dezembro 07, 2012

Northern Lights and other psychic stories by E. D'Espérance 6

Northern Lights and other psychic stories
by E. D'Espérance.

Author of Shadowland

London
George Redway
1899



Pepi

Told by a clairvoyante

He was leaning on the fence, smoking a cigarette, and looking at us as we seated ourselves in the carriage. He nodded, smiled, and exchanged a merry word with Natzi, our coachman, wished us a pleasant journey, and then, just as we drove from the door, he came and tucked in the rug about my feet more securely, lifted his hand to his brow with a military gesture, and smiled again as I thanked him.

"Who is that handsome fellow?" I asked, when out of hearing.

"That is Pepi."

"Oh! Is that Pepi?" I looked back at the handsome figure leaning carelessly against the gate post, blowing little rings of smoke away over his head, for the amusement of the maids who watched him admiringly. The sound of their light laughter reached us till we drove round the corner, and the group was hidden from our eyes and ears.

Pepi was a soldier, had been a soldier a year and a half, and now at Whitsuntide had leave of absence for three whole days.

No wonder there were extra rejoicings in village. It was something to have Pepi home. The fun was no fun at all when he was not there to lead it.

There wasn't a chamois hunter who could boast of his prowess as Pepi could. Why, when he was only eighteen, he had brought back from the Zugspitz three of the finest animals that other hunters had been following for days.

As for Edelweiss, nobody knew so well where it grew as Pepi did, and, even if they had known, there were none so daring as he, or would risk so much to pluck it. Where a chamois could obtain foothold, there was foothold also for Pepi. No one knew t'e mountains as Pepi knew them; no one's eyes so keen or feet so sure; no yodel so prolonged or musical. He would trudge off even when a little lad with his flock of goats to pasture on the green slopes, and then he would yodel away till the mountains echoed again, and visitors to the Alpine villages would stroll out to listen to the music, rendered so sweet and strange by the echoing repetition in the clear sparkling air.

As for dancing, there was not a lad in a dozen villages who could dance the Schuhplattl as Pepi could. When the sound of his wooden sabots was heard on the floor, and the shrill cry, and clapping of hands on the things began, then girls and boys, men and women, old and young, rushed to see, to applaud, and admire, and finally to join in the strange wild dance, leaping, twirling, clapping of hands, of thighs, of shoes, strange cries, crouching, stooping, twisting, turning, then a leap, a stamping of feet, a bird-like cry, and amid shouts of laughter and panting ejaculations of his partners, Pepi would stop and empty his stoup of beer in a draught.

It was not remarkable that he was greatly in request, careless, reckless, merry, good-nature Pepi; the life and soul of all the merry-making, the expedition, and the sports of the young people.

No wonder that Anna Marie, at Whitsuntide, fixed her wedding day so that the feast should be graced with Pepi's handsome face and rich fun. The girls put on their gayest neckerchiefs, and polished up the silver ornaments on their belts and necklaces, and brought out the chains and brooches which had lain by for years.

They were up bright and early to seek the Alp roses to fasten in their gold-trimmed soft felt hats. It was not often nowadays they had the chance of such fun and merriment, for Pepi had been a soldier now a year and more, and there were none like him.

No wonder the girls practised the steps of the Schunplattl so that they might have a chance of dancing with Pepi at the wedding feast, for Pepi was very particular that his partner should not shame him in the dance, and since he had been away in Munich, he had grown quite fastidious about his partners' proficiency and grace.

The Whitsuntide of 1894 had been fuller of enjoyment than most holidays.

First, there had been the grand church festival and procession. Pepi had himself carried the holy crucifix from the church in the village to the church on the hill, chanting the litany as he went, followed by all the boys, girls, young men and maidens, men and women, old and young; up through the long street, out to the open country, up the steep hill, past the twelve stations of the passage of ou Lord, where they rested the crucifix at each one as they passed. The people prayed aloud as they went. Then they entered the church where the priest received the holy emblem from his hands, and blessed the kneeling people.

Then they carried it back to its place in the church, and Pepi and the crowd dispersed.

Then came Anna Marie's wedding, and Pepi had been the one to waken the bride at four o'clock in the morning with a serenade. Then he and his friends had gone to the bridegroom's house, and roused him from his slumbers.

It was Pepi who headed the procession to bring the bride and bridegroom through the village to the church, where the kindly old priest was awaiting them, and who, the ceremony over, led them to the different inns where the people were assembled to congratulate them.

Later it was Pepi sho summoned the guests to eat, and drink, and dance at the feast prepared for the happy pair.

It was Pepi who stole the bride and hid her away, here none of the wedding guests could find her, and when at last tired of seeking, the bridegroom offered a ransom for her recovery. It was Papi who received the payment which was used to supply the merrymakers with the cakes and ale of the village.

Then on the next day when they " played theatre," it was Pepi who was the life and soul of the whole performance.

Now the last day of the holidays was come, and the villages had settled down to their work in the fields, the tending of their flocks of goats and sheep, or the pasturing of the herds of pretty cream and dun cows on the mountain slopes.

Many had already been sent up to the Alms in the mountains for the summer, and as we drove slowly round the foot of the snow-crowned monarchs of the Alpine heights, we met little groups of lads and lasses returning from the Alms, where they had spent their holidays in visiting the pretty "Sennerinen" in their mountain homes. Lonely enough were the inhabitants of these Alms. There was the solitude of the eternal hills, and the silence of the mountain fastnesses, broken only by tinkling of the cowbells, or the rushing of the torrents as they made their way from the snowy peaks that seemed to pierce the blue of heaven, down to the green valley that lay like a jewel at their feet.

The holidays were over and the everyday duties must be taken up; with light hearts or heavy hearts the work must be resumed.

The afternoon had been gloriously fine, and our drive had extended itself beyond our first intention. It was three hours later when we returned to the village, and caught the sound of the tolling of the church bell.

Who can it be, Natzi? Who can be dead? we ask.

"Its is old Bartl, I expect," replied Natzi, "he was dying this morning. The priest carried the holy sacrament to him. He is old and has been long ill. God rest his soul!" and Natzi crossed himself devoutly as he uttered the prayer.

Driving in through the gateway I saw Pepi standing in almost the same spot as when we set off. I noticed him carelessly, and a comical idea crossed my mind that he had been standing there during the three hours of our absence.

He did not come to our assistance as when we left, but that was nothing wonderful. These mountaineers are seldom inclined to do the work of a lackey.

As we passed him he looked up and our eyes met. It was Pepi. There could be no mistake about that. But such a Pepi! God forbid that my eyes may ever again see the face of one of His creatures so distorted with anguish, misery, and helplessness, as were the features that raised themselves to mine.

My heart seemed for an instant to stand still. I leaned forward, his eyes still on my face.

"Look!" I said, grasping the hand of my companion, "what is it with Pepi?"

At the same instant our host, the hôtelier, came to assist in our descent from the carriage.

"What is it with Pepi!" said my friend, repeating my question inquiringly. She had not noticed him with her short-sighted eyes, and wondered at my remark.

Again I eagerly asked, "What is the matter with Pepi?"

"Ah! Gracious lady, such a terrible thing has happened since you left; a calamity so dreadful! Pepi is dead!"

"Pepi dead? why, Pepi is here," I interrupted, glancing round to where he stood, but he was gone. I went to the gate and looked round the corner, but there was no one in sight.

The little group on the veranda stood discussing something, and Natzi was listening with horror-stricken features as he stood by his horse's head.

"Yes," our host was saying, "Pepi is dead."

He want from the gate when we had driven away, he had joined some companions, and they together had gone through the village and up one of the mountain paths, towards a deep gully spanned by a bridge over a waterfall. It is a favourite place of resort on hot summer days, the high cliffs on either side keep out the sun; and the spray of the leaping, tumbling waters, keep the grasses, mosses, and trees of a cool refreshing verdure.

It is not without its dangers, for the narrow footpath winds zigzag up the face of the damp slippery rock, and the bridge which spans the torrent is at a great height, and looks a frail enough foothold, its slender framework of iron looking almost like the work of some clever spider.

Up this slippery footpath had Pepi climbed, followed by his companions. On reaching the bridge, he was the first to cross. Pausing in the middle he shouted to them not to follow. "Boys," he said, "I have overstayed my leave, and I dare not go back." Then he flung himself backwards over the slender rails and disappeared.

Horror-stricken they had rushed down the steep pathway, and there at the foot, crushed among the boulders over which the water was foaming and dashing, lay the crushed, mangled body of handsome, merry, lighthearted Pepi.

Sadly enough they bore him back to the village, but who was to take the news to the poor old father and mother? Who could comfort them?

Pepi had overstayed his leave. He had done it twice before and had been punished. Yet again had the temptation of fun and merry-making been too much for the lighthearted, careless boy, and on awakening to the consciousness that he had again offended against the military laws, and overstayed his leave, he dared not face the punishment and degradation he knew awaited him. He preferred rushing headlong into the Unknown, forgetting all the teaching and lessons of life; forgetting the exhortations of the priest who had  confirmed him, and heard his first confession; forgetting the mother who bore him, loved him, waited for him with anxious heart, urging him to remember his duty; forgetting the father who was so proud of his handsome son's prowess and cleverness; forgetting everything but fact that he had infringed the law and must be punished. And this his proud untamed spirit could not brook. So he took his fate in his own hands, and rushed uncalled for, unprepared, and ignorant, into the other world.

All this I heard repeated over and over again, yet my thoughts circled round and round one fact, and I could not get away from it - Papi was not dead, for I had seen him.

All night long the pale anguished features, and helpless bewildered look in the dark eyes, haunted my couch, and I rose early, unable to sleep.

Descending to the garden, I glanced almost in fear towards the spot where I had seen him last. He was not there, and I began to wonder if the scene had not been after all a part of a dream, conjured up in the night, by the thoughts of the tragedy which had been enacted during the previous afternoon.

Soon came news which almost paralysed the village, and set the people gazing fearfully at one another, not believing their ears. The priest had refused to bury Pepi. All that morning it seemed as if some awful calamity had fallen over the whole village. Everywhere a dull silence reigned. If people spoke it was in hushed whispers. Men neglected their work and sat or stood in silent groups at corners. Women moved noiselessly and tearfully about their household tasks, scarcely daring to look in each other's faces. The church door stood open. Men and women went in and out, and some knelt to pray, while others wandered aimlessly about, or sat on the church steps, their faces bent moodily downwards, and the rosary between their roughened fingers.

Only in one cottage was the sound of wailing that would not be stilled, only one voice that would not silenced, one heart that would not cease to pray for mercy for the soul of the boy she had borne.

Was it not enough to lose the bright happy life that had gladdened the home and hearts, for nearly twenty-three years! But that his soul, the immortal soul, that God had given into his keeping, should be lost for ever, consigned to eternal perdition, to everlasting torment. No! no! she would not be quiet; she could bear to lose her boy, but this she could not bear.

"Gracious Lady! help me, help me."

Sore at heart, with pity for the grief we could not assuage, we left the stricken mother and returned to our home. The tears blinded me as I thought of the agony I had witnessed, and I longed to do something to help, but I was a stranger in a strange land, and an alien in faith and religion. I could do nothing.

I put out my hand to open the gate, and there before me, pale, horror-stricken, agonised, and pleading, was the face of Pepi - Pepi as I had seen him the day before in the same place. But so changed, with a change awful and indescribable. It was only a moment of time, yet in that moment I understood the terror in his face, and knew that he, though no longer in the body, was suffering the torments of hell. He had begun dimly to understand that he had not only disobeyed the command of his superior officer, but in escaping the consequences of his folly, he had broken the law of the Church, and he was afraid of the condemnation of the priest - afraid of everlasting damnation.

Poor, misguided, ignorant soul.

I sprang panting up to my room, and sat down to think. Then I made my way to my friend, and said, "I cannot bear this - let us go to the priest."

So we went.

Poor old man, his trouble was scarcely less than that of the stricken parents, for his was the hand that must deal the crushing blow, and his heart was sore.

"We are strangers, sir," we said; "strangers to your land and your faith, yet the trouble of your flock lays heavy on us also. Can nothing be done to lighten the terrible burden that has fallen on them? Must this thing be?

"My daughter, the Church, says if any man lay violent hands on himself, being of sane mind and whole, the same offends against God, and may not hope for the blessing of the Church. Think if I pass this by lightly, how many of my flock, reckless, careless as he, may follow his terrible example. It is very hard, my daughter. Pepi was my favourite among all the village youth. Yet what can I do? He has offended against the laws of God and the Church."

"But, sir, God has said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' Pepi is beyond the reach of the Church; he is in the hands of God. Do not be harder than He; do not punish the wretched parents, who have done nothing wrong, and who are bowed down with misery. Pepi must suffer for his folly, but let not the punishment fall on the innocent."

It was no difficult matter to plead with the kindly old priest. It was easy to see that the struggle between kindliness and fancied duty was an unequal one, and when we left him, he had promised to "take the question to God and Saints," and ask them for guidance.

All that evening we waited anxiously for news. The same silence weighed over the village, and the same gloomy faces met us at every turn. Evening drew on, and the prayer bell summoned the people to vespers, and they gathered together silently in the church.

The service began, and then, as the old priest lifted up his voice in a prayer for the soul of the dead, it was as if an angel had lifted the burden from their hearts, and the silence was broken. Tears indeed streamed from the eyes of the people, but the gloom was gone. Pepi's soul was saved!

Next morning they buried him. The reaction from the gloomy broodings to the hope of salvation was almost too much, and to me who, watching from my window the funeral procession pass by headed by the priest with bell, book, and candle, and all the praying chanting crowd following, it seemed almost jubilant.

I was glad indeed that the priest had decided to bury the dead Pepi in the consecrated ground with all the ceremonies of the Church; glad for the sake of the miserable parents who had lost their boy; glad for the whole village, for indeed if Pepi's sin had been so great, then there were none of his companions much less guilty, inasmuch they had tempted him to his folly during the past few days.

I was glad for the dead Pepi that he should rest in peace in God's acre. But the living Pepi, what of him? What does he think now of his sin? I would give much to know, yet as I pass the gate where I saw him standing those two dreadful days, I turn my face away, for the memory of that agonised face and pleading eyes rises up again, and I dread to encounter them once more.

Sometimes I wonder if it was any satisfacto him that the church refrained from condemning of the old priest had increased his misery, when he found that, in endeavouring to escape the penalties of his fault, he had only made his punishment greater.

....

Looking down from the verandah this afternoon (Whitsuntide 1896), looking at the blossoms on the chestnut tree just opening their rose and white pyramids to the sky, a hand parted the branches, and a face peered up at me from behind the leafy screen. It was Pepi. Not the palid drawn features of Pepi as I had seen him the two last times. Nor yet the laughing, handsome, merry-faced Pepi, that arranged the rug about my feet that fateful Whitsuntide, now two years agone, -but still it was Pepi.

The despair and agony were gone from his face. Calm and sorrowful it was still, but instead of the pleading terror in the dark eyes, now gleamed a steadfast earnest purpose. No longer the merry, light-hearted, reckless dancer on life's highway, but one has learned that he has thrown away God's greatest gift, the gift of life, and yet must live on, and suffer for his folly.

I am glad I have seen him once more, and seen him as I saw him, for now I can put away the memory of the terror-stricken features, and remember the calm, serious, earnest look of the face which gazed at me from the branches of the flowering chestnut tree; and can think, "Perhaps at last all will be well."



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