Auriol: or, The Elixir of Lifeскачать книгу бесплатно
Great confusion attended his disappearance. The dogs set up a prodigious barking, and flew to the rescue – one of the largest of them passing over the body of the drowsy waiter, who had sought his customary couch upon the coals, and rousing him from his slumbers; while the Tinker, uttering a fierce imprecation, upset his chair in his haste to catch hold of the dwarf's legs; but the latter was already out of reach, and the next moment had vanished entirely.
"My eyes! here's a pretty go!" cried Ginger, who, with his back to the fire, had witnessed the occurrence in open-mouthed astonishment. "Vy, curse it! if the wenerable ain't a-taken the pocket-book with him! It's my opinion the devil has flown avay with the old feller. His time wos nearer at 'and than he expected."
"Devil or not, I'll have him back agin, or at all events the pocket-book!" cried the Tinker. And, dashing up the stairs, he caught hold of the railing above, and swinging himself up by a powerful effort, passed through an opening, occasioned by the removal of one of the banisters.
Groping along the gallery, which was buried in profound darkness, he shouted to the dwarf, but received no answer to his vociferations; neither could he discover any one, though he felt on either side of the passage with outstretched hands. The occupants of the different chambers, alarmed by the noise, called out to know what was going forward; but being locked in their rooms, they could render no assistance.
While the Tinker was thus pursuing his search in the dark, venting his rage and disappointment in the most dreadful imprecations, the staircase door was opened by the landlord, who had found the key in the greatcoat left behind by the dwarf. With the landlord came the Sandman and Ginger, the latter of whom was attended by all his dogs, still barking furiously; while the rear of the party was brought up by the drowsy waiter, now wide awake with fright, and carrying a candle.
But though every nook and corner of the place was visited – though the attics were searched, and all the windows examined – not a trace of the dwarf could be discovered, nor any clue to his mysterious disappearance detected. Astonishment and alarm sat on every countenance.
"What the devil can have become of him?" cried the landlord, with a look of dismay.
"Ay, that's the questin!" rejoined the Tinker. "I begin to be of Ginger's opinion, that the devil himself must have flown avay vith him. No von else could ha' taken a fancy to him."
"I only saw a hand and a black cloak," said the Sandman.
"I thought I seed a pair o' hoofs," cried the waiter; "and I'm quite sure I seed a pair o' great glitterin' eyes," he added, opening his own lacklustre orbs to their widest extent.
"It's a strange affair," observed the landlord gravely. "It's certain that no one has entered the house wearing a cloak such as you describe; nor could any of the lodgers, to my knowledge, get out of their rooms.
It was Old Parr's business, as you know, to lock 'em up carefully for the night."
"Vell, all's over vith him now," said the Tinker; "and vith our affair, too, I'm afeerd."
"Don't say die jist yet," rejoined Ginger. "The wenerable's gone, to be sure; and the only thing he has left behind him, barrin' his topcoat, is this here bit o' paper vich dropped out o' the pocket-book as he wos a-takin' flight, and vich I picked from the floor. It may be o' some use to us. But come, let's go down-stairs. There's no good in stayin' here any longer."
Concurring in which sentiment, they all descended to the lower room.
THE IRON-MERCHANT'S DAUGHTER
A week had elapsed since Auriol Darcy was conveyed to the iron-merchant's dwelling, after the attack made upon him by the ruffians in the ruined house; and though almost recovered from the serious injuries he had received, he still remained the guest of his preserver.
It was a bright spring morning, when a door leading to the yard in front of the house opened, and a young girl, bright and fresh as the morning's self, issued from it.
A lovelier creature than Ebba Thorneycroft cannot be imagined. Her figure was perfection – slight, tall, and ravishingly proportioned, with a slender waist, little limbs, and fairy feet that would have made the fortune of an opera-dancer. Her features were almost angelic in expression, with an outline of the utmost delicacy and precision – not cold, classical regularity – but that softer and incomparably more lovely mould peculiar to our own clime. Ebba's countenance was a type of Saxon beauty. Her complexion was pure white, tinged with a slight bloom. Her eyes were of a serene summer blue, arched over by brows some shades darker than the radiant tresses that fell on either cheek, and were parted over a brow smoother than alabaster. Her attire was simple but tasteful, and by its dark colour threw into relief the exceeding fairness of her skin.
Ebba's first care was to feed her favourite linnet, placed in a cage over the door. Having next patted the head of a huge bulldog who came out of his kennel to greet her, and exchanged a few words with two men employed at a forge in the inner part of the building on the right, she advanced farther into the yard.
This part of the premises, being strewn with ironwork of every possible shape, presented a very singular appearance, and may merit some description. There were heaps of rusty iron chains flung together like fishermen's nets, old iron area-guards, iron kitchen-fenders, old grates, safes, piles of old iron bowls, a large assortment of old iron pans and dishes, a ditto of old ovens, kettles without number, sledge-hammers, anvils, braziers, chimney-cowls, and smoke-jacks.
Stout upright posts, supporting cross-beams on the top, were placed at intervals on either side of the yard, and these were decorated, in the most artistic style, with rat-traps, man-traps, iron lanterns, pulleys, padlocks, chains, trivets, triangles, iron rods, disused street lamps, dismounted cannon, and anchors. Attached to hooks in the cross-beam nearest the house hung a row of old horse-shoes, while from the centre depended a large rusty bell. Near the dog's kennel was a tool-box, likewise garnished with horse-shoes, and containing pincers, files, hammers, and other implements proper to the smith. Beyond this was an open doorway leading to the workshop, where the two men before mentioned were busy at the forge.
Though it was still early, the road was astir with passengers; and many waggons and carts, laden with hay, straw, and vegetables, were passing. Ebba, however, had been solely drawn forth by the beauty of the morning, and she stopped for a moment at the street gate, to breathe the balmy air. As she inhaled the gentle breeze, and felt the warm sunshine upon her cheek, her thoughts wandered away into the green meadows in which she had strayed as a child, and she longed to ramble amid them again. Perhaps she scarcely desired a solitary stroll; but however this might be, she was too much engrossed by the reverie to notice a tall man, wrapped in a long black cloak, who regarded her with the most fixed attention, as he passed on the opposite side of the road.
Proceeding to a short distance, this personage crossed over, and returned slowly towards the iron-merchant's dwelling. Ebba then, for the first time, remarked him, and was startled by his strange, sinister appearance. His features were handsome, but so malignant and fierce in expression, that they inspired only aversion. A sardonic grin curled his thin lips, and his short, crisply curled hair, raven-black in hue, contrasted forcibly and disagreeably with his cadaverous complexion. An attraction like that of the snake seemed to reside in his dark blazing eyes, for Ebba trembled like a bird beneath their influence, and could not remove her gaze from them. A vague presentiment of coming ill smote her, and she dreaded lest the mysterious being before her might be connected in some inexplicable way with her future destiny.
On his part, the stranger was not insensible to the impression he had produced, and suddenly halting, he kept his eyes riveted on those of the girl, who, after remaining spell-bound, as it were, for a few moments, precipitately retreated towards the house.
Just as she reached the door, and was about to pass through it, Auriol came forth. He was pale, as if from recent suffering, and bore his left arm in a sling.
"You look agitated," he said, noticing Ebba's uneasiness. "What has happened?"
"Not much," she replied, a deep blush mantling her cheeks. "But I have been somewhat alarmed by the person near the gate."
"Indeed!" cried Auriol, darting forward. "Where is he? I see no one."
"Not a tall man, wrapped in a long black cloak?" rejoined Ebba, following him cautiously.
"Ha!" cried Auriol. "Has he been here?"
"Then you know the person I allude to?" she rejoined.
"I know some one answering his description," he replied, with a forced smile.
"Once beheld, the man I mean is not to be forgotten," said Ebba. "He has a countenance such as I never saw before. If I could believe in the 'evil eye,' I should be sure he possessed it."
"'Tis he, there can be no doubt," rejoined Auriol, in a sombre tone.
"Who and what is he, then?" demanded Ebba.
"He is a messenger of ill," replied Auriol, "and I am thankful he is gone."
"Are you quite sure of it?" she asked, glancing timorously up and down the road. But the mysterious individual could no longer be seen.
"And so, after exciting my curiosity in this manner, you will not satisfy it?" she said.
"I cannot," rejoined Auriol, somewhat sternly.
"Nay, then, since you are so ungracious, I shall go and prepare breakfast," she replied. "My father must be down by this time."
"Stay!" cried Auriol, arresting her, as she was about to pass through the door. "I wish to have a word with you."
Ebba stopped, and the bloom suddenly forsook her cheeks.
But Auriol seemed unable to proceed. Neither dared to regard the other; and a profound silence prevailed between them for a few moments.
"Ebba," said Auriol at length, "I am about to leave your father's house to-day."
"Why so soon?" she exclaimed, looking up into his face. "You are not entirely recovered yet."
"I dare not stay longer," he said.
"Dare not!" cried Ebba. And she again cast down her eyes; but Auriol made no reply.
Fortunately the silence was broken by the clinking of the smiths' hammers upon the anvil.
"If you must really go," said Ebba, looking up, after a long pause, "I hope we shall see you again?"
"Most assuredly," replied Auriol. "I owe your worthy father a deep debt of gratitude – a debt which, I fear, I shall never be able to repay."
"My father is more than repaid in saving your life," she replied. "I am sure he will be sorry to learn you are going so soon."
"I have been here a week," said Auriol. "If I remained longer, I might not be able to go at all."
There was another pause, during which a stout old fellow in the workshop quitted the anvil for a moment, and, catching a glimpse of the young couple, muttered to his helpmate —
"I say, Ned, I'm a-thinkin' our master'll soon have a son-in-law. There's pretty plain signs on it at yonder door."
"So there be, John," replied Ned, peeping round. "He's a good-lookin' young feller that. I wish ve could hear their discoorse."
"No, that ain't fair," replied John, raking some small coal upon the fire, and working away at the bellows.
"I would not for the world ask a disagreeable question," said Ebba, again raising her eyes, "but since you are about to quit us, I must confess I should like to know something of your history."
"Forgive me if I decline to comply with your desire," replied Auriol. "You would not believe me, were I to relate my history. But this I may say, that it is stranger and wilder than any you ever heard. The prisoner in his cell is not restrained by more terrible fetters than those which bind me to silence."
Ebba gazed at him as if she feared his reasoning were wandering.
"You think me mad," said Auriol; "would I were so! But I shall never lose the clear perception of my woes. Hear me, Ebba! Fate has brought me into this house. I have seen you, and experienced your gentle ministry; and it is impossible, so circumstanced, to be blind to your attractions. I have only been too sensible to them – but I will not dwell on that theme, nor run the risk of exciting a passion which must destroy you. I will ask you to hate me – to regard me as a monster whom you ought to shun rather than as a being for whom you should entertain the slightest sympathy."
"You have some motive in saying this to me," cried the terrified girl.
"My motive is to warn you," said Auriol. "If you love me, you are lost – utterly lost!"
She was so startled, that she could make no reply, but burst into tears. Auriol took her hand, which she unresistingly yielded.
"A terrible fatality attaches to me, in which you must have no share," he said, in a solemn tone.
"Would you had never come to my father's house!" she exclaimed, in a voice of anguish.
"Is it, then, too late?" cried Auriol despairingly.
"It is – if to love you be fatal," she rejoined.
"Ha!" exclaimed Auriol, striking his forehead with his clenched hand. "Recall your words – Ebba – recall them – but no, once uttered – it is impossible. You are bound to me for ever. I must fulfil my destiny."
At this juncture a low growl broke from the dog, and, guided by the sound, the youthful couple beheld, standing near the gate, the tall dark man in the black cloak. A fiendish smile sat upon his countenance.
"That is the man who frightened me!" cried Ebba.
"It is the person I supposed!" ejaculated Auriol. "I must speak to him. Leave me, Ebba. I will join you presently."
And as the girl, half sinking with apprehension, withdrew, he advanced quickly towards the intruder.
"I have sought you for some days," said the tall man, in a stern, commanding voice. "You have not kept your appointment with me."
"I could not," replied Auriol – "an accident has befallen me."
"I know it," rejoined the other. "I am aware you were assailed by ruffians in the ruined house over the way. But you are recovered now, and can go forth. You ought to have communicated with me."
"It was my intention to do so," said Auriol.
"Our meeting cannot be delayed much longer," pursued the stranger. "I will give you three more days. On the evening of the last day, at the hour of seven, I shall look for you at the foot of the statue in Hyde Park."
"I will be there," replied Auriol.
"That girl must be the next victim," said the stranger, with a grim smile.
"Peace!" thundered Auriol.
"Nay, I need not remind you of the tenure by which you maintain your power," rejoined the stranger. "But I will not trouble you further now."
And, wrapping his cloak more closely round him, he disappeared.
"Fate has once more involved me in its net," cried Auriol bitterly. "But I will save Ebba, whatever it may cost me. I will see her no more."
And instead of returning to the house, he hurried away in the opposite direction of the stranger.
THE MEETING NEAR THE STATUE
The evening of the third day arrived, and Auriol entered Hyde Park by Stanhope Gate. Glancing at his watch, and finding it wanted nearly three-quarters of an hour of the time appointed for his meeting with the mysterious stranger, he struck across the park, in the direction of the Serpentine River. Apparently he was now perfectly recovered, for his arm was without the support of the sling, and he walked with great swiftness. But his countenance was deathly pale, and his looks were so wild and disordered, that the few persons he encountered shrank from him aghast.
A few minutes' rapid walking brought him to the eastern extremity of the Serpentine, and advancing close to the edge of the embankment, he gazed at the waters beneath his feet.
"I would plunge into them, if I could find repose," he murmured. "But it would avail nothing. I should only add to my sufferings. No; I must continue to endure the weight of a life burdened by crime and remorse, till I can find out the means of freeing myself from it. Once I dreaded this unknown danger, but now I seek for it in vain."
The current of his thoughts was here interrupted by the sudden appearance of a dark object on the surface of the water, which he at first took to be a huge fish, with a pair of green fins springing from its back; but after watching it more closely for a few moments, he became convinced that it was a human being, tricked out in some masquerade attire, while the slight struggles which it made proved that life was not entirely extinct.
Though, the moment before, he had contemplated self-destruction, and had only been restrained from the attempt by the certainty of failing in his purpose, instinct prompted him to rescue the perishing creature before him. Without hesitation, therefore, and without tarrying to divest himself of his clothes, he dashed into the water, and striking out, instantly reached the object of his quest, which still continued to float, and turning it over, for the face was downwards, he perceived it was an old man, of exceedingly small size, habited in a pantomimic garb. He also remarked that a rope was twisted round the neck of the unfortunate being, making it evident that some violent attempt had been made upon his life.
Without pausing for further investigation, he took firm hold of the leathern wings of the dwarf, and with his disengaged hand propelled himself towards the shore, dragging the other after him. The next instant he reached the bank, clambered up the low brickwork, and placed his burden in safety.
The noise of the plunge had attracted attention, and several persons now hurried to the spot. On coming up, and finding Auriol bending over a water-sprite – for such, at first sight, the dwarf appeared – they could not repress their astonishment. Wholly insensible to the presence of those around him, Auriol endeavoured to recall where he had seen the dwarf before. All at once, the recollection flashed upon him, and he cried aloud, "Why, it is my poor murdered grandfather's attendant, Flapdragon! But no! no! – he must be dead ages ago! Yet the resemblance is singularly striking!"
Auriol's exclamations, coupled with his wild demeanour, surprised the bystanders, and they came to the conclusion that he must be a travelling showman, who had attempted to drown his dwarf – the grotesque, impish garb of the latter convincing them that he had been exhibited at a booth. They made signs, therefore, to each other not to let Auriol escape, and one of them, raising the dwarf's head on his knee, produced a flask, and poured some brandy from it down his throat, while others chafed his hands. These efforts were attended with much speedier success than might have been anticipated. After a struggle or two for respiration, the dwarf opened his eyes, and gazed at the group around him.
"It must be Flapdragon!" exclaimed Auriol.
"Ah! who calls me?" cried the dwarf.
"I!" rejoined Auriol. "Do you not recollect me?"
"To be sure!" exclaimed the dwarf, gazing at him fixedly; "you are – " and he stopped.
"You have been thrown into the water, Master Flapdragon?" cried a bystander, noticing the cord round the dwarf's throat.
"I have," replied the little old man.
"By your governor – that is, by this person?" cried another, laying hold of Auriol.
"By him – no," said the dwarf; "I have not seen that gentleman for nearly three centuries."
"Three centuries, my little patriarch?" said the man who had given him the brandy. "That's a long time. Think again."
"It's perfectly true, nevertheless," replied the dwarf.
"His wits have been washed away by the water," said the first speaker. "Give him a drop more brandy."
"Not a bit of it," rejoined the dwarf; "my senses were never clearer than at this moment. At last we have met," he continued, addressing Auriol, "and I hope we shall not speedily part again. We hold life by the same tie."
"How came you in the desperate condition in which I found you?" demanded Auriol evasively.
"I was thrown into the canal with a stone to my neck, like a dog about to be drowned," replied the dwarf. "But, as you are aware, I'm not so easily disposed of."
Again the bystanders exchanged significant looks.
"By whom was the attempt made?" inquired Auriol.
"I don't know the villain's name," rejoined the dwarf, "but he's a very tall, dark man, and is generally wrapped in a long black cloak."
"Ha!" exclaimed Auriol. "When was it done?"
"Some nights ago, I should fancy," replied the dwarf, "for I've been a terrible long time under water. I have only just managed to shake off the stone."
At this speech there was a titter of incredulity among the bystanders.
"You may laugh, but it's true!" cried the dwarf angrily.
"We must speak of this anon," said Auriol. "Will you convey him to the nearest tavern?" he added, placing money in the hands of the man who held the dwarf in his arms.
"Willingly, sir," replied the man. "I'll take him to the Life Guardsman, near the barracks – that's the nearest public."скачать книгу бесплатно
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