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Ghosts I have Met and Some Others


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Author Topic: Ghosts I have Met and Some Others  (Read 1132 times)
Keeper of the Seven Keys
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« Reply #120 on: November 03, 2009, 02:28:52 am »

"LONDON, July 18, 18--.

"My Dear Parton,--You once said to me that you could not breathe
easily while this world held Carleton Barker living. You may now
draw an easy breath, and many of them, for the Barker episode is
over. Barker is dead, and I flatter myself that I am doing very well
myself to live sanely after the experiences of this morning.

"About a week after my arrival in England a horrible tragedy was
enacted in the Seven Dials district. A woman was the victim, and a
devil in human form the perpetrator of the crime. The poor creature
was literally hacked to pieces in a manner suggesting the hand of
Jack the Ripper, but in this instance the murderer, unlike Jack, was
caught red-handed, and turned out to be no less a person than
Carleton Barker. He was tried and convicted, and sentenced to be
hanged at twelve o'clock to-day.

"When I heard of Barker's trouble I went, as a matter of curiosity
solely, to the trial, and discovered in the dock the man you and I
had encountered at Keswick. That is to say, he resembled our friend
in every possible respect. If he were not Barker he was the most
perfect imitation of Barker conceivable. Not a feature of our Barker
but was reproduced in this one, even to the name. But he failed to
recognize me. He saw me, I know, because I felt his eyes upon me,
but in trying to return his gaze I quailed utterly before him. I
could not look him in the eye without a feeling of the most deadly
horror, but I did see enough of him to note that he regarded me only
as one of a thousand spectators who had flocked into the court-room
during the progress of the trial. If it were our Barker who sat
there his dissemblance was remarkable. So coldly did he look at me
that I began to doubt if he really were the man we had met; but the
events of this morning have changed my mind utterly on that point.
He was the one we had met, and I am now convinced that his story to
me of his double was purely fictitious, and that from beginning to
end there has been but one Barker.

"The trial was a speedy one. There was nothing to be said in behalf
of the prisoner, and within five days of his arraignment he was
convicted and sentenced to the extreme penalty--that of hanging--and
noon to-day was the hour appointed for the execution. I was to have
gone to Richmond to-day by coach, but since Barker's trial I have
been in a measure depressed. I have grown to dislike the man as
thoroughly as did you, and yet I was very much affected by the
thought that he was finally to meet death upon the scaffold. I could
not bring myself to participate in any pleasures on the day of his
execution, and in consequence I gave up my Richmond journey and
remained all morning in my lodgings trying to read. It was a
miserable effort. I could not concentrate my mind upon my book--no
book could have held the slightest part of my attention at that
time. My thoughts were all for Carleton Barker, and I doubt if, when
the clock hands pointed to half after eleven, Barker himself was
more apprehensive over what was to come than I. I found myself
holding my watch in my hand, gazing at the dial and counting the
seconds which must intervene before the last dreadful scene of a
life of crime. I would rise from my chair and pace my room nervously
for a few minutes; then I would throw myself into my chair again and
stare at my watch. This went on nearly all the morning--in fact,
until ten minutes before twelve, when there came a slight knock at
my door. I put aside my nervousness as well as I could, and, walking
to the door, opened it.

"I wonder that I have nerve to write of it, Parton, but there upon
the threshold, clad in the deepest black, his face pallid as the
head of death itself and his hands shaking like those of a palsied
man, stood no less a person than Carleton Barker!

"I staggered back in amazement and he followed me, closing the door
and locking it behind him.

"'What would you do?' I cried, regarding his act with alarm, for,
candidly, I was almost abject with fear.

"'Nothing--to you!' he said. 'You have been as far as you could be
my friend. The other, your companion of Keswick'--meaning you, of
course--'was my enemy.'

"I was glad you were not with us, my dear Parton. I should have
trembled for your safety.

"'How have you managed to escape?' I asked.

"'I have not escaped,' returned Barker. 'But I soon shall be free
from my accursed double.'

"Here he gave an unearthly laugh and pointed to the clock.

"'Ha, ha!' he cried. 'Five minutes more--five minutes more and I
shall be free.'

"'Then the man in the dock was not you?' I asked.

"'The man in the dock,' he answered, slowly, 'is even now mounting
the gallows, whilst I stand here.'

"He trembled a little as he spoke, and lurched forward like a
drunken man; but he soon recovered himself, grasping the back of my
chair convulsively with his long white fingers.

"'In two minutes more,' he whispered, 'the rope will be adjusted
about his neck; the black cap is even now being drawn over his
cursed features, and--'

"Here he shrieked with laughter, and, rushing to the window, thrust
his head out and literally sucked the air into his lungs, as a man
with a parched throat would have drank water. Then he turned and,
tottering back to my side, hoarsely demanded some brandy.

"It was fortunately at hand, and precisely as the big bells in
Westminster began to sound the hour of noon, he caught up the goblet
and held it aloft.

"'To him!' he cried.

"And then, Parton, standing before me in my lodgings, as truly as I
write, he remained fixed and rigid until the twelfth stroke of the
bells sounded, when he literally faded from my sight, and the
goblet, falling to the floor, was shattered into countless atoms!"

THE END




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