Auriol: or, The Elixir of Lifeскачать книгу бесплатно
"I'll join him there in an hour," replied Auriol, moving away.
And as he disappeared, the man took up his little burden, and bent his steps towards the barracks.
Utterly disregarding the dripping state of his habiliments, Auriol proceeded quickly to the place of rendezvous. Arrived there, he looked around, and not seeing any one, flung himself upon a bench at the foot of the gentle eminence on which the gigantic statue of Achilles is placed.
It was becoming rapidly dark, and heavy clouds, portending speedy rain, increased the gloom. Auriol's thoughts were sombre as the weather and the hour, and he fell into a deep fit of abstraction, from which he was roused by a hand laid on his shoulder.
Recoiling at the touch, he raised his eyes, and beheld the stranger leaning over him, and gazing at him with a look of diabolical exultation. The cloak was thrown partly aside, so as to display the tall, gaunt figure of its wearer; while the large collar of sable fur with which it was decorated stood out like the wings of a demon. The stranger's hat was off, and his high broad forehead, white as marble, was fully revealed.
"Our meeting must be brief," he said. "Are you prepared to fulfil the compact?"
"What do you require?" replied Auriol.
"Possession of the girl I saw three days ago," said the other; "the iron-merchant's daughter, Ebba. She must be mine."
"Never!" cried Auriol firmly – "never!"
"Beware how you tempt me to exert my power," said the stranger; "she must be mine – or – "
"I defy you!" rejoined Auriol; "I will never consent."
"Fool!" cried the other, seizing him by the arm, and fixing a withering glance upon him. "Bring her to me ere the week be out, or dread my vengeance!"
And, enveloping himself in his cloak, he retreated behind the statue, and was lost to view.
As he disappeared, a moaning wind arose, and heavy rain descended. Still Auriol did not quit the bench.
THE CHARLES THE SECOND SPANIEL
It was about two o'clock, on a charming spring day, that a stout middle-aged man, accompanied by a young person of extraordinary beauty, took up his station in front of Langham Church. Just as the clock struck the hour, a young man issued at a quick pace from a cross-street, and came upon the couple before he was aware of it. He was evidently greatly embarrassed, and would have beaten a retreat, but that was impossible. His embarrassment was in some degree shared by the young lady; she blushed deeply, but could not conceal her satisfaction at the encounter. The elder individual, who did not appear to notice the confusion of either party, immediately extended his hand to the young man, and exclaimed:
"What! Mr. Darcy, is it you? Why, we thought we had lost you, sir! What took you off so suddenly? We have been expecting you these four days, and were now walking about to try and find you. My daughter has been terribly uneasy.
Haven't you, Ebba?"
The young lady made no answer to this appeal, but cast down her eyes.
"It was my intention to call, and give you an explanation of my strange conduct, to-day," replied Auriol. "I hope you received my letter, stating that my sudden departure was unavoidable."
"To be sure; and I also received the valuable snuffbox you were so good as to send me," replied Mr. Thorneycroft. "But you neglected to tell me how to acknowledge the gift."
"I could not give an address at the moment," said Auriol.
"Well, I am glad to find you have got the use of your arm again," observed the iron-merchant; "but I can't say you look so well as when you left us. You seem paler – eh? what do you think, Ebba?"
"Mr. Darcy looks as if he were suffering from mental anxiety rather than from bodily ailment," she replied timidly.
"I am so," replied Auriol, regarding her fixedly. "A very disastrous circumstance has happened to me. But answer me one question: Has the mysterious person in the black cloak troubled you again?"
"What mysterious person?" demanded Mr. Thorneycroft, opening his eyes.
"Never mind, father," replied Ebba. "I saw him last night," she added to Auriol. "I was sitting in the back room alone, wondering what had become of you, when I heard a tap against the window, which was partly open, and, looking up, I beheld the tall stranger. It was nearly dark, but the light of the fire revealed his malignant countenance. I don't exaggerate, when I say his eyes gleamed like those of a tiger. I was terribly frightened, but something prevented me from crying out. After gazing at me for a few moments, with a look that seemed to fascinate while it frightened me, he said – 'You desire to see Auriol Darcy. I have just quitted him. Go to Langham Place to-morrow, and, as the clock strikes two, you will behold him.' Without waiting for any reply on my part, he disappeared."
"Ah, you never told me this, you little rogue!" cried Mr. Thorneycroft. "You persuaded me to come out with you, in the hope of meeting Mr. Darcy; but you did not say you were sure to find him. So you sent this mysterious gentleman to her, eh?" he added to Auriol.
"No, I did not," replied the other gloomily.
"Indeed!" exclaimed the iron-merchant, with a puzzled look.
"Oh, then I suppose he thought it might relieve her anxiety. However, since we have met, I hope you'll walk home and dine with us."
Auriol was about to decline the invitation, but Ebba glanced at him entreatingly.
"I have an engagement, but I will forego it," he said, offering his arm to her.
And they walked along towards Oxford Street, while Mr. Thorneycroft followed, a few paces behind them.
"This is very kind of you, Mr. Darcy," said Ebba. "Oh, I have been so wretched!"
"I grieve to hear it," he rejoined. "I hoped you had forgotten me."
"I am sure you did not think so," she cried.
As she spoke, she felt a shudder pass through Auriol's frame.
"What ails you?" she anxiously inquired.
"I would have shunned you, if I could, Ebba," he replied; "but a fate, against which it is vain to contend, has brought us together again."
"I am glad of it," she replied; "because, ever since our last interview, I have been reflecting on what you then said to me, and am persuaded you are labouring under some strange delusion, occasioned by your recent accident."
"Be not deceived, Ebba," cried Auriol. "I am under a terrible influence. I need not remind you of the mysterious individual who tapped at your window last night."
"What of him?" demanded Ebba, with a thrill of apprehension.
"He it is who controls my destiny," replied Auriol.
"But what has he to do with me?" asked Ebba.
"Much, much," he replied, with a perceptible shudder.
"You terrify me, Auriol," she rejoined. "Tell me what you mean – in pity, tell me?"
Before Auriol could reply, Mr. Thorneycroft stepped forward, and turned the conversation into another channel.
Soon after this, they reached the Quadrant, and were passing beneath the eastern colonnade, when Ebba's attention was attracted towards a man who was leading a couple of dogs by a string, while he had others under his arm, others again in his pocket, and another in his breast. It was Mr. Ginger.
"What a pretty little dog!" cried Ebba, remarking the Charles the Second spaniel.
"Allow me to present you with it?" said Auriol.
"You know I should value it, as coming from you," she replied, blushing deeply; "but I cannot accept it; so I will not look at it again, for fear I should be tempted."
The dog-fancier, however, noticing Ebba's admiration, held forward the spaniel, and said, "Do jist look at the pretty little creater, miss. It han't its equil for beauty. Don't be afeerd on it, miss. It's as gentle as a lamb."
"Oh you little darling!" Ebba said, patting its sleek head and long silken ears, while it fixed its large black eyes upon her, as if entreating her to become its purchaser.
"Fairy seems to have taken quite a fancy to you, miss," observed Ginger; "and she ain't i' the habit o' fallin' i' love at first sight. I don't wonder at it, though, for my part. I should do jist the same, if I wos in her place. Vell, now, miss, as she seems to like you, and you seem to like her, I won't copy the manners o' them 'ere fathers as has stony 'arts, and part two true lovyers. You shall have her a bargin."
"What do you call a bargain, my good man?" inquired Ebba, smiling.
"I wish I could afford to give her to you, miss," replied Ginger; "you should have her, and welcome. But I must airn a livelihood, and Fairy is the most wallerable part o' my stock. I'll tell you wot I give for her myself, and you shall have her at a trifle beyond it. I'd scorn to take adwantage o' the likes o' you."
"I hope you didn't give too much, then, friend," replied Ebba.
"I didn't give hayf her wally – not hayf," said Ginger; "and if so be you don't like her in a month's time, I'll buy her back again from you. You'll alvays find me here – alvays. Everybody knows Mr. Ginger – that's my name, miss. I'm the only honest man in the dog-fancyin' line. Ask Mr. Bishop, the great gunmaker o' Bond Street, about me – him as the nobs calls the Bishop o' Bond Street – an' he'll tell you."
"But you haven't answered the lady's question," said Auriol. "What do you ask for the dog?"
"Do you want it for yourself, sir, or for her?" inquired Ginger.
"What does it matter?" cried Auriol angrily.
"A great deal, sir," replied Ginger; "it'll make a mater'al difference in the price. To you she'll be five-an'-twenty guineas. To the young lady, twenty."
"But suppose I buy her for the young lady?" said Auriol.
"Oh, then, in coorse, you'll get her at the lower figure!" replied Ginger.
"I hope you don't mean to buy the dog?" interposed Mr. Thorneycroft. "The price is monstrous – preposterous."
"It may appear so to you, sir," said Ginger, "because you're ignorant o' the wally of sich a hanimal; but I can tell you, it's cheap – dirt cheap. Vy, his Excellency the Prooshan Ambassador bought a Charley from me, t'other week, to present to a certain duchess of his acquaintance, and wot d'ye think he give for it?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to know," replied Mr. Thorneycroft gruffly.
"Eighty guineas," said Ginger. "Eighty guineas, as I'm a livin' man, and made no bones about it neither. The dog I sold him warn't to be compared wi' Fairy."
"Stuff – stuff!" cried Mr. Thorneycroft; "I ain't to be gammoned in that way."
"It's no gammon," said Ginger. "Look at them ears, miss – vy, they're as long as your own ringlets – and them pads – an' I'm sure you von't say she's dear at twenty pound."
"She's a lovely little creature, indeed," returned Ebba, again patting the animal's head.
While this was passing, two men of very suspicious mien, ensconced behind a pillar adjoining the group, were reconnoitring Auriol.
"It's him!" whispered the taller and darker of the two to his companion – "it's the young man ve've been lookin' for – Auriol Darcy."
"It seems like him," said the other, edging round the pillar as far as he could without exposure. "I vish he'd turn his face a leetle more this vay."
"It's him, I tell you, Sandman," said the Tinker. "Ve must give the signal to our comrade."
"Vell, I'll tell you wot it is, miss," said Ginger coaxingly, "your sveet'art – I'm sure he's your sveet'art – I can tell these things in a minnit – your sveet'art, I say, shall give me fifteen pound, and the dog's yourn. I shall lose five pound by the transaction; but I don't mind it for sich a customer as you. Fairy desarves a kind missus."
Auriol, who had fallen into a fit of abstraction, here remarked:
"What's that you are saying, fellow?"
"I vos a-sayin', sir, the young lady shall have the dog for fifteen pound, and a precious bargin it is," replied Ginger.
"Well, then, I close with you. Here's the money," said Auriol, taking out his purse.
"On no account, Auriol," cried Ebba quickly. "It's too much."
"A great deal too much, Mr. Darcy," said Thorneycroft.
"Auriol and Darcy!" muttered Ginger. "Can this be the gemman ve're a-lookin' for. Vere's my two pals, I vonder? Oh, it's all right!" he added, receiving a signal from behind the pillar. "They're on the look-out, I see."
"Give the lady the dog, and take the money, man," said Auriol sharply.
"Beg pardon, sir," said Ginger, "but hadn't I better carry the dog home for the young lady? It might meet vith some accident in the vay."
"Accident! – stuff and nonsense!" cried Mr. Thorneycroft. "The rascal only wants to follow you home, that he may know where you live, and steal the dog back again. Take my advice, Mr. Darcy, and don't buy it."
"The bargain's concluded," said Ginger, delivering the dog to Ebba, and taking the money from Auriol, which, having counted, he thrust into his capacious breeches pocket.
"How shall I thank you for this treasure, Auriol?" exclaimed Ebba, in an ecstasy of delight.
"By transferring to it all regard you may entertain for me," he replied, in a low tone.
"That is impossible," she answered.
"Well, I vote we drive away at once," said Mr. Thorneycroft. "Halloa! jarvey!" he cried, hailing a coach that was passing; adding, as the vehicle stopped, "Now get in, Ebba. By this means we shall avoid being followed by the rascal."
So saying, he got into the coach. As Auriol was about to follow him, he felt a slight touch on his arm, and, turning, beheld a tall and very forbidding man by his side.
"Beg pardin, sir," said the fellow, touching his hat, "but ain't your name Mr. Auriol Darcy?"
"It is," replied Auriol, regarding him fixedly. "Why do you ask?"
"I vants a vord or two vith you in private – that's all, sir," replied the Tinker.
"Say what you have to say at once," rejoined Auriol. "I know nothing of you."
"You'll know me better by-and-by, sir," said the Tinker, in a significant tone. "I must speak to you, and alone."
"If you don't go about your business, fellow, instantly, I'll give you in charge of the police," cried Auriol.
"No, you von't, sir – no, you von't," replied the Tinker, shaking his head. And then, lowering his voice, he added, "You'll be glad to purchase my silence ven you larns wot secrets o' yourn has come to my knowledge."
"Won't you get in, Mr. Darcy?" cried Thorneycroft, whose back was towards the Tinker.
"I must speak to this man," replied Auriol. "I'll come to you in the evening. Till then, farewell, Ebba." And, as the coach drove away, he added to the Tinker, "Now, rascal, what have you to say?"
"Step this vay, sir," replied the Tinker. "There's two friends o' mine as vishes to be present at our conference. Ve'd better valk into a back street."
THE HAND AGAIN!
Followed by Auriol, who, in his turn, was followed by Ginger and the Sandman, the Tinker directed his steps to Great Windmill Street, where he entered a public-house, called the Black Lion. Leaving his four-footed attendants with the landlord, with whom he was acquainted, Ginger caused the party to be shown into a private room, and, on entering it, Auriol flung himself into a chair, while the dog-fancier stationed himself near the door.
"Now, what do you want with me?" demanded Auriol.
"You shall learn presently," replied the Tinker; "but first, it may be as vell to state, that a certain pocket-book has been found."
"Ah!" exclaimed Auriol. "You are the villains who beset me in the ruined house in the Vauxhall Road."
"Your pocket-book has been found, I tell you," replied the Tinker, "and from it ve have made the most awful diskiveries. Our werry 'air stood on end ven ve first read the shockin' particulars. What a bloodthirsty ruffian you must be! Vy, ve finds you've been i' the habit o' makin' avay with a young ooman vonce every ten years. Your last wictim wos in 1820 – the last but one, in 1810 – and the one before her, in 1800."
"Hangin's too good for you!" cried the Sandman; "but if ve peaches you're sartin to sving."
"I hope that pretty creater I jist see ain't to be the next wictim?" said Ginger.
"Peace!" thundered Auriol. "What do you require?"
"A hundred pound each'll buy our silence," replied the Tinker.
"Ve ought to have double that," said the Sandman, "for screenin' sich atterocious crimes as he has parpetrated. Ve're not werry partic'lar ourselves, but ve don't commit murder wholesale."
"Ve don't commit murder at all," said Ginger.
"You may fancy," pursued the Tinker, "that ve ain't perfectly acvainted with your history, but to prove that ve are, I'll just rub up your memory. Did you ever hear tell of a gemman as murdered Doctor Lamb, the famous halchemist o' Queen Bess's time, and, havin' drank the 'lixir vich the doctor had made for hisself, has lived ever since? Did you ever hear tell of such a person, I say?"
Auriol gazed at him in astonishment.
"What idle tale are you inventing?" he said at length.
"It is no idle tale," replied the Tinker boldly. "Ve can bring a vitness as'll prove the fact – a livin' vitness."
"What witness?" cried Auriol.
"Don't you reckilect the dwarf as used to serve Doctor Lamb?" rejoined the Tinker. "He's alive still; and ve calls him Old Parr, on account of his great age."
"Where is he? – what has become of him?" demanded Auriol.
"Oh, ve'll perduce him in doo time," replied the Tinker cunningly.
"But tell me where the poor fellow is?" cried Auriol. "Have you seen him since last night? I sent him to a public-house at Kensington, but he has disappeared from it, and I can discover no traces of him."
"He'll turn up somewhere – never fear," rejoined the Tinker. "But now, sir, that ve fairly understands each other, are you agreeable to our terms? You shall give us an order for the money, and ve'll undertake, on our parts, not to mislest you more."
"The pocket-book must be delivered up to me if I assent," said Auriol, "and the poor dwarf must be found."
"Vy, as to that, I can scarcely promise," replied the Tinker; "there's a difficulty in the case, you see. But the pocket-book'll never be brought aginst you – you may rest assured o' that."
"I must have it, or you get nothing from me," cried Auriol.
"Here's a bit o' paper as come from the pocket-book," said Ginger. "Would you like to hear wot's written upon it? Here are the words: 'How many crimes have I to reproach myself with! How many innocents have I destroyed! And all owing to my fatal compact with – '"
"Give me that paper," cried Auriol, rising, and attempting to snatch it from the dog-fancier.
Just as this moment, and while Ginger retreated from Auriol, the door behind him was noiselessly opened – a hand was thrust through the chink – and the paper was snatched from his grasp. Before Ginger could turn round, the door was closed again.
"Halloa! What's that?" he cried. "The paper's gone!"
"The hand again!" cried the Sandman, in alarm. "See who's in the passage – open the door – quick!"
Ginger cautiously complied, and, peeping forth, said —
"There's no one there. It must be the devil. I'll have nuffin' more to do wi' the matter."
"Poh! poh! don't be so chicken-'arted!" cried the Tinker. "But come what may, the gemman shan't stir till he undertakes to pay us three hundred pounds."
"You seek to frighten me in vain, villain," cried Auriol, upon whom the recent occurrence had not been lost. "I have but to stamp my foot, and I can instantly bring assistance that shall overpower you."
"Don't provoke him," whispered Ginger, plucking the Tinker's sleeve. "For my part, I shan't stay any longer. I wouldn't take his money." And he quitted the room.
"I'll go and see wot's the matter wi' Ginger," said the Sandman, slinking after him.
The Tinker looked nervously round. He was not proof against his superstitious fears.
"Here, take this purse, and trouble me no more!" cried Auriol.
The Tinker's hands clutched the purse mechanically, but he instantly laid it down again.
"I'm bad enough – but I won't sell myself to the devil," he said.
And he followed his companions.
Left alone, Auriol groaned aloud, and covered his face with his hands. When he looked up, he found the tall man in the black cloak standing beside him. A demoniacal smile played upon his features.
"You here?" cried Auriol.
"Of course," replied the stranger. "I came to watch over your safety. You were in danger from those men. But you need not concern yourself more about them. I have your pocket-book, and the slip of paper that dropped from it. Here are both. Now let us talk on other matters. You have just parted from Ebba, and will see her again this evening."
"Perchance," replied Auriol.
"You will," rejoined the stranger peremptorily. "Remember, your ten years' limit draws to a close. In a few days it will be at an end; and if you renew it not, you will incur the penalty, and you know it to be terrible. With the means of renewal in your hands, why hesitate?"
"Because I will not sacrifice the girl," replied Auriol.
"You cannot help yourself," cried the stranger scornfully. "I command you to bring her to me."
"I persist in my refusal," replied Auriol.
"It is useless to brave my power," said the stranger. "A moon is just born. When it has attained its first quarter, Ebba shall be mine. Till then, farewell."
And as the words were uttered, he passed through the door.
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