Auriol: or, The Elixir of Lifeскачать книгу бесплатно
"And yet, why am I here?" pursued Auriol, looking around. "Ah! I see how it is," he added, with a shudder; "I have been mad – perhaps am mad still. That will account for the strange delusion under which I have laboured."
"I will act upon that hint," muttered the listener.
"Of what use is memory," continued Auriol musingly, "if things that are not, seem as if they were? If joys and sorrows which we have never endured are stamped upon the brain – if visions of scenes, and faces and events which we have never witnessed, never known, haunt us, as if they had once been familiar? But I am mad – mad!"
The listener laughed to himself.
"How else, if I were not mad, could I have believed that I had swallowed the fabled elixir vit?? And yet, is it a fable? for I am puzzled still. Methinks I am old – old – old – though I feel young, and look young. All this is madness. Yet how clear and distinct it seems! I can call to mind events in Charles the Second's time. Ha! – who told me of Charles the Second? How know I there was such a king? The reigning sovereign should be James, and yet I fancy it is George the Fourth. Oh! I am mad – clean mad!"
There was another pause, during which the listener indulged in a suppressed fit of laughter.
"Would I could look forth from this dungeon," pursued Auriol, again breaking silence, "and satisfy myself of the truth or falsehood of my doubts by a view of the external world, for I am so perplexed in mind, that if I were not distracted already, they would be enough to drive me so. What dismal, terrible fancies have possessed me, and weigh upon me still – the compact with Rougemont – ha!"
"Now it comes," cried the listener.
"Oh, that I could shake off the conviction that this were not so – that my soul, though heavily laden, might still be saved! Oh, that I dared to hope this!"
"I must interrupt him if he pursues this strain," said the listener.
Rougemont's device to perplex Auriol.
"Whether my crimes are real or imaginary – whether I snatched the cup of immortality from my grandsire's dying lips – whether I signed a compact with the Fiend, and delivered him a victim on each tenth year – I cannot now know; but if it is so, I deeply, bitterly regret them, and would expiate my offences by a life of penance."
At this moment Rougemont, attired in a dress similar to that of the prisoner, marched up the steps, and cried, "What ho, Auriol! – Auriol Darcy!"
"Who speaks?" demanded Auriol. "Ah! is it you, Fiend?"
"What, you are still in your old fancies," rejoined Rougemont. "I thought the draught I gave you last night would have amended you."
"Tell me who and what I am," cried Auriol, stupefied with astonishment; "in what age I am living; and whether I am in my right mind or not?"
"For the first, you are called Auriol Darcy," replied Rougemont; "for the second, you are living in the reign of his most Catholic Majesty James I.
of England, and Sixth of Scotland; and for the third, I trust you will soon recover your reason."
"Amazement!" cried Auriol, striking his brow with his clenched hand. "Then I am mad."
"It's plain your reason is returning, since you are conscious of your condition," replied Rougemont; "but calm yourself, you have been subject to raging frenzies."
"And I have been shut up here for safety?" demanded Auriol.
"Precisely," observed the other.
"And you are – "
"Your keeper," replied Rougemont.
"My God! what a brain mine must be!" cried Auriol. "Answer me one question – Is there such a person as Ebba Thorneycroft?"
"You have often raved about her," replied Rougemont. "But she is a mere creature of the imagination."
Auriol groaned, and sank against the wall.
"Since you have become so reasonable, you shall again go forth into the world," said Rougemont; "but the first essay must be made at night, for fear of attracting observation. I will come to you again a few hours hence. Farewell for the present."
And casting a sinister glance at his captive, he turned upon his heel, descended the steps, and quitted the cell.
DOCTOR LAMB AGAIN
Night came, and the cell grew profoundly dark. Auriol became impatient for the appearance of his keeper, but hour after hour passed and he did not arrive. Worn out, at length, with doubt and bewildering speculations, the miserable captive was beset with the desire to put an end to his torments by suicide, and he determined to execute his fell purpose without delay. An evil chance seemed also to befriend him, for scarcely was the idea formed, than his foot encountered something on the ground, the rattling of which attracted his attention, and stooping to take it up, he grasped the bare blade of a knife.
"This will, at all events, solve my doubts," he cried aloud. "I will sheathe this weapon in my heart, and, if I am mortal, my woes will be ended."
As he spoke, he placed the point to his breast with the full intent to strike, but before he could inflict the slightest wound, his arm was forcibly arrested.
"Would you destroy yourself, madman?" roared a voice. "I thought your violence was abated, and that you might go forth in safety. But I find you are worse than ever."
Auriol uttered a groan and let the knife fall to the ground. The new-comer kicked it to a distance with his foot.
"You shall be removed to another chamber," he pursued, "where you can be more strictly watched."
"Take me forth – oh! take me forth," cried Auriol. "It was a mere impulse of desperation, which I now repent."
"I dare not trust you. You will commit some act of insane fury, for which I myself shall have to bear the blame. When I yielded to your entreaties on a former occasion, and took you forth, I narrowly prevented you from doing all we met a mischief."
"I have no recollection of any such circumstance," returned Auriol mournfully. "But it may be true, nevertheless. And if so, it only proves the lamentable condition to which I am reduced – memory and reason gone!"
"Ay, both gone," cried the other, with an irrepressible chuckle.
"Ha!" exclaimed Auriol, starting. "I am not so mad but I recognise in you the Evil Being who tempted me. I am not so oblivious as to forget our terrible interviews."
"What, you are in your lunes again!" cried Rougemont fiercely. "Nay, then I must call my assistants, and bind you."
"Let me be – let me be!" implored Auriol, "and I will offend you no more. Whatever thoughts may arise within me, I will not give utterance to them. Only take me forth."
"I came for that purpose," said Rougemont; "but I repeat, I dare not. You are not sufficiently master of yourself."
"Try me," said Auriol.
"Well," rejoined the other, "I will see what I can do to calm you."
So saying, he disappeared for a few moments, and then returning with a torch, placed it on the ground, and producing a phial, handed it to the captive.
"Drink!" he said.
Without a moment's hesitation Auriol complied.
"It seems to me rather a stimulant than a soothing potion," he remarked, after emptying the phial.
"You are in no condition to judge," rejoined the other.
And he proceeded to unfasten Auriol's chain.
"Now then, come with me," he said, "and do not make any attempt at evasion, or you will rue it."
Like one in a dream, Auriol followed his conductor down the flight of stone steps leading from the dungeon, and along a narrow passage. As he proceeded, he thought he heard stealthy footsteps behind him; but he never turned his head, to see whether he was really followed. In this way they reached a short steep staircase, and mounting it, entered a vault, in which Rougemont paused, and placed the torch he had brought with him upon the floor. Its lurid glimmer partially illumined the chamber, and showed that it was built of stone. Rude benches of antique form were set about the vault, and motioning Auriol to be seated upon one of them, Rougemont sounded a silver whistle. The summons was shortly afterwards answered by the dwarf, in whose attire a new change had taken place. He was now clothed in a jerkin of grey serge, fashioned like the garments worn by the common people in Elizabeth's reign, and wore a trencher-cap on his head. Auriol watched him as he timidly advanced towards Rougemont, and had an indistinct recollection of having seen him before; but could not call to mind how or where.
"Is your master a-bed?" demanded Rougemont.
"A-bed! Good lack, sir!" exclaimed the dwarf, "little of sleep knows Doctor Lamb. He will toil at the furnace till the stars have set."
"Doctor Lamb!" repeated Auriol. "Surely I have heard that name before?"
"Very likely," replied Rougemont, "for it is the name borne by your nearest kinsman."
"How is the poor young gentleman?" asked the dwarf, glancing commiseratingly at Auriol. "My master often makes inquiries after his grandson, and grieves that the state of his mind should render it necessary to confine him."
"His grandson! I – Doctor Lamb's grandson!" cried Auriol.
"In sooth are you, young sir," returned the dwarf. "Were you in your reason, you would be aware that my master's name is the same as your own – Darcy – Reginald Darcy. He assumes the name of Doctor Lamb to delude the multitude. He told you as much yourself, sweet sir, if your poor wits would enable you to recollect it."
"Am I in a dream, good fellow, tell me that?" cried Auriol, lost in amazement.
"Alack, no, sir," replied the dwarf; "to my thinking, you are wide awake. But you know, sir," he added, touching his forehead, "you have been a little wrong here, and your memory and reason are not of the clearest."
"Where does my grandsire dwell?" asked Auriol.
"Why here, sir," replied the dwarf; "and for the matter of locality, the house is situated on the south end of London Bridge."
"On the bridge – did you say on the bridge, friend?" cried Auriol.
"Ay, on the bridge – where else should it be? You would not have your grandsire live under the river?" rejoined the dwarf; "though, for ought I know, some of these vaults may go under it. They are damp enough."
Auriol was lost in reflection, and did not observe a sign that passed between the dwarf and Rougemont.
"Will it disturb Doctor Lamb if his grandson goes up to him?" said the latter, after a brief pause.
"My master does not like to be interrupted in his operations, as you know, sir," replied the dwarf, "and seldom suffers any one, except myself, to enter his laboratory; but I will make so bold as to introduce Master Auriol, if he desires it."
"You will confer the greatest favour on me by doing so," cried Auriol, rising.
"Sit down – sit down!" said Rougemont authoritatively. "You cannot go up till the doctor has been apprised. Remain here, while Flapdragon and I ascertain his wishes." So saying, he quitted the chamber by a farther outlet with the dwarf.
During the short time that Auriol was left alone, he found it vain to attempt to settle his thoughts, or to convince himself that he was not labouring under some strange delusion.
He was aroused at length by the dwarf, who returned alone.
"Your grandsire will see you," said the mannikin.
"One word before we go," cried Auriol, seizing his arm.
"Saints! how you frighten me!" exclaimed the dwarf. "You must keep composed, or I dare not take you to my master."
"Pardon me," replied Auriol; "I meant not to alarm you. Where is the person who brought me hither?"
"What, your keeper?" said the dwarf. "Oh, he is within call. He will come to you anon. Now follow me."
And taking up the torch, he led the way out of the chamber. Mounting a spiral staircase, apparently within a turret, they came to a door, which being opened by Flapdragon, disclosed a scene that well-nigh stupefied Auriol.
It was the laboratory precisely as he had seen it above two centuries ago. The floor was strewn with alchemical implements – the table was covered with mystic parchments inscribed with cabalistic characters – the furnace stood in the corner – crucibles and cucurbites decorated the chimney-board – the sphere and brazen lamp hung from the ceiling – the skeletons grinned from behind the chimney-corner – all was there as he had seen it before! There also was Doctor Lamb, in his loose gown of sable silk, with a square black cap upon his venerable head, and his snowy beard streaming to his girdle.
The old man's gaze was fixed upon a crucible placed upon the furnace, and he was occupied in working the bellows. He moved his head as Auriol entered the chamber, and the features became visible. It was a face never to be forgotten.
"Come in, grandson," said the old man kindly. "Come in, and close the door after you. The draught affects the furnace – my Athanor, as we adepts term it. So you are better, your keeper tells me – much better."
"Are you indeed living?" cried Auriol, rushing wildly towards him, and attempting to take his hand.
"Off – off!" cried the old man, drawing back as if alarmed. "You disturb my operations. Keep him calm, Flapdragon, or take him hence. He may do me a mischief."
"I have no such intention, sir," said Auriol; "indeed I have not. I only wish to be assured that you are my aged relative."
"To be sure he is, young sir," interposed the dwarf. "Why should you doubt it?"
"O sir," cried Auriol, throwing himself at the old man's feet, "pity me if I am mad; but offer me some explanation, which may tend to restore me to my senses. My reason seems gone, yet I appear capable of receiving impressions from external objects. I see you, and appear to know you. I see this chamber – these alchemical implements – that furnace – these different objects – and I appear to recognise them. Am I deceived, or is this real?"
"You are not deceived, my son," replied the old man. "You have been in this room before, and you have seen me before. It would be useless to explain to you now how you have suffered from fever, and what visions your delirium has produced. When you are perfectly restored, we will talk the matter over."
And, as he said this, he began to blow the fire anew, and watched with great apparent interest the changing colours of the liquid in the cucurbite placed on the furnace.
Auriol looked at him earnestly, but could not catch another glance, so intently was the old man occupied. At length he ventured to break the silence.
"I should feel perfectly convinced, if I might look forth from that window," he said.
"Convinced of what?" rejoined the old man somewhat sharply.
"That I am what I seem," replied Auriol.
"Look forth, then," said the old man. "But do not disturb me by idle talk. There is the rosy colour in the projection for which I have been so long waiting."
Auriol then walked to the window and gazed through the tinted panes. It was very dark, and objects could only be imperfectly distinguished. Still he fancied he could detect the gleam of the river beneath him, and what seemed a long line of houses on the bridge. He also fancied he discerned other buildings, with the high roofs, the gables, and the other architectural peculiarities of the structures of Elizabeth's time. He persuaded himself, also, that he could distinguish through the gloom the venerable Gothic pile of Saint Paul's Cathedral on the other side of the water, and, as if to satisfy him that he was right, a deep solemn bell tolled forth the hour of two. After a while he returned from the window, and said to his supposed grandsire, "I am satisfied. I have lived centuries in a few nights."
THE OLD LONDON MERCHANT
Flos Mercatorum. — Epitaph on Whittington
At that festive season, when the days are at the shortest, and the nights at the longest, and when, consequently, it is the invariable practice of all sensible people to turn night into day; when the state of the odds between business and pleasure is decidedly in favour of the latter; when high carnival is held in London, and everything betokens the prevalence and influence of good cheer; when pastrycooks are in their glory, and green trays in requisition; when porters groan beneath hampers of game, and huge tubs of Canterbury brawn; when trains arriving from the eastern counties are heavy laden with turkeys and hares; when agents in town send barrels of oysters to correspondents in the country; when Christmas-box claimants disturb one's equanimity by day, and Waits (those licensed nuisances, to which even our reverence for good old customs cannot reconcile us) break one's first slumber at night; when surly Christians "awake," and salute the band of little carollers with jugs of cold water; when their opposite neighbour, who has poked his nightcapped head from his window, retires with a satisfactory chuckle; when the meat at Mr. Giblett's in Bond Street, which, for the last six weeks, has announced the approach of Christmas by its daily-increasing layers of fat, as correctly as the almanack, has reached the ne-plus-ultra of adiposity; when wondering crowds are collected before the aforesaid Giblett's to gaze upon the yellow carcass of that leviathan prize ox – the fat being rendered more intensely yellow by its contrast with the green holly with which it is garnished – as well as to admire the snowy cakes of suet with which the sides of that Leicestershire sheep are loaded; when the grocer's trade is "in request," and nothing is heard upon his counter but the jingling of scales and the snapping of twine; when the vendor of sweetmeats, as he deals forth his citron and sultanas in the due minced-meat proportions to that pretty housemaid, whispers something in a soft and sugared tone about the misletoe; when "coming Twelfth Nights cast their shadows before," and Mr. Gunter feels doubly important; when pantomimes are about to unfold all their magic charms, and the holidays have fairly commenced; when the meteorological prophet predicts that Thursday the 1st will be fair and frosty, and it turns out to be drizzling rain and a sudden thaw; when intelligence is brought that the ice "bears," the intelligence being confirmed by the appearance of sundry donkey-carts, containing ice an inch thick, and rendered indisputable by the discharge of their crystal loads upon the pavement before Mr. Grove's, the fishmonger's; when crack performers in paletots, or Mackintoshes, with skates in their hands, cigars in their mouths, and tights and fur-topped boots on their lower limbs, are seen hastening up Baker Street in the direction of the Regent's Park; when a marquee is pitched upon the banks of the Serpentine, and a quadrille executed by the before-mentioned crack skaters in tights and fur-topped boots upon its frozen waters; when the functionaries of the Humane Society begin to find some employment for their ropes and punt; when Old Father Thames, who, for a couple of months, appears to have been undecided about the colours of his livery – now inclining to a cloak of greyish dun, now to a mantle of orange tawny – has finally adopted a white transparent robe with facings of silver; when, as you pass down Harley Street, the lights in the drawing-room windows of every third house, the shadows on the blinds, and, above all, the enlivening sound of the harp and piano, satisfy you that its fair inmate is "at home"; when
House-quakes, street-thunders, and door-batteries
are heard from "midnight until morn"; when the knocker at No. 22 Park Street responds to the knocker at No. 25; when a barrel-organ and a popular melody salute your ear as you enter Oxford Street; when the doors of the gin-palaces seem to be always opening to let people in, but never to let them out, and the roar of boisterous revelry is heard from the bar; when various vociferations arise from various courts and passages; when policemen are less on the alert, though their interference is more requisite than usual; when uproarious jollity prevails; when "universal London getteth drunk"; and, in short, when Christmas is come, and everybody is disposed to enjoy himself in his own way. At this period of wassail and rejoicing it was that a social party, to which I am now about to introduce the reader, was assembled in a snug little dining-room of a snug little house, situated in that snug little pile of building denominated the Sanctuary in Westminster.
When a man has any peculiarity of character, his house is sure to partake of it. The room which he constantly inhabits reflects his image as faithfully as a mirror; nay, more so, for it reflects his mind as well as his person. A glance at No. 22 St. James's Place would satisfy you its owner was a poet. We can judge of the human, as of the brute lion, by the aspect of his den. The room marks the man. Visit it in his absence, and you may paint his portrait better than the limner who has placed his "breathing canvas" on the walls. From that well-worn elbow-chair and the slippers at its feet (the slippers of an old man are never to be mistaken), you can compute his age; from that faded brocade dressing-gown and green velvet cap, you can shape out his figure; from the multiplicity of looking-glasses you at once infer that he has not entirely lost his vanity or his good looks; that gold-headed cane gives you his carriage – it is not a crutch-handled stick, but a cane to flourish jauntily; that shagreen spectacle-case, that chased silver snuffbox with the Jupiter and Leda richly and somewhat luxuriously wrought upon its lid, that fine S?vres porcelain, that gorgeous Berlin-ware, those rare bronzes half consumed by the true hoary green ?rugo, those little Egyptian images, that lachrymatory, that cinerary urn, that brick from the Colosseum, that tesselated pavement from Pompeii, looking like a heap of various-coloured dice, and a world of other rarities, furnish unerring indications of his tastes and habits, and proclaim him a member of the Arch?ological Society; while that open volume of Sir Thomas Urquhart's "Rabelais" (published by the Abbotsford Club) gives you his course of study; the Morning Post his politics; that flute and those musical notes attest the state of his lungs; and that well-blotted copy of verses, of which the ink is scarcely dry, proclaims his train of thought. The door opens, and an old gentleman enters exactly corresponding to your preconceived notions. You require no introduction. You have made his acquaintance half-an-hour ago.скачать книгу бесплатно
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