"`Ho! ho! ho!' repeated a voice which sounded close behind him.
"Gabriel paused, in some alarm, in the act of raising the wicker bottle to his lips: and looked round. The bottom of the oldest grave about him, was not more still and quiet, than the churchyard in the pale moonlight. The cold hoarfrost glistened on the tombstones, and sparkled like rows of gems, among the stone carvings of the old church. The snow lay hard and crisp upon the ground; and spread over the thickly-strewn mounds of earth so white and smooth a cover that it seemed as if corpses lay there, hidden only by their winding sheets. Not the faintest rustle broke the profound tranquillity of the solemn scene. Sound itself appeared to be frozen up, all was so cold and still.
"`It was the echoes,' said Gabriel Grub, raising the bottle to his lips again.
"`It was not,' said a deep voice.
"Gabriel started up, and stood rooted to the spot with astonishment and terror; for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.
"Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange unearthly figure, whom Gabriel felt at once, was no being of this world. His long fantastic legs which might have reached the ground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantastic fashion; his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on his knees. On his short round body, he wore a close covering, ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled at his back; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served the goblin in lieu of ruff or neckerchief; and his shoes curled up at his toes into long points. On his head, he wore a broad- brimmed sugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather. The hat was covered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he had sat on the same tombstone very comfortably, for two or three hundred years. He was sitting perfectly still; his tongue was put out, as if in derision; and he was grinning at Gabriel Grub with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.
"`It was not the echoes,' said the goblin.
"Gabriel Grub was paralysed, and could make no reply.
"`What do you do here on Christmas eve?' said the goblin sternly.
"`I came to dig a grave, sir,' stammered Gabriel Grub.
"`What man wanders among graves and churchyards on such a night as this?' cried the goblin.
"`Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!' screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard. Gabriel looked fearfully round--nothing was to be seen.
"`What have you got in that bottle?' said the goblin.
"`Hollands, sir,' replied the sexton, trembling more than ever; for he had bought it of the smugglers, and he thought that perhaps his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.
"`Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard, on such a night as this?' said the goblin.
"`Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!' exclaimed the wild voices again.
"The goblin leered maliciously at the terrified sexton, and then raising his voice, exclaimed:
"`And who, then, is our fair and lawful prize?'
"To this inquiry the invisible chorus replied, in a strain that sounded like the voices of many choristers singing to the mighty swell of the old church organ--a strain that seemed borne to the sexton's ears upon
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|