William Ainsworth.

Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life



скачать книгу бесплатно

"No matter," cried Loftus; "he was sufficiently rewarded by the consciousness of having done a noble action. But let us go and examine the sculpture on the pedestal more closely."

With this he crossed over the road; and, taking off his hat, thrust his head through the iron railing surrounding the pedestal, while Morse, in order to point out the beauties of the sculpture with greater convenience, mounted upon a stump beside him.

"You are aware that this is the work of Grinling Gibbons, sir?" cried the dwarf.

"To be sure I am," replied Loftus – "to be sure. What fancy and gusto is displayed in the treatment of these trophies!"

"The execution of the royal arms is equally admirable," cried Morse.

"Never saw anything finer," rejoined Loftus – "never, upon my life."

Every one knows how easily a crowd is collected in London, and it cannot be supposed that our two antiquaries would be allowed to pursue their investigations unmolested. Several ragged urchins got round them, and tried to discover what they were looking at, at the same time cutting their jokes upon them. These were speedily joined by a street-sweeper, rather young in the profession, a ticket-porter, a butcher's apprentice, an old Israelitish clothes-man, a coalheaver, and a couple of charity-boys.

"My eyes!" cried the street-sweeper, "only twig these coves. If they ain't green 'uns, I'm done."

"Old Spectacles thinks he has found it all out," remarked the porter; "ve shall hear wot it all means by-and-by."

"Plesh ma 'art," cried the Jew, "vat two funny old genelmen. I vonder vat they thinks they sees?"

"I'll tell 'ee, master," rejoined the butcher's apprentice; "they're a tryin' vich on 'em can see farthest into a millstone."

"Only think of living all my life in London, and never examining this admirable work of art before!" cried Loftus, quite unconscious that he had become the object of general curiosity.

"Look closer at it, old gem'man," cried the porter. "The nearer you get, the more you'll admire it."

"Quite true," replied Loftus, fancying Morse had spoken; "it'll bear the closest inspection."

"I say, Ned," observed one of the charity-boys to the other, "do you get over the railin'; they must ha' dropped summat inside. See what it is."

"I'm afraid o' spikin' myself, Joe," replied the other; "but just give us a lift, and I'll try."

"Wot are you arter there, you young rascals?" cried the coalheaver; "come down, or I'll send the perlice to you."

"Wot two precious guys these is!" cried a ragamuffin lad, accompanied by a bulldog. "I've a good mind to chuck the little 'un off the post, and set Tartar at him. Here, boy, here!"

"That 'ud be famous fun, indeed, Spicer!" cried another rapscallion behind him.

"Arrah! let 'em alone, will you there, you young divils!" cried an Irish bricklayer; "don't you see they're only two paiceable antiquaries."

"Oh, they're antiquaries, are they?" screamed the little street-sweeper.

"Vell, I never see the likes on 'em afore; did you, Sam?"

"Never," replied the porter.

"Och, murther in Irish! ye're upsettin' me, an' all the fruits of my industry," cried an applewoman, against whom the bricklayer had run his barrow. "Divil seize you for a careless wagabone! Why don't you look where ye're goin', and not dhrive into people in that way?"

"Axes pardon, Molly," said the bricklayer; "but I was so interested in them antiquaries, that I didn't obsarve ye."

"Antiquaries be hanged! what's such warmint to me?" cried the applewoman furiously. "You've destroyed my day's market, and bad luck to ye!"

"Well, never heed, Molly," cried the good-natured bricklayer; "I'll make it up t'ye. Pick up your apples, and you shall have a dhrop of the craiter if you'll come along wid me."

While this was passing, a stout gentleman came from the farther side of the statue, and perceiving Loftus, cried – "Why, brother-in-law, is that you?"

But Loftus was too much engrossed to notice him, and continued to expiate upon the beauty of the trophies.

"What are you talking about, brother?" cried the stout gentleman.

"Grinling Gibbons," replied Loftus, without turning round. "Horace Walpole said that no one before him could give to wood the airy lightness of a flower, and here he has given it to a stone."

"This may be all very fine, my good fellow," said the stout gentleman, seizing him by the shoulder; "but don't you see the crowd you're collecting round you? You'll be mobbed presently."

"Why, how the devil did you come here, brother Thorneycroft?" cried Loftus, at last recognising him.

"Come along, and I'll tell you," replied the iron-merchant, dragging him away, while Morse followed closely behind them. "I'm so glad to have met you," pursued Thorneycroft, as soon as they were clear of the mob; "you'll be shocked to hear what has happened to your niece, Ebba."

"Why, what has happened to her?" demanded Loftus. "You alarm me. Out with it at once. I hate to be kept in suspense."

"She has left me," replied Thorneycroft – "left her old indulgent father – run away."

"Run away!" exclaimed Loftus. "Impossible! I'll not believe it – even from your lips."

"Would it were not so! – but it is, alas! too true," replied Thorneycroft mournfully. "And the thing was so unnecessary, for I would gladly have given her to the young man. My sole hope is that she has not utterly disgraced herself."

"No, she is too high principled for that," cried Loftus. "Rest easy on that score. But with whom has she run away?"

"With a young man named Auriol Darcy," replied Thorneycroft. "He was brought to my house under peculiar circumstances."

"I never heard of him," said Loftus.

"But I have," interposed Morse. "I've known him these two hundred years."

"Eh day! who's this?" cried Thorneycroft.

"A crack-brained little fellow, whom I've engaged as valet," replied Loftus. "He fancies he was born in Queen Elizabeth's time."

"It's no fancy," cried Morse. "I am perfectly acquainted with Auriol Darcy's history. He drank of the same elixir as myself."

"If you know him, can you give us a clue to find him?" asked Thorneycroft.

"I am sorry I cannot," replied Morse. "I only saw him for a few minutes the other night, after I had been thrown into the Serpentine by the tall man in the black cloak."

"What's that you say?" cried Thorneycroft quickly. "I have heard Ebba speak of a tall man in a black cloak having some mysterious connection with Auriol. I hope that person has nothing to do with her disappearance."

"I shouldn't wonder if he had," replied Morse. "I believe that black gentleman to be – "

"What! – who?" demanded Thorneycroft.

"Neither more nor less than the devil," replied Morse mysteriously.

"Pshaw! poh!" cried Loftus. "I told you the poor fellow was half cracked."

At this moment, a roguish-looking fellow, with red whiskers and hair, and clad in a velveteen jacket with ivory buttons, who had been watching the iron-merchant at some distance, came up, and touching his hat, said, "Mr. Thorneycroft, I believe?"

"My name is Thorneycroft, fellow!" cried the iron-merchant, eyeing him askance. "And your name, I fancy, is Ginger?"

"Exactly, sir," replied the dog-fancier, again touching his hat, "ex-actly. I didn't think you would rekilect me, sir. I bring you some news of your darter."

"Of Ebba!" exclaimed Thorneycroft, in a tone of deep emotion. "I hope your news is good."

"I wish it wos better, for her sake as well as yours, sir," replied the dog-fancier gravely; "but I'm afeerd she's in werry bad hands."

"That she is, if she's in the hands o' the black gentleman," observed Morse.

"Vy, Old Parr, that ain't you?" cried Ginger, gazing at him in astonishment. "Vy, 'ow you are transmogrified, to be sure!"

"But what of my daughter?" cried Thorneycroft; "where is she? Take me to her, and you shall be well rewarded."

"I'll do my best to take you to her, and without any reward, sir," replied Ginger, "for my heart bleeds for the poor young creater. As I said afore, she's in dreadful bad hands."

"Do you allude to Mr. Auriol Darcy?" cried Thorneycroft.

"No, he's as much a wictim of this infernal plot as your darter," replied Ginger; "I thought him quite different at first – but I've altered my mind entirely since some matters has come to my knowledge."

"You alarm me greatly by these dark hints," cried Thorneycroft. "What is to be done?"

"I shall know in a few hours," replied Ginger. "I ain't got the exact clue yet. But come to me at eleven o'clock to-night, at the Turk's Head, at the back o' Shoreditch Church, and I'll put you on the right scent. You must come alone."

"I should wish this gentleman, my brother-in-law, to accompany me," said Thorneycroft.

"He couldn't help you," replied Ginger. "I'll take care to have plenty of assistance. It's a dangerous bus'ness, and can only be managed in a sartin way, and by a sartin person, and he'd object to any von but you. To-night, at eleven! Good-bye, Old Parr. Ve shall meet again ere long."

And without a word more, he hurried away.

CHAPTER XI
PREPARATIONS

On that same night, at the appointed hour, Mr. Thorneycroft repaired to Shoreditch, and entering a narrow street behind the church, speedily discovered the Turk's Head, at the door of which a hackney-coach was standing. He was shown by the landlord into a small back room, in which three men were seated at a small table, smoking, and drinking gin and water, while a fourth was standing near the fire, with his back towards the door. The latter was a tall, powerfully built man, wrapped in a rough greatcoat, and did not turn round on the iron-merchant's entrance.

"You are punctual, Mr. Thorneycroft," said Ginger, who was one of the trio at the table; "and I'm happy to say, I've arranged everythin' for you, sir. My friends are ready to undertake the job. Only they von't do it on quite sich easy terms as mine."

The Tinker and the Sandman coughed slightly, to intimate their entire concurrence in Mr. Ginger's remark.

"As I said to you this mornin', Mr. Thorneycroft," pursued Ginger, "this is a difficult and a dangerous bus'ness, and there's no knowin' wot may come on it. But it's your only chance o' recoverin' your darter."

"Yes, it's your only chance," echoed the Tinker.

"Ve're about to risk our precious lives for you, sir," said the Sandman; "so, in coorse, ve expects a perportionate revard."

"If you enable me to regain my daughter, you shall not find me ungrateful," rejoined the iron-merchant.

"I must have a hundred pounds," said the Tinker – "that's my lowest."

"And mine, too," said the Sandman.

"I shall take nuffin' but the glory, as I said afore," remarked Ginger. "I'm sworn champion o' poor distressed young damsils; but my friends must make their own bargins."

"Well, I assent," returned Mr. Thorneycroft; "and the sooner we set out the better."

"Are you armed?" asked Ginger.

"I have a brace of pistols in my pocket," replied Thorneycroft.

"All right, then – ve've all got pops and cutlashes," said Ginger. "So let's be off."

As he spoke, the Tinker and Sandman arose; and the man in the rough greatcoat, who had hitherto remained with his back to them, turned round. To the iron-merchant's surprise, he perceived that the face of this individual was covered with a piece of black crape.

"Who is this?" he demanded with some misgiving.

"A friend," replied Ginger. "Vithout him ve could do nuffin'. His name is Reeks, and he is the chief man in our enterprise."

"He claims a reward too, I suppose?" said Thorneycroft.

"I will tell you what reward I claim, Mr. Thorneycroft," rejoined Reeks, in a deep stern tone, "when all is over. Meantime, give me your solemn pledge, that whatever you may behold to-night, you will not divulge it."

"I give it," replied the iron-merchant, "provided always – "

"No provision, sir," interrupted the other quickly. "You must swear to keep silence unconditionally, or I will not move a footstep with you; and I alone can guide you where your daughter is detained."

"Svear, sir; it is your only chance," whispered Ginger.

"Well, if it must be, I do swear to keep silence," rejoined Mr. Thorneycroft; "but your proceedings appear very mysterious."

"The whole affair is mysterious," replied Reeks. "You must also consent to have a bandage passed over your eyes when you get into the coach."

"Anything more?" asked the iron-merchant.

"You must engage to obey my orders, without questioning, when we arrive at our destination," rejoined Reeks. "Otherwise, there is no chance of success."

"Be it as you will," returned Thorneycroft, "I must perforce agree."

"All then is clearly understood," said Reeks, "and we can now set out."

Upon this, Ginger conducted Mr. Thorneycroft to the coach, and as soon as the latter got into it, tied a handkerchief tightly over his eyes. In this state Mr. Thorneycroft heard the Tinker and the Sandman take their places near him, but not remarking the voice of Reeks, concluded that he must have got outside.

The next moment, the coach was put in motion, and rattled over the stones at a rapid pace. It made many turns; but at length proceeded steadily onwards, while from the profound silence around, and the greater freshness of the air, Mr. Thorneycroft began to fancy they had gained the country. Not a word was spoken by any one during the ride.

After a while, the coach stopped, the door was opened, and Mr. Thorneycroft was helped out. The iron-merchant expected his bandage would now be removed, but he was mistaken, for Reeks, taking his arm, drew him along at a quick pace. As they advanced, the iron-merchant's conductor whispered him to be cautious, and, at the same time, made him keep close to a wall. A door was presently opened, and as soon as the party had passed through, it closed.

The bandage was then removed from Thorneycroft's eyes, and he found himself in a large and apparently neglected garden. Though the sky was cloudy, there was light enough to enable him to distinguish that they were near an old dilapidated mansion.

"We are now arrived," said Reeks to the iron-merchant, "and you will have need of all your resolution."

"I will deliver her, or perish in the attempt," said Thorneycroft, taking out his pistols.

The others drew their cutlasses.

"Now then, follow me," said Reeks, "and act as I direct."

With this he struck into an alley formed by thick hedges of privet, which brought them to the back part of the house. Passing through a door, he entered the yard, and creeping cautiously along the wall, reached a low window, which he contrived to open without noise. He then passed through it, and was followed by the others.

CHAPTER XII
THE CHAMBER OF MYSTERY

We shall now return to the night of Ebba's seizure by the mysterious stranger. Though almost deprived of consciousness by terror, the poor girl could distinguish, from the movements of her captor, that she was borne down a flight of steps, or some steep descent, and then for a considerable distance along level ground. She was next placed in a carriage, which was driven with great swiftness, and though it was impossible to conjecture in what direction she was conveyed, it seemed to her terrified imagination as if she were hurried down a precipice, and she expected every moment to be dashed in pieces. At length the vehicle stopped, and she was lifted out of it, and carried along a winding passage; after which, the creaking of hinges announced that a door was opened. Having passed through it, she was deposited on a bench, when, fright overmastering her, her senses completely forsook her.

On recovering, she found herself seated on a fauteuil covered with black velvet, in the midst of a gloomy chamber of vast extent, while beside her, and supporting her from falling, stood the mysterious and terrible stranger. He held a large goblet filled with some potent liquid to her lips, and compelled her to swallow a portion of it. The powerful stimulant revived her, but, at the same time, produced a strange excitement, against which she struggled with all her power. Her persecutor again held the goblet towards her, while a sardonic smile played upon his features.

"Drink!" he cried; "it will restore you, and you have much to go through."

Ebba mechanically took the cup, and raised it to her lips, but noticing the stranger's glance of exultation, dashed it to the ground.

"You have acted foolishly," he said sternly; "the potion would have done you good."

Withdrawing her eyes from his gaze, which she felt exercised an irresistible influence over her, Ebba gazed fearfully round the chamber.

It was vast and gloomy, and seemed like the interior of a sepulchre – the walls and ceiling being formed of black marble, while the floor was paved with the same material. Not far from where she sat, on an estrade, approached by a couple of steps, stood a table covered with black velvet, on which was placed an immense lamp, fashioned like an imp supporting a caldron on his outstretched wings. In this lamp were several burners, which cast a lurid light throughout the chamber. Over it hung a cap equally fantastically fashioned. A dagger, with a richly wrought hilt, was stuck into the table; and beside it lay a strangely shaped mask, an open book, an antique inkstand, and a piece of parchment, on which some characters were inscribed. Opposite these stood a curiously carved ebony chair.

At the lower end of the room, which was slightly elevated above the rest, hung a large black curtain; and on the step, in the front of it, were placed two vases of jet.

"What is behind that curtain?" shudderingly demanded Ebba of her companion.

"You will see anon," he replied. "Meanwhile, seat yourself on that chair, and glance at the writing on the scroll."

Ebba did not move, but the stranger took her hand, and drew her to the seat.

"Read what is written on that paper," he cried imperiously.

Ebba glanced at the document, and a shudder passed over her frame. "By this," she cried, "I surrender myself, soul and body, to you?"

"You do," replied the stranger.

"I have committed no crime that can place me within the power of the Fiend," cried Ebba, falling upon her knees. "I call upon Heaven for protection! Avaunt!"

As the words were uttered, the cap suddenly fell upon the lamp, and the chamber was buried in profound darkness. Mocking laughter rang in her ears, succeeded by wailing cries inexpressibly dreadful to hear.

Ebba continued to pray fervently for her own deliverance, and for that of Auriol. In the midst of her supplications she was aroused by strains of music of the most exquisite sweetness, proceeding apparently from behind the curtain, and while listening to these sounds she was startled by a deafening crash as if a large gong had been stricken. The cover of the lamp was then slowly raised, and the burners blazed forth as before, while from the two vases in front of the curtain arose clouds of incense, filling the chamber with stupefying fragrance.

Again the gong was stricken, and Ebba looked round towards the curtain. Above each vase towered a gigantic figure, wrapped in a long black cloak, the lower part of which was concealed by the thick vapour. Hoods, like the cowls of monks, were drawn over the heads of these grim and motionless figures; mufflers enveloped their chins, and they wore masks, from the holes of which gleamed eyes of unearthly brightness. Their hands were crossed upon their breasts. Between them squatted two other spectral forms, similarly cloaked, hooded, and masked, with their gleaming eyes fixed upon her, and their skinny fingers pointed derisively at her.

Behind the curtain was placed a strong light, which showed a wide staircase of black marble, leading to some upper chamber, and at the same time threw the reflection of a gigantic figure upon the drapery, while a hand, the finger of which pointed towards her, was thrust from an opening between its folds.

Forcibly averting her gaze, Ebba covered her eyes with her hands, but looking up again after a brief space, beheld an ebon door at the side revolve upon its hinges, and give entrance to three female figures, robed in black, hooded and veiled, and having their hands folded, in a melancholy manner, across their breasts. Slowly and noiselessly advancing, they halted within a few paces of her.

"Who and what are ye?" she cried, wild with terror.

"The victims of Auriol!" replied the figure on the right. "As we are, such will you be ere long."

"What crime have you committed?" demanded Ebba.

"We have loved him," replied the second figure.

"Is that a crime?" cried Ebba. "If so, I am equally culpable with you."

"You will share our doom," replied the third figure.

"Heaven have mercy upon me!" exclaimed the agonised girl, dropping upon her knees.

At this moment a terrible voice from behind the curtain exclaimed, "Sign, or Auriol is lost for ever."

"I cannot yield my soul, even to save him," cried Ebba distractedly.

"Witness his chastisement, then," cried the voice.

And as the words were uttered, a side door was opened on the opposite side, and Auriol was dragged forth from it by two masked personages, who looked like familiars of the Inquisition.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16