The Sacrilegious Gamesters.
By Eliza Cook.
A stranger journeyed through the town one dark and wintry night,
And as he passed the ivied church he marked a Hitting light.
It shed a restless, waving gleam through the Gothic window-pane,
And now it vanished for a space, and now it came again.
He stood and thought it wondrous strange that such a scene should be,
He stood, and now" the full, red beam shone strong and steadily.
He looked around-all else was dark, not e'en a star was left;
The townsmen slumbered, and he thought of sacrilege and theft.
He roused two sleepers from their beds, and told what he had seen,
And they, like him, were curious to know what it should mean.
They hied together to the church, and heard strange sounds within
of undistinguishable words, And laughter's noisy din.
The window is high; a ladder-quick-'tis placed with stealthy care.
And one ascends-he looks below, oh, what a sight is there!
The white communion-cloth is spread with cards and dice and wine,
The flaming wax-lights glare around, the gilded sconces shine.
And three of earthly form have made the alter-rail their seat,
With the Bible and the books of prayer as footstools for their feet.
Three men. with flashing, bloodshot eyes and burning, fevered browi,
I Have met within those holy walls to gamble and carouse.
But the darkest work is not yet told: another guest is there,
With the earthworm trailing o'er his cheek to hide in his matted hair.
He lifted not the foaming cup, he moved not in his place;
There was slime upon his livid lips, and dust upon his face.
The foldings of a winding-sheet his body wrapped around,
And many a stain the vestment bore of clay from the charnel ground.
A rent appeared, where his withered hands fell out on the sacred board,
I And between those hands a goblet stood, in which bright wine was poured.
Oh! he was not like the other three, but ghastly, foul, and cold,
He was seated there, a stiffened corpse, all horrid to behold.
I He had been their mate for many a year, their partner many a game,
he had shared alike their ill-got gold, And their deeply-tarnished fame.
He had died in the midst of his career, as the sinful ever die.
Without one prayer from a good man's heart, one tear from a good man's eye.
He had died a guilty one. unblessed, unwept, unmourned by all.
And scarce a footstep ever bent to his grave by the old church wall.
I The other three had met that night, and reveled in drunken glee,
And talked of him who a mouth ago formed one of their company.
They quaffed another brimming glass, and a noisy oath they swore,
That be who had joined their game so oft should join their game once more.
And away they strode to the old church wall, treading o'er skull and tomb,
And dragged him out triumphantly, in the midnight, murky gloom.
They carry him down the chancel porch and through the fretted aisle,
And many a heartless, fiendish laugh is heard to ring the while.
They place him at the hallowed shrine, they call upon his name,
They bid him wake to life again, And play his olden game.
They deal the cards; the ribald jest and pealing laugh ring on,
A stroke-a start-the echoing clock proclaims the hour of one.
And two of the three laugh louder still, but the third stares wildly round-
He drops the cards as if his hand were palsied at the sound.
His cheeks have lost their deepened flush, his lips are of paler hue,
And fear hath fallen on the heart of the youngest of that crew.
His soul is not yet firmly bound in the fetters of reckless sin,
Depravity hath not yet wrought its total work within.
The strong potation of the night drowned all that might remain
Of feeling, And his hand shrunk not while madness fired his brain.
But now the charm hath lost its spell, the heated fumes have passed;
And banished reason, to her throne usurped, advances fast.
He rises-staggers-looks again upon the shrouded dead;
A shudder steals upon his frame, his vaunted strength is fled.
He doubts-he dreams-can, can it be? a mist is o'er his eyes;
He stands aghast. "Oh! what is this? where? where?" he wildly cries.
"Where am I?-see the alter-piece-the Holy Bible. Say-
Is this the place where I was brought a tiny boy to pray?
"The church-the churchyard too-I know I have been there to-night;
For what? Ha! mercy! see that corpse! oh! hide me from the light!
"I have been deemed a profligate, a gamester, and a knave,
But ne'er was known to scoff at God or violate the grave.
"I've long been what man should not be, but not what I am now.
Oh! help me! help! My tongue is parched! There's fire upon my brow!
"Oh! save me! hide me from myself! I feel my pulses start;
The horror of this drunken crime hath fixed upon my heart.
"Again I feel the rushing blood! I die! the unforgiven!
Again it comes! all-all is dark-I choke- Oh! mercy, Heaven!"
One struggling groan-he reels-he falls- on the altar-steps he lies;
And the others gasp with fear, for now two corpses meet their eyes.