26 MayThe Phantom Hand

THE PHANTOM HAND.

I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me away!

In a lonely part of the bleak and rocky coast of Scotland, there dwelt
a being, who was designated by the few who knew and feared him, the
Warlock Fisher. He was, in truth, a singular and a fearful old man.
For years he had followed his dangerous occupation alone; adventuring
forth in weather which appalled the stoutest of the stout hearts that
occasionally exchanged a word with him, in passing to and fro in their
mutual employment. Of his name, birth, or descent, nothing was known;
but the fecundity of conjecture had supplied an unfailing stock of
materiel on these points. Some said he was the devil incarnate;
others said he was a Dutchman, or some other “far-away foreigner,” who
had fled to these comparative solitudes for shelter, from the
retribution due to some grievous crime; and all agreed, that he was
neither a Scot nor a true man. In outward form, however, he was still
“a model of a man,” tall, and well-made; though in years, his natural
strength was far from being abated. His matted black hair, hanging in
elf-locks about his ears and shoulders, together with the perpetual
sullenness which seemed native in the expression of features neither
regular nor pleasing, gave him an appearance unendurably disgusting.
He lived alone, in a hovel of his own construction, partially scooped
out of a rock-was never known to have suffered a visitor within its
walls-to have spoken a kind word, or done a kind action. Once,
indeed, he performed an act which, in a less ominous being, would have
been lauded as the extreme of heroism. In a dreadfully stormy morning,
a fishing-boat was seen in great distress, making for the shore-there
were a father and two sons in it. The danger became imminent, as they
neared the rocky promontory of the fisher-and the boat upset. Women
and boys were screaming and gesticulating from the beach, in all the
wild and useless energy of despair, but assistance was nowhere to be
seen. The father and one of the lads disappeared for ever; but the
younger boy clung, with extraordinary resolution, to the inverted
vessel. By accident, the Warlock Fisher came to the door of his hovel,
saw the drowning lad, and plunged instantaneously into the sea. For
some minutes he was invisible amid the angry turmoil; but he swam like
an inhabitant of that fearful element, and bore the boy in safety to
the beach. From fatigue or fear, or the effects of both united, the
poor lad died shortly afterwards; and his grateful relatives
industriously insisted, that he had been blighted in the grasp of his
unhallowed rescuer!

Towards the end of autumn, the weather frequently becomes so broken
and stormy in these parts, as to render the sustenance derived from
fishing extremely precarious. Against this, however, the Warlock
Fisher was provided; for, caring little for weather, and apparently
less for life, he went out in all seasons, and was known to be absent
for days, during the most violent storms, when every hope of seeing
him again was lost. Still nothing harmed him: he came drifting back
again, the same wayward, unfearing, unhallowed animal. To account for
this, it was understood that he was in connexion with smugglers; that
his days of absence were spent in their service-in reconnoitring for
their safety, and assisting their predations. Whatever of truth there
might be in this, it was well known that the Warlock Fisher never
wanted ardent spirits; and so free was he in their use and of tobacco,
that he has been heard, in a long and dreary winter’s evening,
carolling songs in a strange tongue, with all the fervour of an
inspired bacchanal. It has been said, too, at such times he held
strange talk with some who never answered, deprecated sights which no
one else could see, and exhibited the fury of an outrageous maniac.

It was towards the close of an autumn day, that a tall young man was
seen surveying the barren rocks, and apparently deserted shores, near
the dwelling of the fisher. He wore the inquiring aspect of a
stranger, and yet his step indicated a previous acquaintance with the
scene. The sun was flinging his boldest radiance on the rolling ocean,
as the youth ascended the rugged path which led to the Warlock
Fisher’s hut. He surveyed the door for a moment, as if to be certain
of the spot; and then, with one stroke of his foot, dashed the door
inwards. It was damp and tenantless. The stranger set down his bundle,
kindled a fire, and remained in quiet possession. In a few hours the
fisher returned. He started involuntarily at the sight of the
intruder, who sprang to his feet, ready for any alternative.

“What seek you in my hut?” said the Fisher.

“A shelter for the night-the hawks are out.”

“Who directed you to me?”

“Old acquaintance!”

“Never saw you with my eyes-shiver me! But never mind, you look like
the breed-a ready hand and a light heel, ha! All’s right-tap your
keg!”

No sooner said than done. The keg was broached, and a good brown basin
of double hollands was brimming at the lips of the Warlock Fisher. The
stranger did himself a similar service, and they grew friendly. The
fisher could not avoid placing his hand before his eyes once or twice,
as if wishful to avoid the keen gaze of the stranger, who still plied
the fire with fuel and his host with hollands. Reserve was at length
annihilated, and the fisher jocularly said-

“Well, and so we’re old acquaintance, ha?”

“Ay,” said the young man, with another searching glance. “I was in
doubt at first, but now I’m certain.”

“And what’s to be done?” said the Fisher.

“An hour after midnight you must put me on board —-’s boat, she’ll
be abroad. They’ll run a light to the masthead, for which you’ll
steer. You’re a good hand at the helm in a dark night and a rough
sea,” was the reply.

“How, if I will not?”

“Then-your life or mine!”

They sprang to their feet simultaneously, and an immediate encounter
seemed inevitable.

“Psha!” said the Fisher, sinking on his seat, “what madness this is!
I was a thought warm with the liquor, and the recollections of past
times were rising on my memory. Think nothing of it. I heard those
words once before,” and he ground his teeth in rage-”Yes, once-but
in a shriller voice than your’s! Sometimes, too, the bastard rises to
my view; and then I smite him so-bah! give us another basin-full!” He
stuck short at vacancy, snatched the beverage from the stranger, and
drank it off. “An hour after midnight, said ye?”

“Ay-you’ll see no bastards then!”

“Worse-may be-worse!” muttered the Fisher, sinking into abstraction,
and glaring wildly on the flickering embers before him.

“Why, how’s this?” said the stranger. “Are your senses playing bo-peep
with the ghost of some pigeon-livered coast captain, eh? Come, take
another pull at the keg, to clear your head-lights, and tell us a bit
of your ditty.”

The Fisher took another draught, and proceeded-

“About five-and-twenty years ago, a stranger came to this hut-may the
curse of God annihilate him!-”

“Amen to that,” said the young man.

“He brought with him a boy and a girl, a purse of gold, and —- the
arch fiend’s tongue, to tempt me! Well, it was to take these children
out to sea-upset the boat-and lose them!”-

“And you did so!” interrupted the stranger.

“I tried-but listen. On a fine evening, I took them out: the sun sunk
rapidly, and I knew by the freshening of the breeze, there would be a
storm. I was not mistaken. It came on even faster than I wished. The
children were alarmed-the boy, in particular, grew suspicious; he
insisted that I had an object in going out so far at sun-set. This
irritated me,-and I rose to smite him, when the fair girl interposed
her fragile form between us. She screamed for mercy, and clung to my
arm with the desperation of despair. I could not shake her off! The
boy had the spirit of a man; he seized a piece of spar, and struck me
on the temples. ‘How, you villain!’ said he, ‘your life or mine!’ At
that moment the boat upset, and we were all adrift. The boy I never
saw again-a tremendous sea broke between us-but the wretched girl
clung to me like hate! Damnation!-her dying scream is ringing in my
ears like madness! I struck her on the forehead, and she sank-all but
her hand, one little, white hand would not sink! I threw myself on my
back, and struck at it with both my feet-and then I thought it sunk
for ever. I made the shore with difficulty, for I was stunned and
senseless, and the ocean heaved as if it would have washed away the
mortal world-and the lightnings blazed as if all hell had come to
light the scene of warfare! I have never since been on the sea at
midnight, but that hand has followed or preceded me; I have never
—-.” Here he sank down from his seat, and rolled himself in agony
upon the floor.

“Poor wretch!” muttered the stranger, “what hinders now my long-sought
vengeance? Even with my foot-but thou shalt share my murdered
sister’s grave!”

“A shot is fired-look out for the light!” said the young man.

The Fisher went to the door; but suddenly started back, clasping his
hands before his face.

“Fire and brimstone! there it is again!” he cried.

“What?” said his companion, looking cooly round him.

“That infernal hand! Lightnings blast it!-but that’s impossible,” he
added, in a fearful under-tone, which sounded as if some of the eternal
rocks around him were adding a response to his imprecations-”that’s
impossible! It is a part of them-it has been so for years-darkness
could not shroud it-distance could not separate it from my burning
eye-balls!-awake, it was there-asleep, it flickered and blazed before
me!-it has been my rock a-head through life, and it will herald me to
hell!” So saying, he pressed his sinewy hands upon his face, and buried
his head between his knees, till the rock beneath him seemed to shake
with his uncontrollable agony.

“Again it beckons me!” said he, starting up-”ten thousand fires are
blazing in my heart-in my brain!-where, where can I be worse?
Fiend, I defy thee!”

“I see nothing,” said his companion, with unalterable composure.

“You see nothing!” thundered the Fisher, with mingling sarcasm and
fury-”look there.” He snatched his hand, and pointing steadily into
the gloom, again murmured, “Look there! look there!”

At that moment the lightning blazed around with appalling brilliancy;
and the stranger saw a small white hand, pointing tremulously upwards.

“I saw it there,” said he, “but it is not hers! Infatuated,
abandoned villain.” he continued, with irrepressible energy, “it is
not my sister’s hand-no! it is the incarnate fiend’s who tempted you,
and who now waves you to perdition-begone together!”

He aimed a dreadful blow at the astonished Fisher, who instinctively
avoided the stroke. Mutually wound up to the highest pitch of anger,
they grappled each the other’s throat, set their feet, and strained
for the throw, which was inevitably to bury both in the wild waves
beneath. A faint shriek was heard, and a gibbering, as of many voices,
came fluttering around them.

“Chatter on!” said the Fisher, “he joins you now!”

“Together-it will be together!” said the stranger, as with a last
desperate effort he bent his adversary backward from the betling
cliff. The voice of the Fisher sounded hoarsely in execration, as they
dashed into the sea together; but what he said was drowned in the
hoarser murmur of the uplashing surge! The body of the stranger was
found on the next morning, flung far up on the rocky shore-but that
of the murderer was gone for ever!

The superstitious peasantry of the neighbourhood still consider the
spot as haunted; and at midnight, when the waves dash fitfully against
the perilous crags, and the bleak winds sweep with long and angry moan
around them, they still hear the gibbering voices of the fiends, and
the mortal execrations of the Warlock Fisher!-but, after that fearful
night, no man ever saw THE PHANTOM HAND!-Literary Magnet.

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