Auriol: or, The Elixir of Lifeскачать книгу бесплатно
"Do not yield to the demands of this fiend, Ebba!" cried Auriol, gazing at her distractedly.
"Will you save him before he is cast, living, into the tomb?" cried the voice.
And at the words, a heavy slab of marble rose slowly from the floor near where Ebba sat, and disclosed a dark pit beneath.
Ebba gazed into the abyss with indescribable terror.
"There he will be immured, unless you sign," cried the voice; "and, as he is immortal, he will endure an eternity of torture."
"I cannot save him so, but I may precede him," cried Ebba. And throwing her hands aloft, she flung herself into the pit.
A fearful cry resounded through the chamber. It broke from Auriol, who vainly strove to burst from those who held him, and precipitate himself after Ebba.
Soon after this, and while Auriol was gazing into the abyss, a tongue of blue flame arose from it, danced for a moment in the air, and then vanished. No sooner was it gone than a figure, shrouded in black habiliments, and hooded and muffled up like the three other female forms, slowly ascended from the vault, apparently without support, and remained motionless at its brink.
"Ebba!" exclaimed Auriol, in a voice of despair. "Is it you?"
The figure bowed its head, but spoke not.
"Sign!" thundered the voice. "Your attempt at self-destruction has placed you wholly in my power. Sign!"
At this injunction, the figure moved slowly towards the table, and to his unspeakable horror, Auriol beheld it take up the pen and write upon the parchment. He bent forward, and saw that the name inscribed thereon was Ebba Thorneycroft.
The groan to which he gave utterance was echoed by a roar of diabolical laughter.
The figure then moved slowly away, and ranged itself with the other veiled forms.
"All is accomplished," cried the voice. "Away with him!"
On this, a terrible clangour was heard; the lights were extinguished; and Auriol was dragged through the doorway from which he had been brought forth.
END OF THE FIRST BOOK
THE TOMB OF THE ROSICRUCIAN
On the night of the 1st of March 1800, and at a late hour, a man, wrapped in a large horseman's cloak, and of strange and sinister appearance, entered an old deserted house in the neighbourhood of Stepney Green. He was tall, carried himself very erect, and seemed in the full vigour of early manhood; but his features had a worn and ghastly look, as if bearing the stamp of long-indulged and frightful excesses, while his dark gleaming eyes gave him an expression almost diabolical.
This person had gained the house from a garden behind it, and now stood in a large dismantled hall, from which a broad oaken staircase, with curiously-carved banisters, led to a gallery, and thence to the upper chambers of the habitation. Nothing could be more dreary than the aspect of the place. The richly-moulded ceiling was festooned with spiders' webs, and in some places had fallen in heaps upon the floor; the glories of the tapestry upon the walls were obliterated by damps; the squares of black and white marble, with which the hall was paved, were loosened, and quaked beneath the footsteps; the wide and empty fireplace yawned like the mouth of a cavern; the bolts of the closed windows were rusted in their sockets; and the heaps of dust before the outer door proved that long years had elapsed since any one had passed through it.
Taking a dark lantern from beneath his cloak, the individual in question gazed for a moment around him, and then, with a sardonic smile playing upon his features, directed his steps towards a room on the right, the door of which stood open.
This chamber, which was large and cased with oak, was wholly unfurnished, like the hall, and in an equally dilapidated condition.
The only decoration remaining on its walls was the portrait of a venerable personage in the cap and gown of Henry the Eighth's time, painted against a panel – a circumstance which had probably saved it from destruction – and beneath it, fixed in another panel, a plate of brass, covered with mystical characters and symbols, and inscribed with the name "Cyprianus de Rougemont, Fra. R.C." The same name likewise appeared upon a label beneath the portrait, with the date 1550.
Pausing before the portrait, the young man threw the light of the lantern full upon it, and revealed features somewhat resembling his own in form, but of a severe and philosophic cast. In the eyes alone could be discerned the peculiar and terrible glimmer which distinguished his own glances.
After regarding the portrait for some time fixedly, he thus addressed it:
"Dost hear me, old ancestor?" he cried. "I, thy descendant, Cyprian de Rougemont, call upon thee to point out where thy gold is hidden? I know that thou wert a brother of the Rosy Cross – one of the illuminati – and didst penetrate the mysteries of nature, and enter the region of light. I know, also, that thou wert buried in this house with a vast treasure; but though I have made diligent search for it, and others have searched before me, thy grave has never yet been discovered! Listen to me! Methought Satan appeared to me in a dream last night, and bade me come hither, and I should find what I sought. The conditions he proposed were, that I should either give him my own soul, or win him that of Auriol Darcy. I assented. I am here. Where is thy treasure?"
After a pause, he struck the portrait with his clenched hand, exclaiming in a loud voice:
"Dost hear me, I say, old ancestor? I call on thee to give me thy treasure. Dost hear, I say?"
And he repeated the blow with greater violence.
Disturbed by the shock, the brass plate beneath the picture started from its place, and fell to the ground.
"What is this?" cried Rougemont, gazing into the aperture left by the plate. "Ha! – my invocation has been heard!"
And, snatching up the lantern, he discovered, at the bottom of a little recess, about two feet deep, a stone, with an iron ring in the centre of it. Uttering a joyful cry, he seized the ring, and drew the stone forward without difficulty, disclosing an open space beyond it.
"This, then, is the entrance to my ancestor's tomb," cried Rougemont; "there can be no doubt of it. The old Rosicrucian has kept his secret well; but the devil has helped me to wrest it from him. And now to procure the necessary implements, in case, as is not unlikely, I should experience further difficulty."
With this he hastily quitted the room, but returned almost immediately with a mallet, a lever, and a pitchfork; armed with which and the lantern, he crept through the aperture. This done, he found himself at the head of a stone staircase, which he descended, and came to the arched entrance of a vault. The door, which was of stout oak, was locked, but holding up the light towards it, he read the following inscription:
"POST C.C.L. ANNOS PATEBO, 1550."
"In two hundred and fifty years I shall open!" cried Rougemont, "and the date 1550 – why, the exact time is arrived. Old Cyprian must have foreseen what would happen, and evidently intended to make me his heir. There was no occasion for the devil's interference. And see, the key is in the lock. So!" And he turned it, and pushing against the door with some force, the rusty hinges gave way, and it fell inwards.
From the aperture left by the fallen door, a soft and silvery light streamed forth, and, stepping forward, Rougemont found himself in a spacious vault, from the ceiling of which hung a large globe of crystal, containing in its heart a little flame, which diffused a radiance, gentle as that of the moon, around. This, then, was the ever-burning lamp of the Rosicrucians, and Rougemont gazed at it with astonishment. Two hundred and fifty years had elapsed since that wondrous flame had been lighted, and yet it burnt on brightly as ever. Hooped round the globe was a serpent with its tail in its mouth – an emblem of eternity – wrought in purest gold; while above it were a pair of silver wings, in allusion to the soul. Massive chains of the more costly metal, fashioned like twisted snakes, served as suspenders to the lamp.
But Rougemont's astonishment at this marvel quickly gave way to other feelings, and he gazed around the vault with greedy eyes.
It was a septilateral chamber, about eight feet high, built of stone, and supported by beautifully groined arches. The surface of the masonry was as smooth and fresh as if the chisel had only just left it.
In six of the corners were placed large chests, ornamented with ironwork of the most exquisite workmanship, and these Rougemont's imagination pictured as filled with inexhaustible treasure; while in the seventh corner, near the door, was a beautiful little piece of monumental sculpture in white marble, representing two kneeling and hooded figures, holding a veil between them, which partly concealed the entrance to a small recess. On one of the chests opposite the monument just described stood a strangely-formed bottle and a cup of antique workmanship, both encrusted with gems.
The walls were covered with circles, squares, and diagrams, and in some places were ornamented with grotesque carvings. In the centre of the vault was a round altar, of black marble, covered with a plate of gold, on which Rougemont read the following inscription:
"Hoc universi compendium unius mihi sepulcrum feci."
"Here, then, old Cyprian lies," he cried.
And, prompted by some irresistible impulse, he seized the altar by the upper rim, and overthrew it. The heavy mass of marble fell with a thundering crash, breaking asunder the flag beneath it. It might be the reverberation of the vaulted roof, but a deep groan seemed to reproach the young man for his sacrilege. Undeterred, however, by this warning, Rougemont placed the point of the lever between the interstices of the broken stone, and, exerting all his strength, speedily raised the fragments, and laid open the grave.
Within it, in the garb he wore in life, with his white beard streaming to his waist, lay the uncoffined body of his ancestor, Cyprian de Rougemont. The corpse had evidently been carefully embalmed, and the features were unchanged by decay. Upon the breast, with the hands placed over it, lay a large book, bound in black vellum, and fastened with brazen clasps. Instantly possessing himself of this mysterious-looking volume, Rougemont knelt upon the nearest chest, and opened it. But he was disappointed in his expectation. All the pages he examined were filled with cabalistic characters, which he was totally unable to decipher.
At length, however, he chanced upon one page the import of which he comprehended, and he remained for some time absorbed in its contemplation, while an almost fiendish smile played upon his features.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, closing the volume, "I see now the cause of my extraordinary dream. My ancestor's wondrous power was of infernal origin – the result, in fact, of a compact with the Prince of Darkness. But what care I for that? Give me wealth – no matter what source it comes from! – ha! ha!"
And seizing the lever, he broke open the chest beside him. It was filled with bars of silver. The next he visited in the same way was full of gold. The third was laden with pearls and precious stones; and the rest contained treasure to an incalculable amount. Rougemont gazed at them in transports of joy.
"At length I have my wish," he cried. "Boundless wealth, and therefore boundless power, is mine. I can riot in pleasure – riot in vengeance. As to my soul, I will run the risk of its perdition; but it shall go hard if I destroy not that of Auriol. His love of play and his passion for Edith Talbot shall be the means by which I will work. But I must not neglect another agent which is offered me. That bottle, I have learnt from yon volume, contains an infernal potion, which, without destroying life, shatters the brain, and creates maddening fancies. It will well serve my purpose; and I thank thee, Satan, for the gift."
About two months after this occurrence, and near midnight, a young man was hurrying along Pall Mall, with a look of the wildest despair, when his headlong course was suddenly arrested by a strong grasp, while a familiar voice sounded in his ear.
"It is useless to meditate self-destruction, Auriol Darcy," cried the person who had checked him. "If you find life a burden, I can make it tolerable to you."
Turning round at the appeal, Auriol beheld a tall man, wrapped in a long black cloak, whose sinister features were well known to him.
"Leave me, Rougemont!" he cried fiercely. "I want no society – above all, not yours. You know very well that you have ruined me, and that nothing more is to be got from me. Leave me, I say, or I may do you a mischief."
"Tut, tut, Auriol, I am your friend!" replied Rougemont. "I purpose to relieve your distress."
"Will you give me back the money you have won from me?" cried Auriol. "Will you pay my inexorable creditors? Will you save me from a prison?"
"I will do all this, and more," replied Rougemont. "I will make you one of the richest men in London."
"Spare your insulting jests, sir," cried Auriol. "I am in no mood to bear them."
"I am not jesting," rejoined Rougemont. "Come with me, and you shall be convinced of my sincerity."
Auriol at length assented, and they turned into Saint James's Square, and paused before a magnificent house. Rougemont ascended the steps. Auriol, who had accompanied him almost mechanically, gazed at him with astonishment.
"Do you live here?" he inquired.
"Ask no questions," replied Rougemont, knocking at the door, which was instantly opened by a hall porter, while other servants in rich liveries appeared at a distance. Rougemont addressed a few words in an undertone to them, and they instantly bowed respectfully to Auriol, while the foremost of them led the way up a magnificent staircase.
All this was a mystery to the young man, but he followed his conductor without a word, and was presently ushered into a gorgeously-furnished and brilliantly-illuminated apartment.
The servant then left them; and as soon as he was gone Auriol exclaimed, "Is it to mock me that you have brought me hither?"
"To mock you – no," replied Rougemont. "I have told you that I mean to make you rich. But you look greatly exhausted. A glass of wine will revive you."
And as he spoke, he stepped towards a small cabinet, and took from it a curiously-shaped bottle and a goblet.
"Taste this wine – it has been long in our family," he added, filling the cup.
"It is a strange, bewildering drink," cried Auriol, setting down the empty goblet, and passing his hand before his eyes.
"You have taken it upon an empty stomach – that is all," said Rougemont. "You will be better anon."
"I feel as if I were going mad," cried Auriol. "It is some damnable potion you have given me."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Rougemont. "It reminds you of the elixir you once quaffed – eh?"
"A truce to this raillery!" cried Auriol angrily. "I have said I am in no mood to bear it."
"Pshaw! I mean no offence," rejoined the other, changing his manner. "What think you of this house?"
"That it is magnificent," replied Auriol, gazing around. "I envy you its possession."
"It shall be yours, if you please," replied Rougemont.
"Mine! you are mocking me again."
"Not in the least. You shall buy it from me, if you please."
"At what price?" asked Auriol bitterly.
"At a price you can easily pay," replied the other. "Come this way, and we will conclude the bargain."
Proceeding towards the farther end of the room, they entered a small exquisitely-furnished chamber, surrounded with sofas of the most luxurious description. In the midst was a table, on which writing materials were placed.
"It were a fruitless boon to give you this house without the means of living in it," said Rougemont, carefully closing the door. "This pocket-book will furnish you with them."
"Notes to an immense amount!" cried Auriol, opening the pocket-book, and glancing at its contents.
"They are yours, together with the house," cried Rougemont, "if you will but sign a compact with me."
"A compact!" cried Auriol, regarding him with a look of undefinable terror. "Who and what are you?"
"Some men would call me the devil!" replied Rougemont carelessly. "But you know me too well to suppose that I merit such a designation. I offer you wealth. What more could you require?"
"But upon what terms?" demanded Auriol.
"The easiest imaginable," replied the other. "You shall judge for yourself."
And as he spoke, he opened a writing-desk upon the table, and took from it a parchment.
"Sit down," he added, "and read this."
Auriol complied, and as he scanned the writing he became transfixed with fear and astonishment, while the pocket-book dropped from his grasp.
After a while he looked up at Rougemont, who was leaning over his shoulder, and whose features were wrinkled with a derisive smile.
"Then you are the Fiend?" he cried.
"If you will have it so – certainly," replied the other.
"You are Satan in the form of the man I once knew," cried Auriol. "Avaunt! I will have no dealings with you."
"I thought you wiser than to indulge in such idle fears, Darcy," rejoined the other. "Granting even your silly notion of me to be correct, why need you be alarmed? You are immortal."
"True," rejoined Auriol thoughtfully; "but yet – "
"Pshaw!" rejoined the other, "sign, and have done with the matter."
"By this compact I am bound to deliver a victim – a female victim – whenever you shall require it," cried Auriol.
"Precisely," replied the other; "you can have no difficulty in fulfilling that condition."
"But if I fail in doing so, I am doomed – "
"But you will not fail," interrupted the other, lighting a taper and sealing the parchment. "Now sign it."
Auriol mechanically took the pen, and gazed fixedly on the document.
"I shall bring eternal destruction on myself if I sign it," he muttered.
"A stroke of the pen will rescue you from utter ruin," said Rougemont, leaning over his shoulder. "Riches and happiness are yours. You will not have such another chance."
"Tempter!" cried Auriol, hastily attaching his signature to the paper. But he instantly started back aghast at the fiendish laugh that rang in his ears.
"I repent – give it me back!" he cried, endeavouring to snatch the parchment, which Rougemont thrust into his bosom.
"It is too late!" cried the latter, in a triumphant tone. "You are mine – irredeemably mine."
"Ha!" exclaimed Auriol, sinking back on the couch.
"I leave you in possession of your house," pursued Rougemont; "but I shall return in a week, when I shall require my first victim."
"Your first victim! oh, Heaven!" exclaimed Auriol.
"Ay, and my choice falls on Edith Talbot!" replied Rougemont.
"Edith Talbot!" exclaimed Auriol; "she your victim! Think you I would resign her I love better than life to you?"
"It is because she loves you that I have chosen her," rejoined Rougemont, with a bitter laugh. "And such will ever be the case with you. Seek not to love again, for your passion will be fatal to the object of it. When the week has elapsed, I shall require Edith at your hands. Till then, farewell!"
"Stay!" cried Auriol. "I break the bargain with thee, fiend. I will have none of it. I abjure thee."
And he rushed wildly after Rougemont, who had already gained the larger chamber; but, ere he could reach him, the mysterious individual had passed through the outer door, and when Auriol emerged upon the gallery, he was nowhere to be seen.
Several servants immediately answered the frantic shouts of the young man, and informed him that Mr. Rougemont had quitted the house some moments ago, telling them that their master was perfectly satisfied with the arrangements he had made for him.
"And we hope nothing has occurred to alter your opinion, sir?" said the hall porter.
"You are sure Mr. Rougemont is gone?" cried Auriol.
"Oh, quite sure, sir," cried the hall porter. "I helped him on with his cloak myself. He said he should return this day week."
"If he comes I will not see him," cried Auriol sharply; "mind that. Deny me to him; and on no account whatever let him enter the house."
"Your orders shall be strictly obeyed," replied the porter, staring with surprise.
"Now leave me," cried Auriol.
And as they quitted him, he added, in a tone and with a gesture of the deepest despair, "All precautions are useless. I am indeed lost!"
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