Sweet Child O'Mine
Yeverlee Castle in Cornwall was not large, but it was very old and looked very impressive, in its wind-swept, desolate way, perched on the cliff-tops above the deep-blue Cornish sea. To the east was the village of Leeford at the foot of the cliff, and beyond it the rolling granite hills, for miles and miles of gorse and heather, feral sheep and feral ponies, before there was another house or farm or village. Somewhere to the west was America. And above it all, carved out of the same black Cornish granite as the cliffs, grim and proud and impregnable, perched Yeverlee.
The castle and the village had belonged to the Nashby family since the Conquest, who had ruled it with a rod of iron, being thinned off over the centuries with the usual afflictions of the English aristocracy—war, rebellion, murder, suicide, hunting accidents, hunting "accidents", grisly executions—and who were finally wiped out at Naseby. Whatever scandals and horrors the Nashbys caused in their lifetime, they sleep peacefully now beneath the Cornish soil.
Yeverlee was put up for sale after the Restoration, King Charles having no interest in such a bleak Mediaeval fortress, and bought by the infamous pirate, brigand and—so the young ladies would say—misunderstood angel Robin Jackson. The excise men along the South Coast, and many Arab coasters and Spanish cargo ships called him other things—vicious devil and a whoreson thug—and they should know, for they knew him well.
Rumour had it he was a shepherd's son from Bodmin Moor, but no one knew for sure, for the first the wider public heard of him it was when as a mere boy, he bought his own ship, the Go and Ask Her, and captured and plundered the Santa Teresa of Spain, lining his pockets with gold, leaving a trial of dead men behind him and decapitating the captain with his own pocket knife. From these beginnings, he went decidedly to the worse. He sank the British navy's pride and joy, the Unconquerable, he held up the whole port of Tangier for a day and a night, he ran the Mayor of Portsmouth through on his own doorstep. He had been to Canada, to India, round Africa, and of course to that piratical Paradise, the Caribbean.
And had he found, in one of these far-flung harbours, a soul-mate to bring his plunder home to? A Rani, said some. A princess of Persia, said others. A Spanish countess. Nobody, secretly hoped the young ladies of respectable back-ground, he's waiting for me to give him the love he deserves and show him the errors of his ways… No one knew for certain.
He bought Yeverlee while still a young man, with the hope of having somewhere to retire to one day, when he was too old for the sea, and his eye was too dim for his musket and his heart ached for the green hills of England again. And he wanted somewhere to raise the little blue-eyed baby he brought with him, some said the product of his liaison with the Rani (or the princess of Persia, or the countess), some said the daughter of a man he'd killed whom he'd brought home to raise as his own as a debt of honour. His jewel, his angel, his Eliza Jane.
And off he went on his travels, leaving Eliza Jane to the green hills of England and a farm-hand's wife, Agnes. He returned, every year or so, bearing gifts from far away, a little carved ivory elephant, a silver necklace from the Spanish Main, a pink silk scarf.
So seven or eight years passed. Eliza Jane grew into a strong, healthy, happy little girl. She laughed at the piglets running around the back-yard, fed the lambs, raised a baby squirrel all of her very own, wandered off by herself up the steep, rocky hill-sides where the wind blew fierce to paddle in the streams and pick wild flowers. If anyone asked, she said Robin was a sailor, that he travelled the world and was bringing her up to be a real lady, fit to marry a gentleman someday. And as, strictly speaking, this was not untrue, no one cared to clarify Robin's profession to her.
Not even Robin's sworn enemy, Farrell the excise man. He satisfied himself with watching for Robin in the all the harbours in the neighbourhood, pacing the cliffs with his telescope for any glimpse of the Go and Ask Her, hunting for him over the hills with hounds when he heard rumour that he was in Cornwall. Farrell had been an excise man since he was seventeen, and a damn good one. He had always caught his man. All but Robin Jackson.
Then Robin returned—home for good this time, they said, to become a country gentleman and raise horses and cows— and he was careless. His last hurrah was the merchant-man Adventuress, returning from India, right in Plymouth harbour, boarded her, plundered her and in the wild fight that followed, killed ten men and left half a dozen wounded. All as the sleek new warship Everlasting, on her maiden voyage from London to Canada arrived in Plymouth harbour and dealt the Go and Ask Her a devastating broad-side from her mounted guns. The Go and Ask Her, taken unawares, reeled round, keeled over, groaned in pain and foundered. Robin Jackson barely escaped with his life and a dozen ingots of solid virgin gold. In his shirt was his present for Eliza Jane, a carved rose-wood bird, for Eliza Jane's presents were more precious to him than anything else and he wouldn't part from them breathing.
He set off for Yeverlee over the moors, and an angry man and a desperate one, held up every coach on the high-road between Plymouth and Yeverlee, so that he arrived not long before dawn and the news came to Leeford not long after him.
In the dark, cold hour before morning, Farrell's men took their horses and hounds and guns and set off up the cliff to Yeverlee.
Robin was ready for them. He was always ready. That was what made him so dangerous, he was never drunk or idiotic, even here on his own turf.
He knelt above the great gate, his pistol in his hand—the pistol he had taken all over the world with him and that had never failed him yet—and fired through the arrow slit. His gun was good and his aim was sure and he killed half a dozen of Farrell's men within a quarter of an hour, and none of them could land a shot, for behind the walls of Yeverlee a whole troop of men could lie safe for a month, and many had, over the years.
Farrell was a fair shot himself, even by flickering lamp-light in the half-darkness, but he had to admit he had never seen a man like Robin with a pistol, he shot as if the Devil himself were guiding his hand. And perhaps he was, thought Farrell.
At last the hail of death from the arrow-slit diminished. Robin must be running short of bullets, thought Farrell. And what then? Would they rush the place, like knights of old at the charge? Fetch a battering ram to those great gates? Should they go to Penzance and fetch the cannon? And then a whole troop would lay siege to the place?
Another man fell, then another.
No. Robin Jackson must come out from behind those walls and fight them in the open. He wouldn't stand a chance.
All right, Robin my lad, you've had this round, I'll win the fight.
He turned to young Bill Penhallow, just as young Bill Penhallow raised his gun, fired and fell dead at his feet.
Last man standing.
There was no-where to hide on the cliff-side, he had to do this now, while Robin was re-loading his pistol.
"Will you hide behind those walls for-ever, Jackson?" he shouted. "Do you want a fight or a massacre?"
"I would have called ten to one a massacre," called Jackson. "And I am defending my home and my castle in the right and proper way."
"Then come out of your hole and defend it like a man!"
Robin laughed. "It seems I shall have to," he said simply. "There are no bullets left for my pistol. Have you a rapier, Mr Farrell?"
"I have," said Farrell, tightening his grip on his pistol. "And if you care to come out, I'll fight you one to one."
Robin jumped down from the battlement and landed on the dark grass as lightly as a cat. His rapier glittered in the flickering lantern-light, his eyes glittered hard and cold as topazes, with the wary hunger he had seen only once, in the eyes of a tiger he had seen in a cage at a Portsmouth fair.
"Stand and fight then!" cried Robin, light and laughing as a boy scrapping with childhood enemies, but with a razor edge beneath.
Farrell stood and fought with savage glee. His enemy of years, finally before his eyes. He lunged and thrust and lunged again, his blood rushing faster than he had known it before, in all the fights he'd ever fought—and won. The wind blew cold off the sea, but Farrell felt only the white, clear heat of hand-to-hand fighting to the death.
But this time he knew he would not win. He was a good swordsman, with many years of excise behind him. But Robin was better—stronger, faster, more skilled—and he knew it and laughed in simple, happy victory. He stepped, back, he swung in, came in for the killing blow—and Farrell drew his pistol and hit him square in the ribs.
It was a foul blow, and he knew it as he struck it, but sportsmanship is for sport and Farrell wanted to live.
Robin Jackson, the Terror of the Seven Seas, crumpled onto the dark grass, his rapier by his side, and didn't move at all.
Was he dead?
No, he was breathing. Barely, lightly and fast. Farrell drew his rapier and raised it to kill. Looking at Robin Jackson's face, the heart went out of him.
In his face was such concentrated rage and pain as Farrell had never seen before and hoped never to see again. The bitterness of a young man—young still—who was at a stroke cheated of life and wealth and future.
It was the pride, the haughtiness, even the disgust in Robin's face that smote him to the quick. He hated to think that he had earned this man's disgust, because even now, he admired the fierce pride in the flint-hard eyes. A hard man. A hard, bitter, cruel man was dying tonight.
"God damn you Farrell. You filthy coward. God damn you to Hell."
"I'm sorry." And at that moment he was.
Robin laughed, actually laughed, the blood gushing out of his chest and spreading in a dark pool on the grass. A bitter, angry laugh.
"Spare me your prating, Farrell. Don't snivel at me, man."
Farrell realised to his horror and disgust that he was indeed on the brink of tears. It was the laugh that did it. He was a brave lad. Yes, from Robin Jackson's disgust, Farrell was feeling for the first time that charm that had captured the hearts and folk-tales of the Cornish. Such is life.
"You're a pest on decent Christian folk, Jackson. I hunted you down and killed you, so the good people of Cornwall could sleep in their beds. What did you expect, from a servant of His Majesty?"
"I expected a fair fight, Farrell. A sporting fight."
"Sporting fights are for men like you. A fight is not sport but grim life or death."
"A decent fight, then. But I should have known there was nothing decent in you."
"I'm a Christian soul, Jackson, and I've done by best. Which is more than you have ever done or tried to do."
Robin laughed again, the blood came bubbling up out of his mouth, dark, almost black against his whitening face. "Prove it then. Prove yourself the better man, Farrell."
"Of course. Anything." Anything to make up for bringing a pistol to a sword fight. He remembered the legends of Robin's own life-time—the treasure-fleet of Hispaniola, finding and looting the Santa Maria (how, with her already at the bottom of the sea?)—and felt thoroughly ashamed of himself.
"Take care of my little angel for me. My Eliza Jane. There's something decent in her, at least."
The rage left Robin's face, leaving only rueful weariness. "Make sure…" His voice was fainter now, as only the force of his hatred and his desperate anger for his angel had been keeping him alive. "She gets… her rights, Farrell. Yeverlee's hers… My sword…"
"I'll take care of her as my own daughter, Jackson, I swear on…" On what's left of, he thought. "My honour as a gentleman."
Robin Jackson smiled, a real and happy smile, and Farrell forgot quite easily his many sins, and saw, helplessly penitent, a dying young man. "Thank you, Farrell." For a moment his eyes closed and Farrell thought he was already dead, but no, his heart was beating, weak and fluttery as a dying bird.
Then he opened his eyes and looked up right into Farrell's, clear and steady. "God bless you, Farrell. Say… all's forgiven…?"
Farrell couldn't speak but he nodded.
"But… mind you keep your promise… Or I'll send your soul to burning Hell."
And as the sun rose over the Cornish hills and the red light fell on his face, Robin Jackson died, smiling like a man who has lost a hard fight, but done well by himself after all.
And on the battlement, the sun-light turning her golden hair to a halo of fire as she stood shaking in her white shift, Eliza Jane saw it all.
Farrell went down into Leeford and saw the weeping widows of the men Robin Jackson had killed, without a second thought or a moment's heart-ache. He went down to Plymouth and saw the wreckage of the Adventuress hauled out of the harbour and read the lists of the dead on the church doors. And he remembered Robin Farrell's sins. Many of them anyway. He wondered if anyone save Robin himself had known their full extent.
What had he said and done in a moment of foolish sentimentality on a cliff-top after a sleepless night? Why had he entangled himself with the affairs of this vicious thug?
He sold Yeverlee. He assumed he had the right to, and no one questioned him. It was bought by a merchant from London, with social aspirations.
He sold the sword, a truly beautiful, glittering thing and wicked sharp, to a collector.
He sent Eliza Jane, still silent, shaking and wide-eyed, to a Widows' and Orphans' Refuge in London. What happened to her since—her brief and miserable life in the Refuge, the voyage to Canada, the still briefer and more miserable life on Hudson's Bay— never came to his knowledge nor concerned him.
Robin Farrell's body was buried on the hill-side above Leeford. There was no head-stone. No funeral. No tears.
For two weeks, nothing concerned him. He got righteously on with his work as an excise man.
Then, one evening, coming down the cliffs to Leeford, he heard an owl calling. There was nothing unusual in this, except perhaps to hear an owl so early. But he remembered it afterwards.
A few days later, walking down the cliffs in the evening, he felt a shadow pass over him. Once again he heard the owl, clear and cold, and this time it lingered in his mind. These cliffs seemed to be popular with owls all of a sudden.
He mentioned the owl in passing to his maid, Martha, when he returned home. "It's late in the year to hear owls. Did you see what sort it was, sir?"
"No, I didn't see it. Just it's shadow." He shuddered. "Very cold."
It was the following Tuesday, once again Farrell was next walking back late from his excise duties. It was a pleasant evening, just a little cold, and he looked forward to a good supper and a good night's sleep.
The further he walked down the lonely road, the colder he felt. Not just because of the sea breeze that moaned along the cliffs, but an icy, prickling feeling on the back of his neck. Tiredness! Pure tiredness! He would feel better in the morning. But he couldn't shake the feeling off, if anything it grew and grew. As if there were something in the dark he couldn't see, that was watching him. Just reaching out to touch him on the back of the neck.
Just before he reached his house he heard the owl calling, high and clear on the cold sea breeze. He saw it take off, and soar into the dark sky, pure white against the setting sun. Had the owl been watching him? How silly!
The next day he was on early shift, returned home for a good lunch and spent a relaxing afternoon reading.
On Thursday, he worked late. He walked home alone, as he always did, and again as he drew near Leeford he felt a chill on the back of his neck. He was quite alone, he knew that, but the shadows at the edge of the road seemed to grow and move, and he began to wonder what they concealed. Nonsense! Nothing here but stubbly grass and the occasional sleepy sheep. He raised his lantern and squinted into the darkness. Nothing. The countryside lay still and quiet under the rising moon.
He set off again down the road, then stopped, sick to his stomach, because he knew, in that moment he just knew that there was something watching him. He didn't look, he couldn't. But there was something behind him, its cold, level gaze boring into the back of his neck. He inhaled, then forced himself to exhale slowly and steadily. What nonsense! What had got into him tonight! He was over-worked, he must take it easier in the future.
But the cold on the back of his neck only increased. He knew he had to turn around, to look behind him and to rid himself once and for all of this ridiculous notion, but he couldn't. He kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead and walked faster and faster until he was fairly trotting towards his house. And behind him came the thing, the thing he daren't see but knew was there.
As he saw the lamp glowing in the window of his own front room, he felt himself gasp with relief, and was promptly ashamed of himself. Relief, indeed! Was he a child, to be frightened of bogey-men? But something was watching him, in the shadows, beyond the lamp-light, just out of sight. Gloating.
The owl called over-head. Only an owl! He watched it drift away over the cliffs, white and silent, with two great glowing blue eyes, like topazes. What an unusual owl! And how steadily it watched him!
"Do you know any owls with blue eyes, Martha?"
"No," said Martha. "I always thought owls have orange eyes, sir. Or black."
"There was an owl on the hill-side as I came home, with blue eyes."
"Are you sure they weren't black, sir?"
"Quite sure. Deep, clear blue, they were, most remarkable."
"Do you know what type of owl it was, sir?"
"Pure white. I've never seen one like it before."
"Neither have I, sir."
That night, Farrell didn't sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he felt the owl watching him. Two great blue angry eyes. Anger? Ridiculous! Owls cannot feel such things. But there was no mistaking the look in those eyes, that rose up out of the flickering lamp and danced round Farrell's bed as he tossed and turned and cursed himself. Cold, bitter rage.
The next morning Farrell was tired and grumpy, but quite himself in the clear morning light and almost laughing at the ridiculous owl which had made such a deep impression on him. But he went home very early that night, before the sun set.
It was Saturday night before Farrell's peace was disturbed again. He dreamed, a horrible dream, that some great white owl was in his room, it floated before him and its huge blue eyes blazed with the cold fire of rage and pain and pure, concentrated hatred. He woke, prised is eyes open, and the owl was there. In the room, with him. Fear pierced his heart like a sword of ice. His mouth moved but he couldn't breathe. He tried to reach for the lamp, but his hand was trembling too badly. It was looking at him. Those terrible eyes that pierced right down into his soul. His felt all his sins that he had tried to lock away come tumbling out, laid before the terrible, merciless gaze of that great bird. It looked at him and he saw the frozen wastes of pain and desolation that lay behind those eyes. The endless, crushing grief.
And behind it, the fires of Hell flickered. He felt them burn beneath him, damnation real and close. He was sick and dumb and paralysed with terror. And the owl opened its beak and let out the most terrible scream he had ever heard. An almost human scream. Worlds of loss and despair.
The door burst open, Martha crashed in.
The bird was gone.
"What the Hell was that?"
"It…" Farrell cleared his throat and tried to sound like a man in charge, soothing his hysterical house-keeper. "It was an owl, Martha."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Quite, sure, Martha."
"'Cause how the Hell—I mean, how on Earth—did it get in here?"
That problem struck Farrell like another bolt of ice.
"Through… the window, I expect."
"The door." But Farrell already knew that that was shut, too.
Silence. There was no chimney, no other way into the room. There was the window and the door. And they had been shut. And the owl had been in his room and left again.
Farrell looked at his watch. "No point going back to bed now. I'll get myself a cold breakfast this morning, don't bother about it."
"Why are you breakfasting so early, sir?"
"It's the auction on some of the contents of Yeverlee. The merchant doesn't want them. I don't blame him, I wouldn't either. Hideous Mediaeval junk."
Matha's eyes widened. "Oh, sir…"
"Are you sure you ought to go?"
"What do you mean, am I sure I ought to go?" said Farrell, harsher than he had intended, for precisely the same thought had been praying on his mind, for reasons which he couldn't explain to himself.
"Sir… Mr Jackson's a dangerous man."
"Mr Jackson was a dangerous man, and now he is dead. Now, stop talking rubbish."
Martha hurried out of the room, biting her lip.
The auction was uneventful. The merchant made a good profit and thanked Farrell for his assistance.
It finished late. Farrell wondered if he should find an excuse to go home with somebody else, and hope they would give him a carriage home when it was time to leave. He did not want—he really did not want—to go home alone. But his pride conquered the shameful fluttering in his stomach and he set off to walk home as he had so often done before.
He saw it with a terrible sick sinking of the heart. Gliding across the moon, light as a feather, pure, driven malice. And, oh! those eyes! The great glittering blue eyes. God spare him those eyes, spare him that hatred.
He ran. Past shame, past all semblance of dignity, he ran home, crashed through the door, and collapsed gasping by the fire. He refused to explain to Martha what was wrong.
He spent that night tossing and turning, the next day huddled in his kitchen chair, tormented by thoughts he dared not utter even to himself. By that evening he had almost convinced himself he was being foolish.
When he finally went to bed, he couldn't sleep. He lay and gazed at the shadows dancing on the ceiling, contorting themselves into strange shapes, angels and daemons… He supposed he must eventually have slept, because he had a nightmare. The same one, about the great white owl, gazing at him with those terrible eyes. Silent, reading his soul, waiting for him to break down… He would not break down! Would not, would not… And the blood rushed through his head, the lamp flickered, went out, he was all alone in the dark. Alone in the darkness that filled him, creeping up from the depths of his soul, until he couldn't breathe and fell back fainting on the bed.
He woke up the next morning in the clear light of day. Bad dreams! Foolish things! He smiled to himself, leapt out of bed and froze.
His heart stopped. The darkness whirled around his head and for a moment he almost fainted again… He focussed his eyes, steadied his breathing, read the words written, impossibly, on the head of his bed, in something which looked like, but surely could not be, blood.
"Martha!" he called.
She came running at his tone.
"Martha, did anyone come into my room last night?"
"No, sir." Martha gazed at the words. "Nobody at all. You don't tell me…" Words failed her, she waved a trembling hand at the bed-stead.
"Yes. This happened last night."
"That is what I was seriously hoping you could tell me, for I surely can't tell you."
"I can't explain it, sir. Except…" She looked pleadingly at Farrell.
"Except what?" said Farrell, with a terrible feeling he would not like the answer.
"Eliza Jane was Robin's girl, sir. His little girl at Yeverlee…"
"I know perfectly well who Eliza Jane is, Martha. And I don't see what she could possibly have to do with this writing."
"Well, no sir… But Robin Jackson's a dangerous man…"
"Jackson's body is six feet under and his soul's in Hell where it belongs and you will be good enough to refer to him in the past tense."
"Maybe you shouldn't have sent her away, sir…"
"I don't require your advice. Now say something useful or go away!" Martha had touched a raw, shivering nerve within him, all the things he didn't want to think about. Superstitious, blasphemous nonsense."
The next week Farrell never did his excise duties at all, he stayed in the house, and locked all the doors and sat huddled by the fire in the evening. He barely slept, he couldn't eat, he thought he must surely go mad.
But a week passed without incident and Farrell could make excuses for avoiding his duties no longer. He was making a great fuss over nothing, he told himself. There was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the writing over his bed. (Such as what? Such as what?) A grown man should not be afraid of owls. (But the eyes… The eyes…) He would go back to work at once.
It was Wednesday evening, late. He hadn't been able to get away any earlier. He walked home down the lonely road over the hills to Leeford. Walked very quickly, with his head down.
But he knew there was no escape. There was no shock now when he heard the owl calling. Only a deep soul-ache.
It had come again. It had come for him again.
He was frozen. He couldn't go on, couldn't escape. It was there… there, watching him. Oh, God, oh God… He couldn't turn around. Couldn't face the dreaded blue eyes.
He could feel it behind him. Nearer and nearer… He tightened his grip on his sword. Took a deep breath, and turned.
It was there only for an instant. The wind-swept hair, red silk shirt and wicked rapier of Robin Jackson. His cold blue eyes and vicious mocking smile. The smile of a raptor with a mouse.
Then darkness, the cold wind, the black clouds scudding before the moon. Farrell felt the tears stream cold down his cheeks. He turned and fled.
But there was no hiding. No escape. He knew that. There is no cheating fate. Had not the foul thing come into very bedroom?
Nevertheless, he huddled in his house all the rest of that week, perhaps driven by that futile, instinctive urge of the hunted animal to take refuge in its own lair, sleepless, shaking.
He ordered in a dozen lamps and a dozen boxes of candles and sat all day and night in the kitchen, by the stove. As soon as the sun went down he lit the lamps and stoked the fire and refused to sleep. He read, he polished his boots, he even took up knitting. Anything, anything but sleep. And he could not, dared not leave the house.
It was Saturday night. Martha had gone to sleep in the scullery, and had forced her sister and two of her cousins to stay the night with her as she daren't be alone. She was coping better than Farrell though. She had finally forced her employer to admit there was a problem, and that the problem was connected with Robin Jackson and beyond ordinary explanation. The triumph of being right ameliorated the tortures of Jackson's wandering soul.
Farrell sat in his arm-chair, a book open on his knee, but he was too tired to read. He hadn't slept since Tuesday, and despite himself, his eyes were drooping. The fire was warm, he needed to sleep… but he daren't… He prised his eyes open, forced himself to stare at the words which swam on the page. He felt himself dozing off, fought against it but couldn't help it. The arm-chair was too comfortable, the fire too warm. Warm? No. It was cold in the room, deathly cold. The fire was dying, the embers flickering out and crumbling to ash. One of the candles went out. He reached out to re-light it, but another went out. Then another, then another.
The darkness grew in the room. Farrell seized the candle, dropped it from hands slick with sweat, grabbed another and tried to light it from the last dying embers of the fire.
And there was something there. In the room, by the fire-place. It was too dark to see, but Farrell had no doubt what it was.
He heard himself sobbing. Was there no way to escape his fate? Nothing at all he could do to stave off the inevitable? He reached for his sword, but couldn't find it in the dark. He reached for the lamp, clutched it, found the wick.
The thing took a step nearer.
Farrell couldn't see its face and he was glad, for he dreaded to think what gloating malevolence he might see there.
The cold was all penetrating. The cold and the dark.
Then he lit the lamp. The little pool of yellow light spilled across the kitchen floor and banished the daemons and the shadows.
But he felt no relief, he barely breathed easier. For he knew he had merely deferred the inevitable and his fate was sealed.
Martha found in the morning, gasping like a half-drowned man, ash-white and whispering only that his doom had come upon him.
She gave him some brandy and forced him to swallow a mug of camomile tea. Then he took his sword and wrapped his cloak around himself and took the last resort of the desperate—he went to church.
"Can I help you?" asked the minister, an elderly man who had lived at the church for as long as anyone in Leeford could remember and who was now, as always, clutching some old leather-bound collection from the early Church Fathers.
"No one but God can help me now. And I fear it's beyond Him. I've seen my doom."
Farrell knelt at the altar and begged God's forgiveness for his sins. He saw again Robin Jackson dying on the cliff-top, his face etched with pain and deathless pride—and finally the peace of an innocent child, or an unrepentant murderer. He remembered the oath he swore and broke. And now he swore anything, but anything, to be spared the fate he'd seen, anything but eternal torment at the hands of the fiend who had stolen back his earthly form. How cold it was in the church! Sick dread gripped him, dread of Hell-fire, of eternal darkness, of worse. The implacable hatred of a man who had great cause to hate him and had cheated death just for him.
"Lord God who his wise and just,
Deliver me from evil,
I have sinned, but I deliver myself into Your hands and await Your justice, in hope that You will show mercy on me."
Robin Jackson had no mercy. He never had and he never would.
And even has he knelt before the altar and stretched up his hands to the Lord, Farrell knew it. God's wrath might be great, but he was dealing with a greater wrath here. It was not God's forgiveness he had to ask. It was the forgiveness of a man who would never grant it. Who had a Devil living somewhere inside.
He rose from his knees only as the minister began to lock up, for it was getting late. Indeed, when he saw how late it was, Farrell leapt up and hurried out of the church and across the stretch of rocky moor-land between the church and his house. He hadn't realised that the sun was already beginning to set.
He was standing on the grass waiting for him, as young and handsome and fiercely alive as he had looked in life. There was no comforting etherealness to him. If he hadn't seen him die, with his own eyes, he could have taken him for a living man, but the cold, predatory malevolence in those eyes glowed brighter than it ever had in life.
Farrell couldn't wrench his gaze from those eyes. He couldn't move, couldn't run, couldn't raise an arm. His doom had come upon him.
Robin took a step forwards and smiled. A cold, gleeful smile. The smile of a murderer back for one last murder. The smile of a desperate, wicked man avenging the only thing he had ever loved.
Farrell opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out. He couldn't breathe, he could only watch in helpless terror as his doom came upon him, smiling and smiling wider, with deep inner delight in inflicting torment. And the eyes were such voids of endless pain, pain that lasted beyond the grave and burned into Robin's soul, that nothing could ever, ever heal or soothe or numb. Not eternity. Not the torments of Hell or hope of salvation. Nothing in the next world would restore what he had lost in this. Kill.
They found Farrell the next morning, his vacant dead eyes bulging with terror, his face twisted with agony and terror. Terror for his life and his soul.