William Ainsworth.

Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life



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The room might be the retreat of a man of science, or it might be the repository of a juggler. But whoever its occupant was, and whatsoever his pursuits, the good things of the world were not altogether neglected by him, as was proved by a table spread with viands, and furnished with glasses, together with a couple of taper-necked bottles.

While glancing upwards, Mr. Thorneycroft remarked that just above each chair the ceiling was pierced with a round hole, the meaning of which he could not at the time comprehend, though after circumstances sufficiently explained it to him.

"A singular room," he observed to Reeks, on concluding his survey. "Did you expect to find any one here?"

"I hardly know," replied the other. "That bell may have given the alarm. But I will soon ascertain the point. Remain here till I return."

"You are not going to leave us?" rejoined Mr. Thorneycroft uneasily.

"Only for a moment," said Reeks. "Keep quiet, and no harm will befall you. Whatever you may hear without, do not stir."

"What are we likely to hear?" asked Thorneycroft with increasing trepidation.

"That's impossible to say," answered Reeks; "but I warn you not to cry out unnecessarily, as such an imprudence would endanger our safety."

"You are quite sure you don't mean to abandon us?" persisted Thorneycroft.

"Make yourself easy; I have no such intention," rejoined Reeks sternly.

"Oh! ve'll take care on you, don't be afeerd, old gent," said Ginger.

"Yes, ve'll take care on you," added the Tinker and the Sandman.

"You may depend upon them as upon me, sir," said Reeks. "Before we explore the subterranean apartments, I wish to see whether any one is up-stairs."

"Wot's that you say about subterranean apartments, Mr. Reeks?" interposed Ginger. "Ve ain't a-goin' below, eh?"

But without paying any attention to the inquiry, Reeks quitted the room, and closed the door carefully after him. He next crossed the hall, and cautiously ascending a staircase at the farther end of it, reached the landing-place. Beyond it was a gallery, from which several chambers opened.

Advancing a few paces, he listened intently, and hearing a slight sound in an apartment to the right, he stepped softly towards it, and placing his eye to the keyhole, beheld a tall man, dressed in black, pacing to and fro with rapid strides, while three other persons, wrapped in sable gowns, and disguised with hideous masks, stood silent and motionless at a little distance from him. In the tall man he recognised Cyprian Rougemont. Upon a table in the middle of the room was laid a large open volume, bound in black vellum. Near it stood a lamp, which served to illumine the scene.

Suddenly, Rougemont stopped, and turning over several leaves of the book, which were covered with cabalistic characters, appeared in search of some magic formula. Before he could find it, however, a startling interruption occurred. An alarum-bell, fixed against the wall, began to ring, and at the same moment the doors of a cabinet flew open, and a large ape (for such it seemed to Reeks), clothed in a woollen shirt and drawers, sprang forth, and bounding upon the table beside Rougemont, placed its mouth to his ear.

The communication thus strangely made seemed highly displeasing to Rougemont, who knitted his brows, and delivered some instructions in an undertone to the monkey. The animal nodded its head in token of obedience, jumped off the table, and bounded back to the cabinet, the doors of which closed as before. Rougemont next took up the lamp, with the evident intention of quitting the room, seeing which, Reeks hastily retreated to an adjoining chamber, the door of which was fortunately open, and had scarcely gained its shelter when the four mysterious personages appeared on the gallery. Reeks heard their footsteps descending the staircase, and then, creeping cautiously after them, watched them across the hall, and pause before the chamber containing Mr. Thorneycroft and his companions. After a moment's deliberation, Rougemont noiselessly locked the door, took out the key, and leaving two of his attendants on guard, returned with the third towards the staircase.

Without tarrying to confront them, Reeks started back, and hurried along the gallery till he came to a back staircase, which conducted him, by various descents, to the basement floor, where, after traversing one or two vaults, he entered a subterranean passage, arched overhead, and having several openings at the sides, apparently communicating with other passages. It was lighted at intervals by lamps, which emitted a feeble radiance.

By the light of one of these, Reeks discovered the door of a cell. It was of iron, and as he struck it with his hand, returned a hollow clangour. On repeating the blow, a hoarse voice from within cried, "Leave me in peace!"

"Is it Auriol Darcy who speaks?" demanded Reeks.

"It is," replied the prisoner. "Who are you that put the question?"

"A friend," replied Reeks.

"I have no friend here," said Auriol.

"You are mistaken," rejoined Reeks. "I have come with Mr. Thorneycroft to deliver you."

"Mr. Thorneycroft has come too late. He has lost his daughter," replied Auriol.

"What has happened to her?" demanded Reeks.

"She is in the power of the Fiend," replied Auriol.

"I know she is detained by Cyprian Rougemont," said Reeks. "But what has befallen her?"

"She has become like his other victims – like my victims!" cried Auriol distractedly.

"Do not despair," rejoined Reeks. "She may yet be saved."

"Saved! how?" cried Auriol. "All is over."

"So it may seem to you," rejoined Reeks; "but you are the victim of delusion."

"Oh that I could think so!" exclaimed Auriol. "But no – I saw her fall into the pit. I beheld her veiled figure rise from it. I witnessed her signature to the fatal scroll. There could be no illusion in what I then beheld."

"Despite all this, you will see her again," said Reeks.

"Who are you who give me this promise?" asked Auriol.

"As I have already declared, a friend," replied Reeks.

"Are you human?"

"As yourself."

"Then you seek in vain to struggle with the powers of darkness," said Auriol.

"I have no fear of Cyprian Rougemont," rejoined Reeks, with a laugh.

"Your voice seems familiar to me," said Auriol. "Tell me who you are?"

"You shall know anon," replied Reeks. "But, hist! – we are interrupted. Some one approaches."

CHAPTER II
THE ENCHANTED CHAIRS

More than ten minutes had elapsed since Reeks' departure, and Mr. Thorneycroft, who had hitherto had some difficulty in repressing his anger, now began to give vent to it in muttered threats and complaints. His impatience was shared by the Tinker, who, stepping up to Ginger, said —

"Wot the devil can Mr. Reeks be about? I hope nuffin' has happened to him."

"Don't mention a certain gent's name here," remarked Ginger; "or if you do, treat it vith proper respect."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed the Tinker impatiently; "I don't like a man stayin' avay in this manner. It looks suspicious. I wotes ve goes and sees arter him. Ve can leave the old gent to take a keviet nap by himself. Don't disturb yourself, sir. Ve'll only jist giv' a look about us, and then come back."

"Stay where you are, rascal!" cried Thorneycroft angrily. "I won't be left. Stay where you are, I command you!"

"Vell, ve've got a noo captain, I'm a-thinkin'," said the Tinker, winking at the others. "Ve've no vish to disobleege you, sir. I'll only jist peep out into the hall, and see if Mr. Reeks is anyvhere thereabouts. Vy, zounds!" he added, as he tried the door, "it's locked!"

"What's locked?" cried Thorneycroft in dismay.

"The door, to be sure," replied the Tinker. "Ve're prisoners."

"O Lord, you don't say so!" cried the iron-merchant in an agony of fright. "What will become of us?"

A roar of laughter from the others converted his terror into fury.

"I see how it is," he cried. "You have entrapped me, ruffians. It's all a trick. You mean to murder me. But I'll sell my life dearly. The first who approaches shall have his brains blown out." And as he spoke, he levelled a pistol at the Tinker's head.

"Holloa! wot are you arter, sir?" cried that individual, sheltering his head with his hands. "You're a-labourin' under a mistake – a complete mistake. If it is a trap, ve're catched in it as vell as yourself."

"To be sure ve is," added the Sandman. "Sit down, and vait a bit. I dessay Mr. Reeks'll come back, and it von't do no good gettin' into a passion."

"Well, well, I must resign myself, I suppose," groaned Thorneycroft, sinking into a chair. "It's a terrible situation to be placed in – shut up in a haunted house."

"I've been in many much vurser sitivations," observed Ginger, "and I alvays found the best vay to get out on 'em wos to take things quietly."

"Besides, there's no help for it," said the Tinker, seating himself.

"That remains to be seen," observed the Sandman, taking the chair opposite Thorneycroft. "If Reeks don't come back soon, I'll bust open the door."

"Plenty o' time for that," said Ginger, sauntering towards the table on which the provisions were spread; "wot do you say to a mouthful o' wittles?"

"I wouldn't touch 'em for the world," replied the Sandman.

"Nor I," added the Tinker; "they may be pisoned."

"Pisoned – nonsense!" cried Ginger; "don't you see some von has been a-takin' his supper here? I'll jist finish it for him."

"Vith all my 'art," said the Tinker.

"Don't touch it on any account," cried Mr. Thorneycroft. "I agree with your companions, it may be poisoned."

"Oh! I ain't afeerd," cried Ginger, helping himself to a dish before him. "As good a pigeon-pie as ever I tasted. Your health, Mr. Thorneycroft," he added, filling a goblet from one of the bottles. "My service to you, gents. Famous tipple, by Jove!" drawing a long breath after the draught, and smacking his lips with amazing satisfaction. "Never tasted sich a glass o' wine in all my born days," he continued, replenishing the goblet: "I wonder wot it's called?"

"Prussic acid," replied Mr. Thorneycroft gruffly.

"Proossic fiddlestick!" cried Ginger; "more likely Tokay. I shall finish the bottle, and never be the vorse for it!"

"He's gettin' svipy," said the Tinker. "I vonder vether it's really Tokay?"

"No such thing," cried Thorneycroft; "let him alone."

"I must taste it," said the Tinker, unable to resist the temptation. "Here, give us a glass, Ginger!"

"Vith pleasure," replied Ginger, filling a goblet to the brim, and handing it to him. "You'd better be perwailed upon, Sandy."

"Vell, I s'pose I must," replied the Sandman, taking the goblet proffered him.

"Here's the beaks' healths!" cried Ginger. "I gives that toast 'cos they're alvays so kind to us dog-fanciers."

"Dog-fanciers – say, rather, dog-stealers; for that's the name such vagabonds deserve to be known by," said Mr. Thorneycroft with some asperity.

"Vell, ve von't quarrel about names," replied Ginger, laughing, "but I'll relate a circumstance to you as'll prove that wotever your opinion of our wocation may be, the beaks upholds it."

"There can be but one opinion as to your nefarious profession," said Mr. Thorneycroft, "and that is, that it's as bad as horse-stealing and sheep-stealing, and should be punished as those offences are punished."

"So I think, sir," said Ginger, winking at the others; "but to my story, and don't interrupt me, or I can't get through vith it properly. There's a gent livin' not a hundred miles from Pall Mall, as the noospapers says, as had a favourite Scotch terrier, not worth more nor half-a-crown to any one but hisself, but highly wallerable to him, 'cos it wos a favourite. Vell, the dog is lost. A pal of mine gets hold on it, and the gent soon offers a reward for its recovery. This don't bring it back quite so soon as he expects, 'cos he don't offer enough; so he goes to an agent, Mr. Simpkins, in the Edger Road, and Mr. Simpkins says to him – says he, 'How are you, sir? I expected you some days ago. You've com'd about that ere Scotch terrier. You've got a wallable greyhound, I understand. A man told me he'd have that afore long.' Seein' the gent stare, Mr. S. adds, 'Vel, I'll tell you wot you must give for your dog. The party von't take less than six guineas. He knows it ain't vorth six shillin', but it's a great favourite, and has given him a precious sight o' trouble in gettin' it.' 'Give him trouble!' cries the gent angrily – 'and what has it given me? I hope to see the rascal hanged! I shall pay no such money.' 'Werry vell,' replies Mr. Simpkins coolly, 'then your dog'll be bled to death, as the nobleman's wos, and thrown down a breathless carkis afore your door.'"

"You don't mean to say that such a horrid circumstance as that really took place?" cried Thorneycroft, who was much interested in the relation.

"Only t'other day, I assure you," replied Ginger.

"I'd shoot the ruffian who treated a dog of mine so, if I caught him!" cried Mr. Thorneycroft indignantly.

"And sarve him right, too," said Ginger. "I discourages all cruelty to hanimals. But don't interrupt me again. Arter a bit more chafferin' vith Mr. Simpkins, the gent offers three pound for his dog, and then goes avay. Next day he reads a report i' the Times noospaper that a man has been taken up for dog-stealin', and that a lot o' dogs is shut up in the green-yard behind the police-office in Bow Street. So he goes there in search o' his favourite, and sure enough he finds it, but the inspector von't give it up to him, 'cos the superintendent is out o' the vay."

"Shameful!" cried Mr. Thorneycroft.

"Shameful, indeed, sir," echoed Ginger, laughing. "Thinkin' his dog safe enough in the hands o' the police, the gent sleeps soundly that night, but ven he goes back next mornin' he finds it has disappeared. The green-yard has been broken into overnight, and all the dogs stolen from it."

"Under the noses of the police?" cried Thorneycroft.

"Under their werry noses," replied Ginger. "But now comes the cream o' the jest. You shall hear wot the beak says to him ven the gent craves his assistance. 'I can't interfere in the matter,' says he, a-bendin' of his brows in a majestic manner. 'Parties don't ought to come here vith complaints of vhich I can't take notice. This place ain't an advertisin' office, and I sha'n't suffer it to be made von. I von't listen to statements affectin' the characters of absent parties.' Statements affectin' our characters, – do you tvig that, sir?"

"I do, indeed," said Thorneycroft, sighing; "and I am sorry to think such a remark should have dropped from the bench."

"You're right to say dropped from it, sir," laughed Ginger. "I told you the beaks vos our best friends; they alvays takes our parts. Ven the gent urges that it was a subject of ser'ous importance to all dog-owners, the magistrit angrily interrupts him, sayin' – 'Then let there be a meetin' of dog-owners to discuss their grievances. Don't come to me. I can't help you.' And he vouldn't if he could, 'cos he's the dog-fancier's friend."

"It looks like it, I must own," replied Thorneycroft. "Such reprehensible indifference gives encouragement to people of your profession. Government itself is to blame. As all persons who keep dogs pay a tax for them, their property ought to be protected."

"I'm quite satisfied vith the present state of the law," said Ginger; "here's the vorthy beak! I'll drink his health a second time."

"Halloa! wot's that?" cried the Tinker; "I thought I heerd a noise."

"So did I," rejoined the Sandman; "a strange sort o' rumblin' sound overhead."

"There it goes again!" cried Ginger; "wot an awful din!"

"Now it's underneath," said Mr. Thorneycroft, turning pale, and trembling. "It sounds as if some hidden machinery were at work."

The noise, which up to this moment had borne an indistinct resemblance to the creaking of wheels and pulleys, now increased to a violent clatter, while the house was shaken as if by the explosion of a mine beneath it.

At the same time, the occupants of the chairs received a sharp electrical shock, that agitated every limb, and caused Mr. Thorneycroft to let fall his pistol, which went off as it reached the ground. At the same time, the Sandman dropped his goblet, and the Tinker relinquished his grasp of the cutlass. Before they could recover from the shock, all three were caught by stout wooden hooks, which, detaching themselves from the back of the chairs, pinioned their arms, while their legs were restrained by fetters, which sprang from the ground and clasped round their ankles. Thus fixed, they struggled vainly to get free. The chairs seemed nailed to the ground, so that all efforts to move them proved futile.

But the worst was to come. From the holes in the ceiling already alluded to, descended three heavy bell-shaped helmets, fashioned like those worn by divers at the bottom of the sea, and having round eyelet-holes of glass. It was evident, from the manner of their descent, that these helmets must drop on the heads of the sitters – a conviction that filled them with inexpressible terror. They shouted, and swore frightfully; but their vociferations availed them nothing. Down came the helmets, and the same moment the monkey, which had been seen by Reeks, issued from a cupboard at the top of a cabinet, and grinned and gibbered at them.

Down came the first helmet, and covered the Tinker to the shoulders. His appearance was at once ludicrous and terrible, and his roaring within the casque sounded like the bellowing of a baited bull.

Down came the second helmet, though rather more slowly, and the Sandman was eclipsed in the same manner as the Tinker, and roared as loudly.

In both these instances the helmets had dropped without guidance, but in the case of Mr. Thorneycroft, a hand, thrust out of the hole in the ceiling, held the helmet suspended over his head, like the sword of Damocles. While the poor iron-merchant momentarily expected the same doom as his companions, his attention was attracted towards the monkey, which, clinging with one hand to the side of the cabinet, extended the other skinny arm towards him, and exclaimed – "Will you swear to go hence if you are spared?"

"No, I will not," replied the iron-merchant. He had scarcely spoken, when the helmet fell with a jerk, and extinguished him like the others.

Ginger alone remained. During the whole of this strange scene, he had stood with the bottle in hand, transfixed with terror and astonishment, and wholly unable to move or cry out. A climax was put to his fright, by the descent of the three chairs, with their occupants, through the floor into a vault beneath; and as the helmets were whisked up again to the ceiling, and the trap-doors closed upon the chairs, he dropped the bottle, and fell with his face upon the table. He was, however, soon roused by a pull at his hair, while a shrill voice called him by his name.

"Who is it?" groaned the dog-fancier.

"Look up!" cried the speaker, again plucking his hair.

Ginger complied, and beheld the monkey seated beside him.

"Vy, it can't be, surely," he cried. "And yet I could almost svear it was Old Parr."

"You're near the mark," replied the other, with a shrill laugh. "It is your venerable friend."

"Vot the deuce are you doing here, and in this dress, or rayther undress?" inquired Ginger. "Ven I see you this mornin', you wos in the serwice of Mr. Loftus."

"I've got a new master since then," replied the dwarf.

"I'm sorry to hear it," said Ginger, shaking his head. "You haven't sold yourself, like Doctor Forster – eh?"

"Faustus, my dear Ginger – not Forster," corrected Old Parr. "No, no, I've made no bargain. And to be plain with you, I've no desire to remain long in my present master's service."

"I don't like to ask the question too directly, wenerable," said Ginger, in a deprecatory tone – "but is your master – hem! – is he – hem! – the – the – "

"The devil, you would say," supplied Old Parr. "Between ourselves, I'm afraid there's no denying it."

"La! wot a horrible idea!" exclaimed Ginger, with a shudder; "it makes the flesh creep on one's bones. Then we're in your master's power?"

"Very like it," replied Old Parr.

"And there ain't no chance o' deliverance?"

"None that occurs to me."

"O Lord! O Lord!" groaned Ginger; "I'll repent. I'll become a reformed character. I'll never steal dogs no more."

"In that case, there may be some chance for you," said Old Parr. "I think I could help you to escape. Come with me, and I'll try and get you out."

"But wot is to become of the others?" demanded Ginger.

"Oh, leave them to their fate," replied Old Parr.

"No, that'll never do," cried Ginger. "Ve're all in the same boat, and must row out together the best vay ve can. I tell you wot it is, wenerable," he added, seizing him by the throat – "your master may be the devil, but you're mortal; and if you don't help me to deliver my companions, I'll squeege your windpipe for you."

"That's not the way to induce me to help you," said Old Parr, twisting himself like an eel out of the other's gripe. "Now get out, if you can."

"Don't be angry," cried Ginger, seeing the mistake he had committed, and trying to conciliate him; "I only meant to frighten you a bit. Can you tell me if Mr. Auriol Darcy is here?"



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