William Ainsworth.

Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life



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CHAPTER III
IRRESOLUTION

On returning to the cabinet, where his fatal compact with Rougemont had been signed, Auriol perceived the pocket-book lying on the floor near the table, and, taking it up, he was about to deposit it in the writing-desk, when an irresistible impulse prompted him once more to examine its contents. Unfolding the roll of notes, he counted them, and found they amounted to more than a hundred thousand pounds. The sight of so much wealth, and the thought of the pleasure and the power it would procure him, gradually dispelled his fears, and arising in a transport of delight, he exclaimed – "Yes, yes – all obstacles are now removed! When Mr. Talbot finds I am become thus wealthy, he will no longer refuse me his daughter. But I am mad," he added, suddenly checking himself – "worse than mad, to indulge such hopes. If it be indeed the Fiend to whom I have sold myself, I have no help from perdition! If it be man, I am scarcely less terribly fettered. In either case, I will not remain here longer; nor will I avail myself of this accursed money, which has tempted me to my undoing."

And, hurling the pocket-book to the farther end of the room, he was about to pass through the door, when a mocking laugh arrested him. He looked round with astonishment and dread, but could see no one. After a while, he again moved forward, but a voice, which he recognised as that of Rougemont, called upon him to stay.

"It will be in vain to fly," said the unseen speaker. "You cannot escape me. Whether you remain here or not – whether you use the wealth I have given you, or leave it behind you – you cannot annul your bargain. With this knowledge, you are at liberty to go. But remember, on the seventh night from this I shall require Edith Talbot from you!"

"Where are you, fiend?" demanded Auriol, gazing around furiously. "Show yourself, that I may confront you."

A mocking laugh was the only response deigned to this injunction.

"Give me back the compact," cried Auriol imploringly. "It was signed in ignorance. I knew not the price I was to pay for your assistance. Wealth is of no value to me without Edith."

"Without wealth you could not obtain her," replied the voice. "You are only, therefore, where you were. But you will think better of the bargain to-morrow. Meanwhile, I counsel you to place the money you have so unwisely cast from you safely under lock and key, and to seek repose. You will awaken with very different thoughts in the morning."

"How am I to account for my sudden accession of wealth?" inquired Auriol, after a pause.

"You a gambler, and ask that question!" returned the unseen stranger, with a bitter laugh. "But I will make your mind easy on that score. As regards the house, you will find a regular conveyance of it within that writing-desk, while the note lying on the table, which bears your address, comes from me, and announces the payment of a hundred and twenty thousand pounds to you, as a debt of honour.

You see I have provided against every difficulty. And now, farewell!"

The voice was then hushed; and though Auriol addressed several other questions to the unseen speaker, no answer was returned him.

After some moments of irresolution, Auriol once more took up the pocket-book, and deposited it in the writing-desk, in which he found, as he had been led to expect, a deed conveying the house to him. He then opened the note lying upon the table, and found its contents accorded with what had just been told him. Placing it with the pocket-book, he locked the writing-desk, exclaiming, "It is useless to struggle further – I must yield to fate!"

This done, he went into the adjoining room, and, casting his eyes about, remarked the antique bottle and flagon. The latter was filled to the brim – how or with what, Auriol paused not to examine; but seizing the cup with desperation, he placed it to his lips, and emptied it at a draught.

A species of intoxication, but pleasing as that produced by opium, presently succeeded. All his fears left him, and in their place the gentlest and most delicious fancies arose. Surrendering himself delightedly to their influence, he sank upon a couch, and for some time was wrapped in a dreamy elysium, imagining himself wandering with Edith Talbot in a lovely garden, redolent of sweets, and vocal with the melody of birds. Their path led through a grove, in the midst of which was a fountain; and they were hastening towards its marble brink, when all at once Edith uttered a scream, and, starting back, pointed to a large black snake lying before her, and upon which she would have trodden the next moment. Auriol sprang forward and tried to crush the reptile with his heel; but, avoiding the blow, it coiled around his leg, and plunged its venom teeth into his flesh. The anguish occasioned by the imaginary wound roused him from his slumber, and looking up, he perceived that a servant was in attendance.

Bowing obsequiously, the man inquired whether he had occasion for anything.

"Show me to my bedroom – that is all I require," replied Auriol, scarcely able to shake off the effect of the vision.

And, getting up, he followed the man, almost mechanically, out of the room.

CHAPTER IV
EDITH TALBOT

It was late when Auriol arose on the following morning. At first, finding himself in a large and most luxuriantly-furnished chamber, he was at a loss to conceive how he came there, and it was some time before he could fully recall the mysterious events of the previous night. As had been foretold, however, by Rougemont, his position did not cause him so much anxiety as before.

After attiring himself, he descended to the lower apartments, in one of which a sumptuous breakfast awaited him; and having partaken of it, he took a complete survey of the house, and found it larger and more magnificent even than he had supposed it. He next supplied himself from the pocket-book with a certain sum, for which he fancied he might have occasion in the course of the day, and sallied forth. His first business was to procure a splendid carriage and horses, and to order some new and rich habiliments to be made with the utmost expedition.

He then proceeded towards May Fair, and knocked at the door of a large house at the upper end of Curzon Street. His heart beat violently as he was shown into an elegant drawing-room, and his trepidation momentarily increased, until the servant reappeared and expressed his regret that he had misinformed him in stating that Miss Talbot was at home. Both she and Mr. Talbot, he said, had gone out about half-an-hour ago. Auriol looked incredulous, but without making any remark, departed. Hurrying home, he wrote a few lines to Mr. Talbot, announcing the sudden and extraordinary change in his fortune, and formally demanding the hand of Edith. He was about to despatch this letter, when a note was brought him by his servant. It was from Edith. Having ascertained his new address from his card, she wrote to assure him of her constant attachment. Transported by this proof of her affection, Auriol half devoured the note with kisses, and instantly sent off his own letter to her father – merely adding a few words to say that he would call for an answer on the morrow. But he had not to wait thus long for a reply. Ere an hour had elapsed, Mr. Talbot brought it in person.

Mr. Talbot was a man of about sixty – tall, thin, and gentlemanlike in deportment, with grey hair, and black eyebrows, which lent considerable expression to the orbs beneath them. His complexion was a bilious brown, and he possessed none of the good looks which in his daughter had so captivated Auriol, and which it is to be presumed, therefore, she inherited from her mother.

A thorough man of the world, though not an unamiable person, Mr. Talbot was entirely influenced by selfish considerations. He had hitherto looked with an unfavourable eye upon Auriol's attentions to his daughter, from a notion that the connection would be very undesirable in a pecuniary point of view; but the magnificence of the house in Saint James's Square, which fully bore out Auriol's account of his newly-acquired wealth, wrought a complete change in his opinions, and he soon gave the young man to understand that he should be delighted to have him for a son-in-law. Finding him so favourably disposed, Auriol entreated him to let the marriage take place – within three days, if possible.

Mr. Talbot was greatly grieved that he could not comply with his young friend's request, but he was obliged to start the next morning for Nottingham, and could not possibly return under three days.

"But we can be married before you go?" cried Auriol.

"Scarcely, I fear," replied Mr. Talbot, smiling blandly. "You must control your impatience, my dear young friend. On the sixth day from this – that is, on Wednesday in next week – we are now at Friday – you shall be made happy."

The coincidence between this appointment, and the time fixed by Rougemont for the delivery of his victim, struck Auriol forcibly. His emotion, however, escaped Mr. Talbot, who soon after departed, having engaged his future son-in-law to dine with him at seven o'clock.

Auriol, it need scarcely be said, was punctual to the hour, or, rather, he anticipated it. He found Edith alone in the drawing-room, and seated near the window, which was filled with choicest flowers. On seeing him, she uttered an exclamation of joy, and sprang to meet him. The young man pressed his lips fervently to the little hand extended to him.

Edith Talbot was a lovely brunette. Her features were regular, and her eyes, which were perfectly splendid, were dark, almond-shaped, and of almost Oriental languor. Her hair, which she wore braided over her brow and gathered behind in a massive roll, was black and glossy as a raven's wing. Her cheeks were dimpled, her lips of velvet softness, and her teeth like ranges of pearls. Perfect grace accompanied all her movements, and one only wondered that feet so small as those she possessed should have the power of sustaining a form which, though lightsome, was yet rounded in its proportions.

"You have heard, dear Edith, that your father has consented to our union?" said Auriol, after gazing at her for a few moments in silent admiration.

Edith murmured an affirmative, and blushed deeply.

"He has fixed Wednesday next," pursued Auriol; "but I wish an earlier day could have been named. I have a presentiment that if our marriage is so long delayed, it will not take place at all."

"You are full of misgivings, Auriol," she replied.

"I confess it," he said; "and my apprehensions have risen to such a point, that I feel disposed to urge you to a private marriage, during your father's absence."

"Oh no, Auriol; much as I love you, I could never consent to such a step," she cried. "You cannot urge me to it. I would not abuse my dear father's trusting love. I have never deceived him, and that is the best assurance I can give you that I shall never deceive you."

Further conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Talbot, who held out both his hands to Auriol, and professed the greatest delight to see him. And no doubt he was sincere. The dinner passed off most pleasantly, and so did the evening; for the old gentleman was in high spirits, and his hilarity was communicated to the young couple. When Auriol and Mr. Talbot went up-stairs to tea, they found that Edith's aunt, Mrs. Maitland, had arrived to take charge of her during her father's absence. This lady had always exhibited a partiality for Auriol, and had encouraged his suit to her niece; consequently she was well satisfied with the turn affairs had taken. It was near midnight before Auriol could tear himself away; and when he rose to depart, Mr. Talbot, who had yawned frequently, but fruitlessly, to give him a hint, told him he might depend upon seeing him back on the evening of the third day, and in the meantime he committed him to the care of Mrs. Maitland and Edith.

Three days flew by rapidly and delightfully; and on the evening of the last, just as the little party were assembled in the drawing-room, after dinner, Mr. Talbot returned from this journey.

"Well, here I am!" he cried, clasping Edith to his bosom, "without having encountered any misadventure. On the contrary, I have completed my business to my entire satisfaction."

"Oh, how delighted I am to see you, dear papa!" exclaimed Edith. "Now, Auriol, you can have no more apprehensions."

"Apprehensions of what?" cried Mr. Talbot.

"Of some accident befalling you, which might have interfered with our happiness, sir," replied Auriol.

"Oh, lovers are full of idle fears!" cried Mr. Talbot. "They are unreasonable beings. However, here I am, as I said before, safe and sound. To-morrow we will finish all preliminary arrangements, and the day after you shall be made happy – ha! ha!"

"Do you know, papa, Auriol intends to give a grand ball on our wedding-day, and has invited all his acquaintance to it?" remarked Edith.

"I hope you have not invited Cyprian Rougemont?" said Mr. Talbot, regarding him fixedly.

"I have not, sir," replied Auriol, turning pale. "But why do you particularise him?"

"Because I have heard some things of him not much to his credit," replied Mr. Talbot.

"What – what have you heard, sir?" demanded Auriol.

"Why, one shouldn't believe all the ill one hears of a man; and, indeed, I cannot believe all I have heard of Cyprian Rougemont," replied Mr. Talbot; "but I should be glad if you dropped his acquaintance altogether. And now let us change the subject."

Mr. Talbot seated himself beside Mrs. Maitland, and began to give her some account of his journey, which appeared to have been as pleasant as it had been rapid.

Unable to shake off the gloom which had stolen over him, Auriol took his leave, promising to meet Mr. Talbot at his lawyer's in Lincoln's Inn, at noon on the following day. He was there at the time appointed, and, to Mr. Talbot's great delight, and the no small surprise of the lawyer, paid over a hundred thousand pounds, to be settled on his future wife.

"You are a perfect man of honour, Auriol," said Mr. Talbot, clapping him on the shoulder, "and I hope Edith will make you an excellent wife. Indeed, I have no doubt of it."

"Nor I, – if I ever possess her," mentally ejaculated Auriol.

The morning passed in other preparations. In the evening the lovers met as usual, and separated with the full persuasion, on Edith's part at least, that the next day would make them happy. Since the night of the compact, Auriol had neither seen Rougemont, nor heard from him, and he neglected no precaution to prevent his intrusion.

CHAPTER V
THE SEVENTH NIGHT

It was a delicious morning in May, and the sun shone brightly on Auriol's gorgeous equipage, as he drove to St. George's, Hanover Square, where he was united to Edith. Thus far all seemed auspicious, and he thought he could now bill defiance to fate. With the object of his love close beside him, and linked to him by the strongest and holiest ties, it seemed impossible she could be snatched from him. Nothing occurred during the morning to give him uneasiness, and he gave orders that a carriage and four should be ready an hour before midnight, to convey him and his bride to Richmond, where they were to spend their honeymoon.

Night came, and with it began to arrive the guests who were bidden to the ball. No expense had been spared by Auriol to give splendour to his fete. It was in all respects magnificent. The amusements of the evening commenced with a concert, which was performed by the first singers from the Italian Opera; after which, the ball was opened by Auriol and his lovely bride. As soon as the dance was over, Auriol made a sign to an attendant, who instantly disappeared.

"Are you prepared to quit this gay scene with me, Edith?" he asked, with a heart swelling with rapture.

"Quite so," she replied, gazing at him with tenderness; "I long to be alone with you."

"Come, then," said Auriol.

Edith arose, and passing her arm under that of her husband, they quitted the ball-room, but in place of descending the principal staircase, they took a more private course. The hall, which they were obliged to cross, and which they entered from a side-door, was spacious and beautifully proportioned, and adorned with numerous statues on pedestals. The ceiling was decorated with fresco paintings, and supported by two stately scagliola pillars. From between these, a broad staircase of white marble ascended to the upper room. As Auriol had foreseen, the staircase was thronged with guests ascending to the ball-room, the doors of which being open, afforded glimpses of the dancers, and gave forth strains of liveliest music. Anxious to avoid a newly-arrived party in the hall, Auriol and his bride lingered for a moment near a pillar.

"Ha! who is this?" cried Edith, as a tall man, with a sinister countenance, and habited entirely in black, moved from the farther side of the pillar, and planted himself in their path, with his back partly towards them.

A thrill of apprehension passed through Auriol's frame. He looked up and beheld Rougemont, who, glancing over his shoulder, fixed his malignant gaze upon him. Retreat was now impossible.

"You thought to delude me," said Rougemont, in a deep whisper, audible only to Auriol; "but you counted without your host. I am come to claim my victim."

"What is the matter with you, that you tremble so, dear Auriol?" cried Edith. "Who is this strange person?"

But her husband returned no answer. Terror had taken away his power of utterance.

"Your carriage waits for you at the door, madam – all is prepared," said Rougemont, advancing towards her, and taking her hand.

"You are coming, Auriol?" cried Edith, who scarcely knew whether to draw back or go forward.

"Yes – yes," cried Auriol, who fancied he saw a means of escape. "This is my friend, Mr. Rougemont – go with him."

"Mr. Rougemont!" cried Edith. "You told my father he would not be here."

"Your husband did not invite me, madam," said Rougemont, with sarcastic emphasis; "but knowing I should be welcome, I came unasked. But let us avoid those persons."

In another moment they were at the door. The carriage was there with its four horses, and a man-servant, in travelling attire, stood beside the steps. Reassured by the sight, Auriol recovered his courage, and suffered Rougemont to throw a cloak over Edith's shoulders. The next moment she tripped up the steps of the carriage, and was ensconced within it. Auriol was about to follow her, when he received a violent blow on the chest, which stretched him on the pavement. Before he could regain his feet, Rougemont had sprung into the carriage. The steps were instantly put up by the man-servant, who mounted the box with the utmost celerity, while the postillions, plunging spurs into their horses, dashed off with lightning speed. As the carriage turned the corner of King Street, Auriol, who had just arisen, beheld, by the light of a lamp, Rougemont's face at the window of the carriage, charged with an expression of the most fiendish triumph.

"What is the matter?" cried Mr. Talbot, who had approached Auriol, "I came to bid you good-bye. Why do I find you here alone? Where is the carriage? – what has become of Edith?"

"She is in the power of the Fiend, and I have sold her to him," replied Auriol gloomily.

"What mean you, wretch?" cried Mr. Talbot, in a voice of distraction. "I heard that Cyprian Rougemont was here. Can it be he that has gone off with her?"

"You have hit the truth," replied Auriol. "He bought her with the money I gave you. I have sold her and myself to perdition!"

"Horror!" exclaimed the old man, falling backwards.

"Ay, breathe your last – breathe your last!" cried Auriol wildly. "Would I could yield up my life, likewise!"

And he hurried away, utterly unconscious whither he went.

END OF THE INTERMEAN

BOOK THE SECOND
CYPRIAN ROUGEMONT

CHAPTER I
THE CELL

Mr. Thorneycroft and his companions had scarcely gained a passage in the deserted house, which they had entered in the manner described in a previous chapter, when they were alarmed by the sudden and furious ringing of a bell overhead. The noise brought them instantly to a halt, and each man grasped his arms in expectation of an attack, but the peal ceasing in a few moments, and all continuing quiet, they moved on as before, and presently reached a large hall with a lofty window over the door, which, being without shutters, afforded light enough to reveal the dilapidated condition of the mansion.

From this hall four side doors opened, apparently communicating with different chambers, three of which were cautiously tried by Reeks, but they proved to be fastened. The fourth, however, yielded to his touch, and admitted them to a chamber, which seemed to have been recently occupied, for a lamp was burning within it. The walls were panelled with dusky oak, and hung at the lower end with tapestry, representing the Assyrian monarch Ninus, and his captive Zoroaster, King of the Bactrians. The chief furniture consisted of three large high-backed and grotesquely-carved arm-chairs, near one of which stood a powerful electrical machine. Squares and circles were traced upon the floor, and here and there were scattered cups and balls, and other matters apparently belonging to a conjuring apparatus.



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