. Perhaps he thought that I needed his help more than Palmer's daughter.
So, talking of different explanations for ghosts, we walked back to our cottage, As we came nearer I saw the light shining out of the front door. The sitting room door was open, too. Had Laura gone out?
'Come in,' I said, and Dr Kelly followed me into the sitting room. It was brightly lit by candles all over the place. Light, I remembered, was Laura's answer to nervousness. Poor girl, I thought. I'd been so stupid to leave her. But where was she?
Then I turned to the open window and saw her. Had she gone there to watch for me? And what had come into the room behind her? To what had she turned with her face full of horror? My poor wife! Had she thought it was my footsteps she'd heard as she turned to meet - what?
She'd fallen back across a table by the window, and her body lay half on it and half on the window seat. Her head was thrown back, her long untied hair was touching the carpet. Her lips were pulled back from her teeth and her eyes were wide open in fear. They saw nothing now. What had they seen last?
The doctor moved towards her, but I pushed him to one side and ran to her, crying, 'It's all right, Laura. You're safe now.'
Her soft body fell against mine. I held her and kissed her, calling her dear name again and again, but I think I knew already that she was dead.
Both her hands were closed. In one of them she held something very strongly. When I was quite sure she was dead, and that nothing mattered any more, I let Doctor Kelly open that hand to see what it held.
It was a grey marble finger.
- THE END -