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Steve Savage Publishers Ltd
CoverThe Nebuly Coat

John Meade Falkner
sample extract...

There was a rush of outer air into the building as they opened the door. The rain still fell heavily, but the wind was rising, and had in it a clean salt smell, that contrasted with the close and mouldering atmosphere of the church.

The organist drew a deep breath.

'Ah,' he said, 'what a blessed thing to be in the open air again -- to be quit of all their niggling and naggling, to be quit of that pompous old fool the Rector, and of that hypocrite Joliffe, and of that pedant of a doctor! Why does he want to waste money on cementing the vaults? It's only digging up pestilences; and they won't spend a farthing on the organ. Not a penny on the Father Smith, clear and sweet-voiced as a mountain brook. Oh,' he cried, 'it's too bad! The naturals are worn down to the quick, you can see the wood in the gutters of the keys, and the pedal-board's too short and all to pieces. Ah well! the organ's like me -- old, neglected, worn out. I wish I was dead.' He had been talking half to himself, but he turned to Westray and said: 'Forgive me for being peevish; you'll be peevish too, when you come to my age -- at least, if you're as poor then as I am, and as lonely, and have nothing to look forward to. Come along.'

They stepped out into the dark -- for night had fallen -- and plashed along the flagged path which glimmered like a white streamlet between the dark turves.

'I will take you a short-cut, if you don't mind some badly-lighted lanes,' said the organist, as they left the churchyard; 'it's quicker, and we shall get more shelter.' He turned sharply to the left, and plunged into an alley so narrow and dark that Westray could not keep up with him, and fumbled anxiously in the obscurity. The little man reached up and took him by the arm. 'Let me pilot you,' he said; 'I know the way. You can walk straight on; there are no steps.'

There was no sign of life, nor any light in the houses, but it was not till they reached a corner where an isolated lamp cast a wan and uncertain light that Westray saw that there was no glass in the windows, and that the houses were deserted.

'It's the old part of the town,' said the organist; 'there isn't one house in ten with anyone in it now. All we fashionables have moved farther up. Airs from the river are damp, you know, and wharves so very vulgar.'

They left the narrow street, and came on to what Westray made out to be a long wharf skirting the river. On the right stood abandoned warehouses, square-fronted, and huddled together like a row of gigantic packing-cases; on the left they could hear the gurgle of the current among the mooring-posts, and the flapping of the water against the quay wall, where the east wind drove the wavelets up the river. The lines of what had once been a horse tramway still ran along the quay, and the pair had some ado to thread their way without tripping, till a low building on the right broke the line of lofty warehouses. It seemed to be a church or chapel, having mullioned windows with stone tracery, and a bell-turret at the west end; but its most marked feature was a row of heavy buttresses which shored up the side facing the road. They were built of brick, and formed triangles with the ground and the wall which they supported. The shadows hung heavy under the building, but where all else was black the recesses between the buttresses were blackest. Westray felt his companion's hand tighten on his arm.

'You will think me as great a coward as I am,' said the organist, 'if I tell you that I never come this way after dark, and should not have come here tonight if I had not had you with me. I was always frightened as a boy at the very darkness in the spaces between the buttresses, and I have never got over it. I used to think that devils and hobgoblins lurked in those cavernous depths, and now I fancy evil men may be hiding in the blackness, all ready to spring out and strangle one. It is a lonely place, this old wharf, and after nightfall --' He broke off, and clutched Westray's arm. 'Look,' he said; 'do you see nothing in the last recess?'

His abruptness made Westray shiver involuntarily, and for a moment the architect fancied that he discerned the figure of a man standing in the shadow of the end buttress. But, as he took a few steps nearer, he saw that he had been deceived by a shadow, and that the space was empty.