"Tom Pyke and his brother d.i.c.kon, being the only living souls in the house, lay in the big bed in the servants' room, the house being fast barred and locked, one night in November.
"Tom was lying next the wall, and he told me, as wide awake as ever he was at noonday. His brother d.i.c.kon lay outside, and was sound asleep.
"Well, as Tom lay thinking, with his eyes turned toward the door, it opens slowly, and who should come in but old Squire Bowes, his face lookin' as dead as he was in his coffin.
"Tom's very breath left his body; he could not take his eyes off him; and he felt the hair rising up on his head.
"The Squire came to the side of the bed, and put his arms under d.i.c.kon, and lifted the boy--in a dead sleep all the time--and carried him out so, at the door.
"Such was the appearance, to Tom Pyke's eyes, and he was ready to swear to it, anywhere.
"When this happened, the light, wherever it came from, all on a sudden went out, and Tom could not see his own hand before him.
"More dead than alive, he lay till daylight.
"Sure enough his brother d.i.c.kon was gone. No sign of him could he discover about the house; and with some trouble he got a couple of the neighbours to help him to search the woods and grounds. Not a sign of him anywhere.
"At last one of them thought of the island in the lake; the little boat was moored to the old post at the water's edge. In they got, though with small hope of finding him there. Find him, nevertheless, they did, sitting under the big ash tree, quite out of his wits; and to all their questions he answered nothing but one cry--'Bowes, the devil! See him; see him; Bowes, the devil!' An idiot they found him; and so he will be till G.o.d sets all things right. No one could ever get him to sleep under roof-tree more. He wanders from house to house while daylight lasts; and no one cares to lock the harmless creature in the workhouse. And folk would rather not meet him after nightfall, for they think where he is there may be worse things near."
A silence followed Tom's story. He and I were alone in that large room; I was sitting near the open window, looking into the dark night air. I fancied I saw something white move across it; and I heard a sound like low talking that swelled into a discordant shriek--"Hoo-oo-oo! Bowes, the devil! Over your shoulder. Hoo-oo-oo! ha! ha! ha!" I started up, and saw, by the light of the candle with which Tom strode to the window, the wild eyes and blighted face of the idiot, as, with a sudden change of mood, he drew off, whispering and t.i.ttering to himself, and holding up his long fingers, and looking at the tips like a "hand of glory."
Tom pulled down the window. The story and its epilogue were over. I confess I was rather glad when I heard the sound of the horses' hoofs on the court-yard, a few minutes later; and still gladder when, having bidden Tom a kind farewell, I had left the neglected house of Barwyke a mile behind me.
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