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But the Usher sat remote from all,
A melancholy man!
His hat was off, his vest apart,
To catch heaven's blessed breeze; For a burning thought was in his brow,
And his bosom ill at ease:
So he leaned his head on his hands, and read
The book between his knees!
Leaf after leaf he turned it o'er,
Nor ever glanced aside,
For the peace of his soul he read that book
In the golden eventide :
Much study had made him very lean,
At last he shut the ponderous tome,
Then leaping on his feet upright,
And past a shady nook,
And lo! he saw a little boy
That pored upon a book.
"My gentle lad, what is't you read
Romance or fairy fable?
Or is it some historic page,
Of kings and crowns unstable?"
The young boy gave an upward glance,"It is the Death of Abel.'"
The usher took six hasty strides,
And down he sat beside the lad,
And, long since then, of bloody men,
Of lonely folk cut off unseen,
And how the sprites of injured men
And unknown facts of guilty acts
Are seen in dreams from God!
He told how murderers walk the earth Beneath the curse of Cain,
With crimson clouds before their eyes, And flames before their brain:
For blood has left upon their souls
Its everlasting stain!
"And well," quoth he, "I know for truth,
Their pangs must be extreme,
Woe, woe, unutterable woe,
Who spill life's sacred stream!
For why? Methought, last night, I wrought A murder, in a dream!
"One that had never done me wrong,
A feeble man and old;
I led him to a lonely field,
The moon shone clear and cold:
Now here, said I, this man shall die,
"Two sudden blows with a rugged stick,
One hurried gash with a hasty knife,--
"Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,
And yet I feared him all the more,
There was a manhood in his look
That murder could not kill!
"And lo! the universal air
Seemed lit with ghastly flame ;Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes Were looking down in blame:
I took the dead man by his hand,
And called upon his name!
"Oh God! it made me quake to see
Such sense within the slain !
But when I touched the lifeless clay,
"My head was like an ardent coal,
My wretched, wretched soul, I knew
A dozen times I groaned; the dead
"And now, from forth the frowning sky, From the Heaven's topmost height,
I heard a voice-the awful voice
Of the blood-avenging sprite :
'Thou guilty man! take up thy dead,
"I took the dreary body up,
"Down went the corse with a hollow plunge,
And vanished in the pool;
Anon I cleansed my bloody hands,
And washed my forehead cool,
And sat among the urchins young,
"Oh, Heaven! to think of their white souls,
And mine so black and grim!
I could not share in childish prayer,
Nor join in evening hymn : Like a devil of the pit I seemed
'Mid holy Cherubim ?
"And peace went with them, one and all,
But Guilt was my grim chamberlain
And drew my midnight curtains round,
With fingers bloody-red!
"All night I lay in agony,
In anguish dark and deep:
My fevered eyes I dared not close,
For Sin had rendered unto her
"All night I lay in agony,
From weary chime to chime, With one besetting horrid hint That racked me all the time; A mighty yearning, like the first Fierce impulse unto crime!
"One stern tyrannic thought, that made
Did that temptation crave,—
The dead man in his grave.