William Ainsworth.

Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life



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"Yes, he is, and a close prisoner," replied Old Parr.

"And the girl – Miss Ebber, wot of her?"

"I can't say," rejoined Old Parr. "I can only speak to the living."

"Then she's dead!" cried Ginger, with a look of horror.

"That's a secret," replied the dwarf mysteriously; "and I'm bound by a terrible oath not to disclose it."

"I'll have it out of you notvithstandin'," muttered Ginger. "I vish you would lend me a knock on the head, old feller. I can't help thinkin' I've got a terrible fit o' the nightmare."

"Let this waken you, then," said Old Parr, giving him a sound buffet on the ear.

"Holloa, wenerable! not so hard!" cried Ginger.

"Ha! ha! ha!" screamed the dwarf. "You know what you're about now."

"Not exactly," said Ginger. "I vish I wos fairly out o' this cursed place!"

"You shouldn't have ventured into the lion's den," said Old Parr, in a taunting tone. "But come with me, and perhaps I may be able to do something towards your liberation."

So saying, he drew aside the tapestry, and opened a panel behind it, through which he passed, and beckoned Ginger to follow him. Taking a pistol from his pocket, the latter complied.

CHAPTER III
GERARD PASTON

Before the chair, in which Mr. Thorneycroft was fixed, reached the ground, terror had taken away his senses. A bottle of salts, placed to his nose, revived him after a time; but he had nearly relapsed into insensibility on seeing two strange figures, in hideous masks and sable cloaks, standing on either side of him, while at a little distance was a third, who carried a strangely-fashioned lantern. He looked round for his companions in misfortune, but, though the chairs were there, they were unoccupied.

The masked attendants paid no attention to the iron-merchant's cries and entreaties; but as soon as they thought him able to move, they touched a spring, which freed his arms and legs from their bondage, and raising him, dragged him out of the vault, and along a narrow passage, till they came to a large sepulchral-looking chamber, cased with black marble, in the midst of which, on a velvet fauteuil of the same hue as the walls, sat Cyprian Rougemont. It was, in fact, the chamber where Ebba had been subject to her terrible trial.

Bewildered with terror, the poor iron-merchant threw himself at the feet of Rougemont, who, eyeing him with a look of malignant triumph, cried —

"You have come to seek your daughter. Behold her!"

And at the words, the large black curtains at the farther end of the room were suddenly withdrawn, and discovered the figure of Ebba Thorneycroft standing at the foot of the marble staircase. Her features were as pale as death; her limbs rigid and motionless; but her eyes blazed with preternatural light. On beholding her, Mr. Thorneycroft uttered a loud cry, and, springing to his feet, would have rushed towards her, but he was held back by the two masked attendants, who seized each arm, and detained him by main force.

"Ebba!" he cried – "Ebba!"

But she appeared wholly insensible to his cries, and remained in the same attitude, with her eyes turned away from him.

"What ails her?" cried the agonised father.

"Ebba! Ebba!"

"Call louder," said Rougemont, with a jeering laugh.

"Do you not know me? do you not hear me?" shrieked Mr. Thorneycroft.

Still the figure remained immovable.

"I told you you should see her," replied Rougemont, in a taunting tone; "but she is beyond your reach."

"Not so, not so!" cried Thorneycroft. "Come to me, Ebba! – come to your father. O Heaven! she hears me not! she heeds me not! Her senses are gone."

"She is fast bound by a spell," said Rougemont. "Take a last look of her. You will see her no more."

And, stretching out his hand, the curtains slowly descended, and shrouded the figure from view.

Thorneycroft groaned aloud.

"Are you not content?" cried Rougemont. "Will you depart in peace, and swear never to come here more? If so, I will liberate you and your companions."

"So far from complying with your request, I swear never to rest till I have rescued my child from you, accursed being!" cried Thorneycroft energetically.

"You have sealed your doom, then," replied Rougemont. "But before you are yourself immured, you shall see how Auriol Darcy is circumstanced. Bring him along."

And, followed by the attendants, who dragged Mr. Thorneycroft after him, he plunged into an opening on the right. A few steps brought him to the entrance of the cell. Touching the heavy iron door, it instantly swung open, and disclosed Auriol chained to a stone at the farther corner of the narrow chamber.

Not a word was spoken for some minutes, but the captives regarded each other piteously.

"Oh, Mr. Thorneycroft," cried Auriol, at length, "I beseech you forgive me. I have destroyed your daughter."

"You!" exclaimed the iron-merchant in astonishment.

"It is true," said Rougemont.

"I would have saved her if it had been possible!" cried Auriol. "I warned her that to love me would be fatal to her. I told her I was linked to an inexorable destiny, which would involve her in its meshes – but in vain."

"Oh!" ejaculated Thorneycroft.

"You see you ought to blame him, not me," said Rougemont, with a derisive laugh.

"I would have given my life, my soul, to preserve her, had it been possible!" cried Auriol.

"Horrors crowd so thick upon me that my brain reels," cried Thorneycroft. "Merciless wretch!" he added, to Rougemont, "fiend – whatever you are, complete your work of ruin by my destruction. I have nothing left to tie me to life."

"I would have the miserable live," said Rougemont, with a diabolical laugh. "It is only the happy I seek to destroy. But you have to thank your own obstinacy for your present distress. Bid a lasting farewell to Auriol. You will see him no more."

"Hold!" exclaimed Auriol. "A word before we part."

"Ay, hold!" echoed a loud and imperious voice from the depths of the passage.

"Ha! – who speaks?" demanded Rougemont, a shade passing over his countenance.

"I, Gerard Paston!" exclaimed Reeks, stepping forward.

The crape was gone from his brow, and in its place was seen the handsome and resolute features of a man of middle life. He held a pistol in either hand.

"Is it you, Gerard Paston?" cried Auriol, regarding him; "the brother of Clara, my second victim!"

"It is," replied the other. "Your deliverance is at hand, Auriol."

"And you have dared to penetrate here, Gerard?" cried Rougemont, stamping the ground with rage. "Recollect, you are bound to me by the same ties as Auriol, and you shall share his fate."

"I am not to be intimidated by threats," replied Paston, with a scornful laugh. "You have employed your arts too long. Deliver up Auriol and this gentleman at once, or – " And he levelled the pistols at him.

"Fire!" cried Rougemont, drawing himself up to his towering height. "No earthly bullets can injure me."

"Ve'll try that!" cried Ginger, coming up at the moment behind Paston.

And he discharged a pistol, with a deliberate aim, at the breast of Rougemont. The latter remained erect, and apparently uninjured.

"You see how ineffectual your weapons are," said Rougemont, with a derisive laugh.

"It must be the devil!" cried Ginger, running off.

"I will try mine," said Paston.

But before he could draw the triggers, the pistols were wrested from his grasp by the two attendants, who had quitted Thorneycroft, and stolen upon him unperceived, and who next pinioned his arms.

CHAPTER IV
THE PIT

So bewildered was the poor iron-merchant by the strange and terrible events that had befallen him, that, though released by the two masked attendants, who left him, as before related, to seize Gerard Paston, he felt utterly incapable of exertion, and would probably have made no effort to regain his freedom, if his coat had not been vigorously plucked behind, while a low voice urged him to fly. Glancing in the direction of the friendly speaker, he could just discern a diminutive object standing within the entrance of a side-passage, and reared up against the wall so as to be out of sight of Rougemont and his attendants. It was the monkey – or rather Old Parr – who, continuing to tug violently at his coat, at last succeeded in drawing him backwards into the passage, and then grasping his hand tightly, hurried him along it. The passage was wholly unlighted, but Mr. Thorneycroft could perceive that it was exceedingly circuitous, and winded round like a maze.

"Where are you taking me?" he inquired, attempting to stop.

"Ask no questions," rejoined the dwarf, pulling him along. "Do you want to be captured, and shut up in a cell for the rest of your life?"

"Certainly not," replied Thorneycroft, accelerating his movements; "I hope there's no chance of it."

"There's every chance of it," rejoined Old Parr. "If you're taken, you'll share Auriol's fate."

"O Lord! I hope not," groaned the iron-merchant. "I declare, you frighten me so much that you take away all power of movement. I shall drop in a minute."

"Come along, I say," screamed the dwarf. "I hear them close behind us."

And as he spoke, shouts, and the noise of rapidly-approaching footsteps, resounded along the passage.

"I can't stir another step," gasped the iron-merchant. "I'm completely done. Better yield at once."

"What, without a struggle?" cried the dwarf tauntingly. "Think of your daughter, and let the thought of her nerve your heart. She is lost for ever, if you don't get out of this accursed place."

"She is lost for ever as it is," cried the iron-merchant despairingly.

"No – she may yet be saved," rejoined the dwarf. "Come on – come on – they are close behind us."

And it was evident, from the increased clamour, that their pursuers were upon them.

Roused by the imminence of the danger, and by the hope of rescuing his daughter, Mr. Thorneycroft exerted all his energies, and sprang forward. A little farther on, they were stopped by a door. It was closed; and venting his disappointment in a scream, the dwarf searched for the handle, but could not find it.

"We are entrapped – we shall be caught," he cried, "and then woe to both of us. Fool that I was to attempt your preservation. Better I had left you to rot in a dungeon than have incurred Rougemont's displeasure."

The iron-merchant replied by a groan.

"It's all over with me," he said. "I give it up – I'll die here!"

"No – we are saved," cried the dwarf, as the light, now flashing strongly upon the door, revealed a small iron button within it, – "saved – saved!"

As he spoke, he pressed against the button, which moved a spring, and the door flew open. Just as they passed through it, the two masked attendants came in sight. The dwarf instantly shut the door, and finding a bolt on the side next him, shot it into the socket. Scarcely had he accomplished this, when the pursuers came up, and dashed themselves against the door; but finding it bolted, presently ceased their efforts, and apparently withdrew.

"They are gone by some other way to intercept us," cried Old Parr, who had paused for a moment to listen; "come on, Mr. Thorneycroft."

"I'll try," replied the iron-merchant, with a subdued groan, "but I'm completely spent. Oh that I ever ventured into this place!"

"It's too late to think of that now; besides, you came here to rescue your daughter," rejoined Old Parr. "Take care and keep near me. I wonder where this passage leads to?"

"Don't you know?" inquired the iron-merchant.

"Not in the least," returned the dwarf. "This is the first time I've been here – and it shall be the last, if I'm allowed any choice in the matter."

"You haven't told me how you came here at all," observed Thorneycroft.

"I hardly know myself," replied the dwarf; "but I find it more difficult to get out than I did to get in. How this passage twists about! I declare we seem to be returning to the point we started from."

"I think we are turning round ourselves," cried Thorneycroft, in an agony of fright. "My head is going. Oh dear! oh dear!"

"Why, it does seem very strange, I must say," remarked the dwarf, coming to a halt. "I could almost fancy that the solid stone walls were moving around us."

"They are moving," cried Thorneycroft, stretching out his hand. "I feel 'em. Lord have mercy upon us, and deliver us from the power of the Evil One!"

"The place seems on fire," cried the dwarf. "A thick smoke fills the passage. Don't you perceive it, Mr. Thorneycroft?"

"Don't I! – to be sure I do," cried the iron-merchant, coughing and sneezing. "I feel as if I were in a room with a smoky chimney, and no window open. Oh! – oh! – I'm choking!"

"Don't mind it," cried the dwarf, who seemed quite at his ease. "We shall soon be out of the smoke."

"I can't stand it," cried Mr. Thorneycroft; "I shall die. Oh! poah – pish – puff!"

"Come on, I tell you – you'll get some fresh air in a minute," rejoined Old Parr. "Halloa! how's this? No outlet. We're come to a dead stop."

"Dead stop, indeed!" echoed the iron-merchant. "We've come to that long ago. But what new difficulty has arisen?"

"Merely that the road's blocked up by a solid wall – that's all," replied Old Parr.

"Blocked up!" exclaimed Thorneycroft. "Then we're entombed alive."

"I am," said the dwarf, with affected nonchalance. "As to you, you've the comfort of knowing it'll soon be over with you. But for me, nothing can harm me."

"Don't be too sure of that," cried a voice above them.

"Did you speak, Mr. Thorneycroft?" asked the dwarf.

"N-o-o – not I," gasped the iron-merchant. "I'm suffocating – help to drag me out."

"Get out if you can," cried the voice that had just spoken.

"It's Rougemont himself," cried the dwarf in alarm. "Then there's no escape."

"None whatever, rascal," replied the unseen speaker. "I want you. I have more work for you to do."

"I won't leave Mr. Thorneycroft," cried the dwarf resolutely. "I've promised to preserve him, and I'll keep my word."

"Fool!" cried the other. "You must obey when I command."

And as the words were uttered, a hand was thrust down from above, which, grasping the dwarf by the nape of the neck, drew him upwards.

"Lay hold of me, Mr. Thorneycroft," screamed Old Parr. "I'm going up again – lay hold of me – pull me down."

Well-nigh stifled by the thickening and pungent vapour, the poor iron-merchant found compliance impossible. Before he could reach the dwarf, the little fellow was carried off. Left to himself, Mr. Thorneycroft staggered along the passage, expecting every moment to drop, until at length a current of fresh air blew in his face, and enabled him to breathe more freely. Somewhat revived, he went on, but with great deliberation, and it was well he did so, for he suddenly arrived at the brink of a pit about eight feet in depth, into which, if he had approached it incautiously, he must infallibly have stumbled, and in all probability have broken his neck. This pit evidently communicated with a lower range of chambers, as was shown by a brazen lamp burning under an archway. A ladder was planted at one side, and by this Mr. Thorneycroft descended, but scarcely had he set foot on the ground, than he felt himself rudely grasped by a man who stepped from under the archway. The next moment, however, he was released, while the familiar voice of the Tinker exclaimed —

"Vy, bless my 'art, if it ain't Mister Thorneycroft."

"Yes, it's me, certainly, Mr. Tinker," replied the iron-merchant. "Who's that you've got with you?"

"Vy, who should it be but the Sandman," rejoined the other gruffly. "Ve've set ourselves free at last, and have made some nice diskiveries into the bargin."

"Yes, ve've found it all out," added the Tinker.

"What have you discovered – what have you found out?" cried the iron-merchant breathlessly. "Have you found my daughter? Where is she? Take me to her."

"Not so fast, old gent, not so fast," rejoined the Tinker. "Ve ain't sure as 'ow ve've found your darter, but ve've catched a peep of a nice young 'ooman."

"Oh! it must be her – no doubt of it," cried the iron-merchant. "Where is she? Take me to her without a moment's delay."

"But ve can't get to her, I tell 'ee," replied the Tinker. "Ve knows the place vere she's a-shut up, – that's all."

"Take me to it," cried Mr. Thorneycroft eagerly.

"Vell, if you must go, step this vay, then," rejoined the Tinker, proceeding towards the archway. "Halloa, Sandy, did you shut the door arter you?"

"Not I," replied the other; "open it."

"Easily said," rejoined the Tinker, "but not quevite so easily done. Vy, zounds, it's shut of itself and bolted itself on t'other side!"

"Some one must have followed you," groaned Thorneycroft. "We're watched on all sides."

"Ay, and from above, too," cried the Sandman. "Look up there!" he added, in accents of alarm.

"What's the matter? What new danger is at hand?" inquired the iron-merchant.

"Look up, I say," cried the Sandman. "Don't ye see, Tinker?"

"Ay, ay, I see," replied the other. "The roof's a-comin' in upon us. Let's get out o' this as fast as ve can." And he kicked and pushed against the door, but all his efforts were unavailing to burst it open.

At the same time the Sandman rushed towards the ladder, but before he could mount it all egress by that means was cut off. An immense iron cover worked in a groove was pushed by some unseen machinery over the top of the pit, and enclosed them in it.

CHAPTER V
NEW PERPLEXITIES

For several hours deep sleep, occasioned by some potent medicaments, had bound up the senses of Auriol. On awaking, he found himself within a cell, the walls, the floor, and the ceiling of which were of solid stone masonry. In the midst of this chamber, and supporting the ponderous roof, stood a massive granite pillar, the capital of which was grotesquely ornamented with death's-heads and cross-bones, and against this pillar leaned Auriol, with his left arm chained by heavy links of iron to a ring in the adjoining wall. Beside him stood a pitcher of water, and near him lay an antique-looking book, bound in black vellum. The dungeon in which he was confined was circular in form, with a coved roof, sustained by the pillar before mentioned, and was approached by a steep flight of steps rising from a doorway, placed some six feet below the level of the chamber, and surmounted by a pointed arch. A stream of light, descending from a narrow aperture in the roof, fell upon his wasted and haggard features. His dark-brown hair hung about his face in elf-locks, his beard was untrimmed, and a fixed and stony glare like that of insanity sat in his eye. He was seated on the ground – neither bench nor stool being allowed him – with his hand supporting his chin. His gaze was fixed upon vacancy – if that can he called vacancy which to him was filled with vivid images. His garb was not that of modern times, but consisted of a doublet and hose of rich material, wrought in the fashion of Elizabeth's days.

After remaining for some time in this musing attitude, Auriol opened the old tome before him, and began to turn over its leaves. It was full of magical disquisitions and mysterious characters, and he found inscribed on one of its earlier pages a name which instantly riveted his attention. Having vainly sought some explanation of this name in the after contents of the book, he laid it aside, and became lost in meditation. His reverie ended, he heaved a deep sigh, and turned again to the open volume lying before him, and in doing so his eye rested for the first time on his habiliments. On beholding them he started, and held out his arm to examine his sleeve more narrowly. Satisfied that he was not deceived, he arose and examined himself from head to foot. He found himself, as has been stated, attired in the garb of a gentleman of Elizabeth's time.

"What can this mean?" he cried. "Have I endured a long and troubled dream, during which I have fancied myself living through more than two centuries? O Heaven, that it may be so! Oh that the fearful crimes I suppose I have committed have only been enacted in a dream! Oh that my victims are imaginary! Oh that Ebba should only prove a lovely phantom of the night! And yet, I could almost wish the rest were real – so that she might exist. I cannot bear to think that she is nothing more than a vision. But it must be so – I have been dreaming – and what a dream it has been! – what strange glimpses it has afforded me into futurity! Methought I lived in the reigns of many sovereigns – beheld one of them carried to the block – saw revolutions convulse the kingdom – old dynasties shaken down, and new ones spring up. Fashions seem to me to have so changed, that I had clean forgotten the old ones; while my fellow-men scarcely appeared the same as heretofore. Can I be the same myself? Is this the dress I once wore? Let me seek for some proof."

And thrusting his hand into his doublet, he drew forth some tablets, and hastily examined them. They bore his name, and contained some writing, and he exclaimed aloud with joy, "This is proof enough – I have been dreaming all this while."

"The scheme works to a miracle," muttered a personage stationed at the foot of the steps springing from the doorway, and who, though concealed from view himself, was watching the prisoner with a malignant and exulting gaze.



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