In eight parts. Click here to begin at the beginning.
Gabriel started up, and stood rooted to the spot with astonishment and terror; for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.
Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange, unearthly figure, whom Gabriel felt at once, was no being of this world. His long, fantastic legs which might have reached the ground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantastic fashion; his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on his knees. On his short, round body, he wore a close covering, ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled at his back; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served the goblin in lieu of ruff or neckerchief; and his shoes curled up at his toes into long points. On his head, he wore a broad-brimmed sugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather. The hat was covered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he had sat on the same tombstone very comfortably, for two or three hundred years. He was sitting perfectly still; his tongue was put out, as if in derision; and he was grinning at Gabriel Grub with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.
“It was NOT the echoes,” said the goblin.
Gabriel Grub was paralysed, and could make no reply.
“What do you do here on Christmas Eve?” said the goblin sternly.
“I came to dig a grave, Sir,” stammered Gabriel Grub.
“What man wanders among graves and churchyards on such a night as this?” cried the goblin.
“Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!” screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard. Gabriel looked fearfully round – nothing was to be seen.
“What have you got in that bottle?” said the goblin.
“Hollands, sir,” replied the sexton, trembling more than ever; for he had bought it of the smugglers, and he thought that perhaps his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.
“Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard, on such a night as this?” said the goblin.
“Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!” exclaimed the wild voices again.
The goblin leered maliciously at the terrified sexton, and then raising his voice, exclaimed –
“And who, then, is our fair and lawful prize?”
To this inquiry the invisible chorus replied, in a strain that sounded like the voices of many choristers singing to the mighty swell of the old church organ – a strain that seemed borne to the sexton’s ears upon a wild wind, and to die away as it passed onward; but the burden of the reply was still the same, “Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!”
The goblin grinned a broader grin than before, as he said, “Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?”
The sexton gasped for breath. continued tomorrow