"Yes, it is very well for you to talk of intercepting her, but you had just as well try to intercept a shadow as it glides past you," put in Sybil, with a wise nod.
"The attempt shall be made, at all events," determined Mr. Berners.
Sybil was in the act of putting the supper—not on the table, for table there was none in the chapel—but on the cloth spread upon the flagstones, when Captain Pendleton, to give a lighter turn to their talk, said:
"You may put a plate for me also, Mrs. Berners! I have not yet supped, and I'm glad I have got here in time to join you."
"I am glad too! We are getting quite comfortably to housekeeping here, Captain. And Lyon has set his traps, and we shall soon have game to offer you when you come to visit us," replied Sybil quickly, responding to his gayety.
"If I had only a gun, and could venture to use it, it would be a great relief, and we should be very well supplied," smiled Lyon.
"Yes! if you had a gun, and should venture to use it, you would soon bring a posse comitatus down upon you; We will have no reverberations of that sort, if you please, Lyon," recommended the Captain.
And then they all sat down around the table-cloth, and Sybil poured out and served the coffee.
Now, whether they were very thirsty, or whether the coffee was unusually good, or whether both these causes combined to tempt them to excess, is not known; but it is certain that the two gentlemen were intemperate in their abuse of this fragrant beverage; which proves that people can be intemperate in other drinks, as well as in alcoholic liquors. This coffee also got into their heads. Their spirits rose; they grew gay, talkative, inspired, brilliant. Even Sybil, who took but one cup of coffee, caught the infection, and laughed and talked and enjoyed herself as if she were at a picnic, instead of being in hiding for her life or liberty.
In a word, some strange exhilaration, some wonderful intoxication pervaded the little party; but the most marvellous symptom of their case was, that they talked no nonsense—that while, under their adverse and perilous circumstances, such gayety was unnatural and irrational, yet their minds were clear and their utterances brilliant. And this abnormal exaltation of intellect and elevation of spirit continued for several hours, long into the night.
Then the great reaction came. First Sybil grew very quiet, though not in the least degree sad; then Lyon Berners evinced a disposition rather to listen than to talk; and finally Captain Pendleton arose, and saying that this had been one of the strangest and pleasantest evenings he had ever passed in his, life, took leave of his friends and departed.
Sybil was very sleepy, and as soon as their guest was gone she asked Lyon to help her with the mattress: that she was so drowsy she could scarcely move. He begged her to sit still, for that he himself would do all that was necessary. And with much good-will, but also much awkwardness, he spread the couch, and then went to tell Sybil it was ready. But he found her with her head upon her knees, apparently fast asleep. He lifted her gently in his arms, and carried her and laid her on the mattress. And then, feeling overcome with drowsiness, he threw himself down beside her, and fell into a profound sleep.
But Sybil, as she afterwards told, did not sleep so deeply. It seemed, indeed, less sleep than stupor that overcame her. She was conscious when her husband raised her up in his arms and laid her on the bed; but she was too utterly oppressed with stupor and weariness to lift her eyes to look, or open her lips to speak, or, even after he had laid her down, to move a limb from the position into which it fell.
So she lay like one dead, except in being clearly conscious of all that was going on around her. She knew when Lyon laid down, and when he went to sleep. And still she lay in that heavy state, which was at once a profound repose and a clear consciousness, for perhaps an hour longer, when suddenly the stillness of the scene was stirred by a sound so slight that it could only have been heard by one whose senses were, like hers at that time, preternaturally acute. The sound was of the slow, cautious turning of a door upon its hinges!
Without moving hand or foot, she just languidly lifted her eyelids, and looked around upon the dim darkness.
There was a faint glow from the smouldering fire on the flagstone floor, and there was a faint light from the starlit night coming through the windows. By the aid of these she saw, as in a dream, the door of the vault wide open!
In her profound state of conscious repose there was no fear of danger, and no wish to move. So, still as in a dream, she witnessed what followed.
First a dark, shrouded figure issued from the vault, and turned around and bent down towards it, as if speaking to some one within. But no word was heard. Then the figure backed a pace, drawing up from the steps of the vault what seemed to be a long narrow box. As this box came up, it was followed by another dark, shrouded figure, who supported its other end. And as the two mysterious apparitions now stood beside the altar, Sybil saw that the box that they held between them was a coffin!
Nor was that all. While they moved a little down the side wall, they were followed by two other strange figures, issuing from the vault in the same order, and bearing between them, in the same manner, a second coffin; and as they, in their turn, filed down the side wall, they also were followed by still two others coming up out of the vault, and bringing with them a third coffin!
And then a ghastly procession formed against the side wall. Three long shadowy coffins borne by six dark shrouded figures, filed past the gothic windows, and disappeared through the open chapel door.
Sybil clearly saw all this, as in a nightmare from which she could not escape; she still lay motionless, speechless, and helpless, until she quite lost consciousness in a profound and dreamless sleep. So deep and heavy was this sleep, that she had no sense of existence for many hours. When at length she did awake, it seemed almost to a new life, so utterly, for a time, was all that had recently past forgotten. But as she arose and looked around, and collected her faculties, and remembered her position, she was astonished to see by the shining of the sun into the western windows, that it was late in the afternoon, and that they had slept nearly all day, for her husband was still sleeping heavily.
Then she remembered the horrible vision of the night, and she looked anxiously towards the door of the vault. It seemed fast as ever. She got up and went to look at it. It was fast, the bars firmly bedded in the solid masonry, as they had been before.
What then had been the vision? She shuddered to think of it. Her first impulse was now to arouse her husband and tell him what had happened. But her tenderness for him pleaded with her to forbear.
"He sleeps well, poor Lyon! let him sleep," she said, and she threw a shawl around her shoulders, and went out of the chapel to get a breath of the fresh morning air.
She had to pass among the gray old gravestones lying deep in the bright-colored dew-spangled brushwood. As she picked her way past them, she suddenly stopped and screamed.
Captain Pendleton was lying prostrate, like a dead man at the foot of an old tree!
With a strong effort of the will, she controlled herself sufficiently to enable her to approach and examine him. He was not dead, as she had at first supposed; but he was in a very death-like sleep.
She arose to her feet, and clasped her forehead with both hands while she tried to think. What could these things mean? The unnatural exhilaration of their little party on the previous evening; the powerful reaction that prostrated them all in heavy stupor or dreamless sleep, that had lasted some fifteen hours; the ghastly procession she had seen issue from the open door of the old vault, and march slowly down the east wall of the church, past all the gothic windows, and disappear through the front door; the spell that had so deeply bound her own faculties, that she had neither the power nor the will to call out; their visitor overtaken by sleep while on his way to mount his horse, and now lying prostrate among the gravestones? What could all these things mean?
She could not imagine.
However much she might have wished to spare her husband's rest up to this moment, she felt that she must arouse him now. She hurried back into the church, and went up to the little couch and looked at Lyon.
He was moving restlessly, and muttering sadly in his sleep. And now she felt less reluctance to wake him from his troubled dream. She shook him gently, and called him.
He opened his eyes, gazed at her, arose up in a sitting posture, and stared around for a moment, and then seeing his wife, exclaimed:
"Oh! is it you, Sybil? What is this? the chapel seems to be turned around." And he gazed again at the western windows, where the sun was shining, and which he mistook for the eastern, supposing the time to be morning.
"The chapel has not turned around, Lyon; but the sun has. It is late in the afternoon, and that is the declining and not the rising sun that you see."
"Good gracious, Sybil! Have I slept so late as this? Why did you let me?"
"Because I slept myself; we all slept; even to Captain Pendleton, who must have been overpowered by sleep on his way to his horse; for I have just found him lying among the gravestones."
"What? Who? Pendleton asleep among the gravestones? Say that again. I don't understand."
Sybil briefly repeated her statement.
Lyon started up, shook himself as if to arouse all his faculties, and then went and douched his head and face with cold water, and finally, as he dried them, he turned to Sybil and said:
"What is all this that you tell me? Where is Pendleton? Come and show me."
Sybil led the way to the spot where their friend lay in his heavy sleep.
"Good Heaven! He must have fallen down, or sunk down here, within three minutes of leaving the church!" exclaimed Lyon Berners, gazing on the sleeper.
"Something must have happened to us all, dear Lyon. Do you remember how unreasonably gay we all were at supper last evening? We, too, who had every reason to be very grave and even sad? And do you remember the reaction? When we all grew so drowsy that we could hardly keep our eyes open? And then there was something else, which I will tell you of by and by. And now we have all slept fifteen or sixteen hours. Something strange has happened to us, Lyon," said Sybil, slowly.
"Something has, indeed. But now we must arouse Pendleton. Good Heaven! he may have caught his death by sleeping out all night," exclaimed Mr. Berners, as he stooped down and shook the sleeper.
But it was not without difficulty that Lyon succeeded in arousing Captain Pendleton, who, when he was fairly upon his feet, reeled like a drunken man.
"Pendleton, Pendleton, wake up! What, man! what has happened to you?" exclaimed Lyon, trying to steady the other upon his feet.
"Too late for roll-call. Bad example to the rank and file," murmured the Captain, with some remnant of a camp-dream lingering in his mind.
Mr. Berners shook him roughly, while Sybil dipped up a double handful of water from a little spring at their feet, and threw it up into his face.
This fairly aroused him.
"Whew-ew! Phiz! What's that for? What the demon's all this? What's the matter?" he exclaimed, sneezing, coughing, and sputtering through the water that Sybil had flung into his face.
"What's all this?" exclaimed Lyon Berners, echoing his question. "It is that we are all robbed and murdered, and carried into captivity, for all I know," he added, smiling, as he could not fail to do, at the droll figure cut by his friend.
"How the deuce came I here?" demanded Pendleton, glaring around with his mouth and eyes wide open. "Is this enchantment?"
"Something very like it, Pendleton. But come, man, this is no laughing matter. It is very serious. Therefore rouse yourself and collect your faculties. You will need them all, I assure you," gravely replied Lyon Berners.
"But—how in thunder, came I here?" again demanded the Captain, shivering and staring around him.
"We can not tell. My wife found you here about half an hour ago. You are supposed to have been overcome by drowsiness, while on your way to your horse, and to have sunk down here and slept from that time to this—some sixteen hours."
"Good—! I remember taking leave of you both, after our lively supper of last evening, and starting for the thicket, and giving way just here to an irresistible feeling of drowsiness, and sinking down with the dreamy idea that I would not go to sleep, but would soon arise and pursue my journey. And I have lain here all night!" he exclaimed in astonishment.
"Yes, and all day!" added Lyon, solemnly.
"How is it that I was not awakened before?" demanded the Captain, with an injured look.
"Because we ourselves were in the same condition. It is not more than fifteen minutes since my wife awakened me."
"In the name of heaven, then, what has befallen us all?" demanded the Captain in amazement.
"That is what we must try to find out. You must help us. I have been thinking rapidly while standing here, and the result is, that I judge we have all been drugged with opium; but whether by accident or with design, or if with design, by whom, or with what purpose, I cannot even imagine; though I do vaguely connect the fact with the mysterious visitant of the chapel," replied Mr. Berners.
While he spoke they all turned their steps towards the chapel. And with his concluding words, they entered it in company.
The "housekeeping corner" of the chapel was in a state of confusion very much at variance with the young housekeeper's fastidiously tidy habits.
The supper dishes lay upon the table-cloth on the floor, where they had been uncared for by the drugged and drowsy pair. And the little bed remained unmade, as it had been left by them when they ran out to look after Captain Pendleton.
Sybil saw all this at a glance, and with a flush; and forgetting for a moment everything else, she bade her husband and his guest stop where they were until she had put her "house" in order.
In this limited manner of domestic economy, it took Sybil but ten minutes to make the bed and wash the dishes. And, meanwhile, Lyon Berners made up the fire, and Clement Pendleton brought a pail of fresh water from the fountain.
Sybil began to prepare the breakfast, but none of the party felt like eating it.
"And that is another sign of opium! We have no appetite," observed Lyon Berners, as they sat down around the table-cloth; and instead of discussing the viands before them, they discussed the events of the preceding day and night.
Lyon Berners remembered that Sybil and himself had spent nearly the whole of the preceding afternoon in rambling through the woods; and he suggested as the only solution of the mystery that, during their absence some one had entered the chapel, and put opium in their food and drink.
"'Some one;' but whom?" inquired Captain Pendleton, incredulously.
"Most probably the girl whom we have seen here," answered Mr. Berners.
"But for what purpose do you think she drugged your drink?"
"To throw us into a deep sleep for many hours, which would enable her to come and go, to and from the chapel, undiscovered and unmolested."
"But why should she wish to come back and forth to such a dreary, empty old place as this?"
"Ah! that I cannot tell; at that point conjecture is utterly baffled," answered Lyon.
"Yes; because conjecture has been pursuing a phantom—a phantom that vanishes upon being nearly approached. I cannot accept your theory of the mystery, Berners; and what is worse, I cannot substitute one of my own," said Captain Pendleton, shaking his head.
"And now I have something to reveal," said Sybil, solemnly.
"Another morning dream?" inquired Lyon, while Pendleton looked up with interest.
"No; a reality—a ghastly, horrible reality," she answered.
And while both looked at her with strange, deep interest and curiosity, she related her sepulchral experiences of the night. When with pale cheeks and shuddering frame she described the six dark, shrouded forms that had come up out of the vault, bearing long shadowy coffins, which they carried in a slow procession down along the east wall, past the Gothic windows and out at the front door, her two listeners looked at her, and then at each other, in amazement and incredulity.
"It was an opium dream," said Mr. Berners, in a positive manner.
"It would be useless, dear Lyon, for me to tell you that I was rather wider awake then than I am now, yet I really was," said Sybil, with equal assurance.
"And yet you did not lift hand or voice to call my attention to what was going on."
"I did not wish to do it; my will seemed palsied. I could only gaze at the awful procession and think how ghastly it was, and thinking so, I sank into a dreamless sleep, and knew no more until I woke up this afternoon."
"Meanwhile let us go and look at the door of the vault. You say the door was wide open?" inquired Captain Pendleton.
"Of course it was wide open: that is, wide open last night when those horrible forms came up out of the vault; but this morning it was fast enough," answered Sybil.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Berners.
"I know what that 'oh!' means, Lyon. But I hope before we leave this chapel that you will find out that I can distinguish a dream from a dreadful reality," observed his wife.
Meanwhile they had reached the iron door of the vault. It was fast. Pendleton took hold of the iron bars and tried to shake it; but the bars were bedded in solid stone, and the door was immovable. Then he looked through the grating down into the depths below, but he only saw the top of the staircase, the bottom of which disappeared in the darkness.
"My dear Mrs. Berners," he then said, turning to Sybil, "I do not like to differ with a lady in a matter of her 'own experience'; but as we are in search of the truth, and the truth happens to be of the most vital importance to our safety, I feel constrained to assure you that this door, from its very appearance, assures us that it can not have been opened within half a century, and that consequently your 'own experience' of the last night cannot have been a reality, but must have been a dream."
"I wish you could dream such a one, and then you would know something about it," answered Sybil.
"I think you will have to come to my theory about the opium," put in Mr. Berners, "especially as I have pursued my 'phantom' one stage farther in her flight, and am able to assign a possible motive for her secret visits to the chapel."
"Ah! do that, and we will think about agreeing with your views. Now then the motive," exclaimed Pendleton.
"Yes, a lover. She comes here to meet him; and not liking eye-witnesses to the courtship, she drugged us," said Mr. Berners, triumphantly.
"That is the most violent and far-fetched theory of the mystery. Nothing but our desperate need of an elucidation could excuse its being put forward," said Captain Pendleton, drily. Then he spoke more earnestly: "Berners, whatever may be the true explanation of all that we have experienced here, one thing seems certain: that your retreat here is known to at least one person, who may or may not be inimical to your interests. Now my advice to you is still the same. Stop this girl the first time you see her again, and compel her to give an account of herself. Conceal your names and stations from her, if possible, and in any case bribe her to silence upon the subject of your abode here. If it were prudent, I should counsel you to leave this chapel for some other place of concealment; but really there seems now more danger in moving than in keeping still. So I reiterate my advice, that you shall enlist this strange girl in your interests."
"But before cooking your hare, you must catch it," said Sybil. "We may see this visitant a dozen times more, but we will never be able to stop her. She appears and vanishes! Is seen and gone in an instant! But, Captain Pendleton, I will tell you what I wish you to do for me."
"I will do anything in the world that you wish, except believe in ghosts."
"Then you will bring me a crowbar, or whatever the tool or tools may be with which strong doors may be forced. I want that grated iron door forced open, that we may go down into that vault and see what it holds."
"Good Heavens Mrs. Berners!" he exclaimed, striking a theatrical attitude.
"'Would'st bid me burst The loathsome charnel-house, and Spread a pestilence?'"
"I want to see what is in it; and I will," persisted Sybil.
"Bring the tools when you come again, Pendleton, and we will open the door, and examine the vault," added Mr. Berners.
"Ugh! you will find it full of coffins and skeletons—
"'And mair o' horrible and awfu' Whilk e'en to name wad be unlawfu'.'"
"You are in a poetical mood, Pendleton."
"And you are in a sepulchral one. Both effects of the opium, I suppose."
While they talked the sun went down.
Captain Pendleton remained with his friends until the twilight deepened into darkness; and then, promising to return the next night, and wondering where he should find his horse, or how he should get home, he took leave and departed.
The strange life of the refugees in the Haunted Chapel seriously interfered with their hitherto regular and healthful habits. They had slept nearly all day, when they should have been awake. And now they intended to watch all night, partly because it was impossible for them to sleep any more then, and partly because they wished to stop their mysterious visitant, in the event of her reappearance.
But the girl in the red cloak came not that night, no, nor even the next day; nor did any other mysterious visitor or unusual event disturb their repose, or excite their curiosity.
Late that night their faithful friend returned, according to his promise. He told them that he had found his poor horse still in the thicket where he had left him, with water and grass in his reach. That he had got home in safety, where his absence had not excited any anxiety, because his sister had supposed him to be at Black Hall.
He then described the funeral of Rosa Blondelle, which had taken place that day, and which had been attended not only by all the county gentry, who had gathered to show their respect and sympathy for the dead, but also by crowds of all sorts of people, who came in curiosity to the scene.
And then, taking advantage of a few minutes during which Sybil was engaged in her housekeeping corner of the chapel, he told Mr. Berners that the search-warrants having failed to find the fugitives, a rumor had been spread that they had certainly left the neighborhood on the morning of the murder, and that they had been seen at Alexandria, by a gentleman who had just come from that city.
"This story," added Captain Pendleton, "is so confidently reported and believed, that an officer with a warrant has been this day dispatched to Annapolis."
"Oh! good Heaven! How zealously her old neighbors do hunt my poor guiltless Sybil," groaned Mr. Berners.
"Take courage! This rumor, together with the journey of the officer to Annapolis, opens a way for your immediate escape. So I propose that you prepare to leave this place to-morrow night, and take a bee line to Norfolk. There you must take the first outward bound ship for Europe, and remain abroad until you can with safety return home."
At this moment Sybil came up.
Without mentioning to her the existence of the warrants which were out against her, and which was the only part of Captain Pendleton's communication that it was expedient to conceal from her, Lyon Berners, with a smile of encouragement, told her that they were to leave the Haunted Chapel the next night, to go to Norfolk.
"And we cannot even yet go home?" sighed Sybil.
"No, dear wife; it would scarcely yet be prudent to do so. But we can go to Europe, and travel over the Continent, and see the wonders of the Old World, leaving our friend here with a power of attorney to manage our estate and collect our revenues, and remit us money as we require it. We can stay abroad and enjoy ourselves until such time as justice shall be done, and we can return to our home, not only with safety, but in triumph," replied Lyon Berners, cheerfully.
Sybil too caught the infection of his cheerful manner, whether that were real or assumed, and she too brightened up.
The friends then discussed the details of the projected flight.
"In the first place," began Captain Pendleton, "you must both be so well disguised as to seem the opposite of yourself in rank, age, and personal appearance. You, Lyon, must shave off your auburn beard, and cut close your auburn hair, and you must put on a gray wig and a gray beard—those worn by your old Peter, in his character of Polonius at your mask ball, will, with a little trimming, serve your purpose. Then you must wear a pair of spectacles and a broad-brimmed hat and an old man's loose fitting, shabby travelling suit. I can procure both the spectacles and the clothes from the wardrobe of my deceased father. Mrs. Berners, too, should cut her hair short, and wear a red wig and a plain dress. The wig you wore as Harold the Saxon will suit very well, with a little arrangement. Then I can procure the dress from my sister. You must travel as a poor old farmer, and your wife must go as your red-headed illiterate daughter. You are both excellent actors, and can sustain your parts very well."
"Dear me!" said Sybil, half crying, half smiling; "I have been warned that it is never well to begin any enterprise of which one does not know the end. And I'm sure when I undertook to give a mask ball and take a character in it, I had not the slightest idea that the masquerade would last longer than a night, or that I should have to continue to act a character."
"Never mind, darling; it is but for a season. Go on, Pendleton. You seem to have settled everything in your own mind for us. Let us hear the rest of your plan," said Mr. Berners.
"It is this," continued the Captain. "I will bring these disguises to you to-morrow night. I will also have a covered cart, loaded with turnips, potatoes, apples, and so forth; I will have this cart driven by your faithful Joe down to the Blackville ferry-boat, in which of course he can cross the river with his load of produce unsuspected and unquestioned."
"Or even if some inquisitive gossip should ask him where he might be going, Joe would be ready with his safe answer. He can beat us in baffling inquiry," put in Sybil.
"Like all his race," laughed Lyon.
"The chance you have mentioned is provided for. Joe is instructed to answer any haphazard questioner, that he is bringing the load to me, which will be the truth."
"But proceed, dear Pendleton. Develop your whole plan," urged Mr. Berners.
"Well, then, once safe on this side of the river, Joe will drive the cart to some convenient spot, to which I myself will guide you."
"Ah, how much trouble you take for us, Pendleton!" sighed Lyon.
"Not at all. As far as I am concerned, it is a piquant adventure. Try to look at it in that light. Well, to our subject. When you reach the cart you can put your wife inside, and then mount the driver's seat, and start upon your journey like a plain old farmer going to market to sell his produce. As you will have but the one pair of horses for the whole journey, you will see the necessity of making very short stages, in order to enable them to complete it."
"And now listen! Because you must make these short stages and frequent stoppages, and because you must avoid the most travelled roads, it will be necessary for you to take a map of the State, and follow the most direct route to Norfolk."
"Which is not the turnpike road used by the mail stagecoaches, for that diverges frequently five or ten miles to the right or left of the line, to take in the populous villages," put in Lyon Berners.
"Yes; I see you comprehended me! Well, I should farther advise you, when you reach Norfolk, to put up at some obscure inn near the wharves, and to embark in the very first ship that sails for Europe, even if it should set sail within an hour after your arrival."
"You may rest assured that we shall not loiter in Norfolk," said Mr. Berners.
"As for the draught horses and cart, if you have time, you can sell them. If not, you can leave them at the livery stable, and on the day of sailing post me a letter containing an order to receive them."
"You think of everything, dear Pendleton."
"I can't think of anything else just now," replied Captain Pendleton.
"Well, then, we will have some supper," said Sybil rising to prepare it.
"I declare, I never in all my life supped out so frequently as I have done since you two have been housekeeping in this old Haunted Chapel! And by the way, talking of that, have you seen any more apparitions? any more spectral gipsy girls? or shrouded forms? or shadowy coffins? or open vaults? eh, Mrs. Berners?" laughingly inquired Captain Pendleton.
"No, nothing unusual has disturbed us, either last night or to-day. But now, talking of open vaults, have you brought the crowbar to force the door, sir?" said Sybil, turning sharply to the Captain.
"Yes, dear Mrs. Berners; since I promised to bring it, I felt bound to do so; though I hope you will not really have it put to use."
"Just as soon as supper is over, I will have that door forced open. I will see what that mysterious vault holds," said Sybil, firmly.
And she almost kept her word.
As soon as they had finished the evening meal, she arose and called upon the gentlemen to go with her and force the door of the vault.
And they went and inserted the crowbar between the grating and the stonework, and wrenched with all their united strength; but their efforts availed nothing, even to move the door.
They gave over their exertions to recover their breath, and when they had got it they began again with renewed vigor; but with no better success. Again they stopped to breathe, and again they re-commenced the task with all their might; but after working as hard as they could for fifteen minutes longer, they again ceased from sheer exhaustion, leaving the door as fast as they had found it.
"It is of no use to try longer, Sybil. We cannot force it," said Mr. Berners.
"I see that you cannot. The vault keeps its secrets well," she answered, solemnly.
And then they returned to their seats near the fire, and sat and talked over the projected journey until it was time for Captain Pendleton to go.
When the husband and wife were left alone, they felt themselves tired enough to go to rest, with a prospect of getting a good night's sleep.
"This is the last night that we shall spend in this place, dear Sybil," said Lyon Berners, as he put the smouldering brands together to keep the fire up till morning.
Sybil replied with a deep yawn.
And in a few minutes they laid down to rest, and in a very few more they fell asleep.
How long they had slept Sybil had no means of knowing, when she was awakened by an impression that some cold damp creature had laid down on the front of the mattress close beside her. She opened her eyes and strained them around in a vague dread, but the inside of the chapel was dark as pitch. The fire had gone entirely out; she could not even see the outlines of the Gothic windows; all was black as Tartarus. But still—oh, horror!—she felt the cold damp form pressing close beside her.
A speechless, breathless awe possessed her. She could not scream, but she cautiously put out her hand to make sure whether she was dreaming, when—horror upon horror!—it touched a clammy face!
Still she did not cry out, for some potent spell seemed to bind her which at once tied her tongue and moved her hand; for that hand passed down over the slender form and straight limbs, and then up again, until it reached the still bosom, when—climax of horror!—it was caught and clasped in the clay-cold hand of the—WHAT?
GHOSTLY AND MYSTERIOUS
On horror's head Horrors accumulate.—Thompson.
An icy sweat of terror bathed Sybil's form. She tried to cry out, and did utter a low half-stifled scream. But the cold fingers of the ghastly creature closed tightly upon hers, and a thin, hollow voice murmured:
"Hush; don't you make a noise; don't be frightened. I can't hurt you. I'm chilled almost to death. And you were so warm. I crept to your side to tell you something. You are in hiding here, and so—Ah-h-h!"
The reed-like murmur ended in a terrific shriek. There was a silent movement, and Sybil felt the clammy form snatched up from her side and borne away in the darkness.
And then the spell that had bound her faculties was unloosed, and she uttered scream after scream as she shook and awakened her husband.
"In the name of Heaven, Sybil, what now?" he exclaimed, as he started up into a sitting posture.
"Oh, Lyon! for the love of mercy, get up! Get a light! I shall go mad in this horrible place!" she cried in a perfect frenzy of terror.
"Calm yourself, Sybil. There is nothing to fear. I am here with you. I will strike a light," answered Lyon Berners quietly, as he got up and groped about in the darkness for the tinder-box.
Striking a light in those days was not the quick and easy matter that it is now. When the tinder-box was at length found, the flint and steel had to be struck together until a spark was elicited to set fire to the tinder. So it was full five minutes from the time Lyon was awakened, to the moment that he lit the candle and looked upon the pale and horror-stricken face of his wife.
"Now then, Sybil, what is it?" he inquired.
"Oh, what is it! This place is full of devils!" she cried, shaking as with an ague fit.
"My dear wife!" he said, in surprise and concern to see her shudder so fearfully, to hear her speak so wildly.
"It is, I tell you, full of devils, Lyon!" she repeated with chattering teeth.
There chanced to be a little wine in their stores. He went and poured some into a glass and brought it to her, made her drink it.
"Now then, tell me what has thrown you into this state? What has happened to terrify you so much? another dream, vision, apparition? what?" he inquired, as he took from her hand the empty glass.
"Oh, no, no, no! no dream, no vision, nothing of that sort. It was too dark to see anything, you know; but oh! it was something so ghastly and horrible that I shall never, never get over it!" she exclaimed, while shudder after shudder shook her frame.
"Tell me," he said soothingly.
"Oh, it was a damp girl!" she cried.
"A damp girl!" he echoed in amazement and alarm; for he almost feared his dear wife was going crazy.
"Oh yes, a damp girl! A clay-cold, clammy, corpse-like form of a girl!"
"Where? when? what about her?"
"Oh, I woke up and felt her lying by my side! so close that she chilled and oppressed me! I put out my hand, and she caught it in her deathly fingers! I screamed, but she spoke to me! She was about to tell me something, when she was suddenly snatched up and torn away!"
"My dear Sybil, this was nightmare again!"
"Oh, no, no, no! I have had nightmare, and know what it is! It is not like this! All this was real, as real as you and I! This place is full of devils!"
"My darling wife, have you lost your senses?"
"Oh, no; but I shall lose them if I stay in this demon-haunted place a day longer!"
"Thank Heaven! we will not have to stay here a day longer. We leave, this coming evening. And see! the morning is dawning, Sybil; and with the coming of the light, all these shadows of darkness and phantoms of fear will flee away," said Lyon with a smile.
"Oh, you don't believe me. You never do believe me. But oh! let me tell you all about this ghastly thing, and then perhaps you will see that it is real," said Sybil.
And still in much agitation of spirits, she told him all the particulars of her strange visitation.
He still believed in his soul that she had been the victim of incubus, but he would not vex her by persisting in saying so. He only repeated that the morning was at hand, when all the terrors of the night would be dispersed; and added that they would not have to pass another night in the "demon-peopled place," as this would be the very last day of their stay.
As soon as it was light enough, they dressed themselves, and set about their simple daily work. He made the fire, and brought the water; and she cleared up their housekeeping corner, and prepared the breakfast.
When the sun arose and streamed in at the east windows, lighting up every nook about the interior of the old chapel, they saw that everything remained in the same condition in which they had left it when they had gone to rest on the evening previous.
Lyon Berners felt more than ever convinced that his dear Sybil had been the victim of repeated nightmares; that all the seemingly supernatural phenomena of the Haunted Chapel had been only the creation of her own morbid imagination; that nothing connected with the mystery had been real, with the exception of the appearance of the girl in the red cloak, whom Mr. Berners decided to be an ordinary human habitue of the place.
But the idea of this visitor made him only the more anxious for Sybil's sake, to get away.
This last day of their sojourn in the Haunted Chapel was passed by the refugees in great impatience, but without any event worth recording.
With the night came their untiring friend Captain Pendleton, attended by Joe, who bore upon his broad back a large pack containing the disguises.
After the usual greetings, and while Sybil, with a woman's curiosity, was examining the contents of the pack which Joe opened and displayed before her, Pendleton found an opportunity of whispering to Lyon Berners:
"The false rumor is as rife as false rumors usually are. Every one reports with confidence, and every one else believes with assurance, that you are both in Annapolis, and will certainly be found by the officers within a few days. This is good, as it will lead off all pursuit from your road to Norfolk."
Lyon Berners nodded in reply. And Sybil came up to make some preparations for supper.
"Well, Mrs. Berners," spoke the Captain, gayly, "any more supernatural phenomena?"
"Oh, I wish you had not asked that question!" exclaimed Lyon Berners, while Sybil grew deadly pale, and shivered from head to foot.
"Why, what's the matter now?" demanded the Captain, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.
"Oh, the damp girl!" exclaimed Sybil, shuddering.
"The damp girl!" echoed the Captain, in growing wonder.
Lyon Berners shrugged his shoulders, while Sybil, in agitated tones, recounted her strange visitation of the night before.
"As clearly defined a case of incubus as ever I heard in my life," was the prompt decision of Captain Pendleton.
Sybil grew angry.
"I only wish," she sharply answered, "that you would once experience the like, for then you could know that it could not be nightmare."
"Then, my dear Mrs. Berners, if this was not incubus, what do you suppose it to have been?"
"A real visitation; but whether a natural or supernatural one, of course I can not tell," she answered.
Sybil got the supper ready, and they all sat down to partake of that meal together, for the last time in the Haunted Chapel.
After supper the final preparations for their departure were made.
Sybil felt all the reluctance of a beauty to part with her splendid black hair. But on trying the experiment, she found that she could effectually conceal it, without cutting it off. She combed it straight back from her forehead, and let it hang down her shoulders under her sack. Then she covered her head and neck with the flowing red locks of Harold's wig.
Lyon cut close his auburn hair, shaved off his moustache, and donned a gray wig and a gray beard, without the slightest remorse.
A very few minutes sufficed to complete their disguise, and they stood forth—Lyon and Sybil transformed into a gray old farmer and a shock-headed country girl.
"And now, about these housekeeping articles that we must leave here? They are of very little value in themselves; but they may be found, and if so, may lead to our discovery," suggested Mr. Berners, uneasily.
"Never you mind them, Master. I'll ondertake to get them away, onbeknowst to any body, sar," promised Joe.
"And I will see that this is done," added Captain Pendleton in a low voice, for he did not wish to wound poor Joe's sensitive self-love.
"And now, my dear Sybil, are you sure you have got all that you need in your bag?" inquired Mr. Berners.
"All that I shall need until we get to Norfolk, Lyon. There, indeed, we must get a supply of necessary clothing," she answered.
"That of course. And by the way, have you the money and jewels safe?"
"Oh Lyon! I brought this for you, and I had better give it to you at once, lest I should forget it," put in Captain Pendleton, passing over to Mr. Berners a large roll of gold coins.
"But my dear Pendleton—"
"Oh, nonsense! take them. I can reimburse myself from the revenues of Black Hall. Am I not to have the freedom of that fine estate?"
"Very true," answered Mr. Berners, pocketing the money.
"And now, are we ready?" inquired the Captain.
"Quite," answered Mr. and Mrs. Berners at once.
"Then let us start at once," advised the Captain, setting the example by taking up Sybil's large travelling bag.
Lyon Berners carried his portmanteau on one arm, while he gave his other to his wife.
Joe loaded himself with a great basket filled with provisions for the journey.
And together they all set forth from the Haunted Chapel. It was a clear, cold, starlight night. The gravestones in the old church-yard glimmered gray among the brushwood, as the fugitives picked their way through it.
When they reached the narrow path leading through the thicket, they had to walk in single file until they emerged from the wood and found themselves upon the old road running along the river bank. Here the wagon with a pair of draught horses was waiting them.
Their luggage was put in on top of bags of potatoes, turnips, etc., with which the back part of the wagon was loaded. Then Captain Pendleton assisted Sybil to mount to a seat made by a low-backed chair with a woolen counterpane thrown over it. Lyon Berners got up into the driver's place. All being now ready for the start, Captain Pendleton and Joe come up to the side of the wagon to bid farewell to the travellers.
"Heaven bless you, Pendleton, for your faithful friendship and zealous labors in our behalf," said Mr. Berners, warmly shaking the Captain's hand.
"Amen, and Amen! We shall never forget, and never cease to thank and bless you, dear friend," added Sybil, with tears in her eyes, as she gave him her hand.
"May the Lord grant you a safe journey and a quick return," said Clement Pendleton, as he pressed the lady's hand and relinquished it.
"And I sez Amen to that! Oh, Marser! Oh, Missus! come back to your poor old Joe soon! His heart will snap into ten thousand flinders, if you don't!" sobbed the poor negro, as he shook hands with his young master and mistress.
Then with a mutual "God be with you," the four friends parted.
Captain Pendleton, sighing, and Joe, weeping, bent their steps up the banks of the river towards the fording place, where they would have to cross to find their horses on the other side.
Lyon Berners cracked his long wagoner's whip, and started on the road leading away from the river towards the east.
It was yet early in the autumn night, and but for the cause of the journey, the young pair would have enjoyed it very much.
"It is a very pleasant evening for the season," said Lyon, cheerfully looking up at the clear, blue-black, star-spangled sky.
"Yes, indeed," answered Sybil briskly.
"Are you quite comfortable, darling?"
"Very! Captain Pendleton, dear Captain Pendleton, arranged my seat so nicely. It is so soft and easy. I could go to sleep here, if I were sleepy."
"You may have to sleep there, dear. We must travel all night, in order to get a good distance from this neighborhood before morning."
"I can bear that very well, as comfortably as I am placed. But you, dear Lyon, you who are driving, you will be tired to death."
"Not at all. My work to-night will not be more than many men frequently undertake for mere amusement."
"And the horses?"
"Strong draught horses like these can work eight or ten hours at a stretch, if they are well fed and rested between times."
"Oh! I'm so glad I have got away from the Haunted Chapel and the ghosts!" suddenly exclaimed Sybil.
"And especially from the 'damp girl,'" laughed Lyon Berners.
"Oh, don't mention her!" shuddered Sybil.
They were now entering one of those frequent mountain passes that diversified their road, and the care of driving required all Lyon's attention.
They travelled all night as nearly in a direct line towards the far distant city as the nature of the ground would permit. At daylight they found themselves in the midst of a deep forest, some twenty miles east of Blackville. Here, as the road was naturally broad and the trees tall and sparse, and especially as a clear stream of water ran along on one side, the travellers decided to stop and rest, and refresh themselves and their horses until noon.
Lyon Berners got out and, followed by Sybil, went a little way into the woods, where they found a small opening and a spring of clear water.
Here Lyon gathered brushwood and made a fire, while Sybil returned to the wagon and brought back a basket of provisions. Among them was a bottle of coffee already made, and which she turned into a small tin coffee-pot, and set on the fire to be warmed.
And while Lyon went back to the wagon to attend to the wants of his horses, Sybil spread a very good breakfast of coffee, bread, and ham, upon the ground near the fire.
When they had given their horses time enough to rest they resumed their journey, still travelling towards the east.
Lyon consulted his map and his pocket compass, and found that directly in their line lay the small village of Oakville, nestled in an unfrequented pass of the mountains.
"We can reach the place at about ten o'clock this evening, and there we can get a regular supper and good sleep," he said to his wife.
And they travelled all the remainder of that day, and at about half-past nine they arrived at Oakville. The village was off the public road, and consisted only of a sleepy old tavern, to which the neighboring farmers came to drink, smoke, and gossip; a post-office, to which the mail was brought once a week by a boy on horseback; and a blacksmith shop, patronized by the sparse population of the immediate neighborhood.
Up before the stable of this old tavern Lyon Berners drove his wagon; and here he alighted, handed out Sybil, and led her over to the house and into the public parlor.
A fat and lazy-looking hostess came to look at them.
"I want accommodations for myself, my girl here, and my horses and wagon, which I left in the stable yard," said Mr. Berners, speaking coarsely, with two lumps of liquorice in his mouth, which he had taken to disguise his voice.
"And what might your name be, farmer?" inquired the landlady.
"My name's Howe," answered Lyon, truly, giving his own patronymic, now his middle name.
"Well, farmer, I reckon we can accommodate you. Going to market?"
"Yes, we're on our way to market."
"You come from far?"
"From the other side of the mountain."
"Well, I reckon we can accommodate you. You must excuse me asking you so many questions; but the truth is you're a perfect stranger to me, and it is very late for you to come here, you know; which I wouldn't think so much of that nyther, only since that horrid murder at Black Hall I have mistrusted every stranger I see."
Sybil's heart gave a bound, and then sank like lead in her bosom, at hearing this allusion. Lyon also felt an increased uneasiness. Luckily they were sitting with their backs to the light, so that the gossiping landlady could not read the expression of their faces, which indeed she was too much absorbed in her subject to attempt to do. So she went straight on without stopping to take breath:
"Not that I mistrust you now, sir, which I see exactly what you are; and which likewise your having of your darter with you is a rickymindation; for men don't go about a taking of their darters with them when they are up to robbery and murder, do they now, sir?"
"I should judge not, though I am not familiar enough with the habits of such gentry to give a decided opinion," said farmer Howe.
"You'll excuse me, sir; but I'm a lone widow living here, and not used to seeing much of anybody but my old neighbors, which come occasionally to enjoy of themselves; and I do mistrust most strangers—though not you, sir, with your darter, as I said before—but most other strangers, because they do say hereabouts that it was a stranger to the place, a red-headed man, as put up at the inn at Blackville that night, and never was seen afterwards, as did that murder at Black Hall."
"Ah! do they say that? I thought they laid it on a lady," observed farmer Howe.
"La, sir! the idee of a lady doing such a thing! and a rale high-born lady of quality like Mrs. Burns, or whatever her name was, and doing of it to one she had took in for charity too; 'tan't likely, sir."
"But you know, I suppose, that they did accuse a lady?"
"Oh, yes; I know they did, and that the poor lady had to ran away and go to Annapolis. But that was that Blackville set, that an't got no sense; but as for us, over this side, we believe it was that red-headed stranger as did it."
"There's no doubt of it in the world," said farmer Howe, recklessly, feeling that he was expected to say something.
And at this moment he looked towards Sybil, and saw that she could not endure the subject of discussion for one moment longer, so he turned to the landlady, and said:
"We have travelled some distance, and feel very tired and hungry. Would you oblige us with supper as soon as possible? We do not need much, only let it be nice and warm."
"Surely, sir, it is late; but we will do the best we can for you," said the landlady, hurrying away.
Mr. Berners stooped to whisper to his wife.
"Sybil, darling, I hail this woman's faith as a good omen. Keep up your courage, and—remain in that shady corner until I come back. I am going out to the stable to see that our horses are properly attended to."
And then Lyon left the room.
By the time he returned a table was set in that parlor, and a good supper spread for the travellers.
When it was over, the landlady showed them to a couple of communicating rooms up stairs, where they passed a very comfortable night.
At daybreak the next morning they arose and breakfasted, and resumed their journey.
Lyon Berners again consulted his map of the State and his pocket compass, and laid out his road. It lay for all that day up and down, in and out, among the wildest passes of the Allegheny Mountains. At noon they stopped for an hour, to rest and refresh themselves and their horses, and then again went forward. At night they reached another hamlet at the foot of the mountain range. They put up at this hamlet, which was called Dunville, and which boasted one tavern kept by an old Revolutionary pensioner called Purley.
Here also Lyon Berners gave his name as Howe, and here again he and his wife were destined to be told all about the murder.
"You see, sir, a little below us there, on the other side of the mountain, they do say as the murder was done by the woman's husband, as she had run away from; but they are a set of poor ignorant folks out there! Now it stand to reason, sir, it couldn't have been done by him, and it must have been done by some member of that band of burglars that they say is lurking somewhere there-a-way by Black Hall."
"Band of burglars!" echoed Farmer Howe, in astonishment. And he was almost about to betray himself by saying that there could be no such band there, when he recollected his position, and held his tongue.
Farmer Howe and his daughter spent a refreshing night at old Purley's tavern at Dunville, and at daybreak next morning, after a very early breakfast, they resumed their journey.
And again, as usual, Lyon Berners consulted his map and his compass. He now found that his most direct route lay through a thick forest, between two mountain ridges.
They travelled all the morning, and as usual stopped at noon for rest and food for themselves and their four-footed friends. In the afternoon they set forth again, and travelled until they reached Iceville, a considerable village situated high upon one of the table-lands of the Blue Ridge. In this town there were three taverns. Farmer Howe and his daughter put up at the most humble of the trio. And here too the talk of the hour was the homicide at Black Hall.
"They say about here that it was one of the lady's admirers who killed her in a fit of desperation from love and jealousy; for the lady was well beknown to be a great coquette," said one village authority to another, in the presence of Farmer Howe.
When our travellers found themselves alone that night, in one of the two small adjoining rooms that had been assigned to them, Lyon Berners turned to Sybil, and said;
"You see, my dear Sybil, how it is: 'A prophet hath honor except in his own city.' No one out of the Black Valley thinks of accusing you."
"All the world might accuse me, so that my own old friends and neighbors would justify me," said Sybil, sadly.
They passed another night in peace, and the next morning, at daybreak as usual, they breakfasted, and then set out on their fourth and last day's journey.
Again the map and the pocket compass was called into requisition, and Mr. Berners laid out their route for the day.
Their way lay all that forenoon through the beautifully undulating, heavily wooded, and well-watered country lying east of the Blue Ridge.
As before, they broke their journey by an hour's repose at noon, and then re-commenced it. And at twelve, midnight, they arrived safely at Norfolk.
FLIGHT AND PURSUIT.
Oh, death were welcome!—COLERIDGE.
On reaching Norfolk, Lyon Berners drove at once to an obscure tavern down by the wharves, and near the market. Here he found good stabling for his horses and wagon, and decent accommodation for himself and wife.
"Come to market, I reckon, father?" suggested the landlord, taking the stump of an old pipe from his mouth for the purpose.
"Yes," answered Lyon Berners, as "farmer Howe," taking off his broad-brimmed hat, handing it to Sybil, and then sinking slowly and heavily into a chair, like a very weary old man.
"Your daughter, I reckon, farmer?" continued the landlord, pointing to Sybil with the stem of his pipe.
"My only girl," answered Lyon Berners, evasively.
"And no boys?" inquired the landlord.
"No boys," replied Lyon.
"That's a pity; on a farm too. But you must try to get a good husband for the girl, and that will be all one as a boy of your own! Never had any children but this, farmer, or did you have the misfortune to lose 'em?"
"I never had but this one girl," answered Lyon Berners still evasively.
"Then you must be very fond of that girl, I reckon."
"She is all the world to me," said Lyon, truly.
"Then he ought to be all the world to you, honey."
"And so I am," said Lyon, answering for Sybil, whom he could not yet trust to act a part; though he saw, the instant he glanced at her, that he might have done so; for Sybil, as soon as she saw attention drawn to herself, began to turn her head down upon one shoulder and simper shyly like an awkward rustic.
"You must excuse me for asking so many questions, farmer; but when I see a father and daughter together, like you and your girl, I think of myself, for I have an only daughter of my own. All the rest of my children—and I had a whole passel of boys and girls—are with their dear mother in heaven. So you see, farmer, I am a widower, with one gal like yourself—for I reckon, from what you said, you are a widower?"
"My girl's mother has been dead many years," answered Lyon, with a drawl and a sigh.
"Pappy, I'm so hungry and so sleepy I don't know what to do," said Sybil, in a low, fretful tone, frowning and pouting.
"Yes, yes, honey; I reckon you are sure enough. So landlord, if you have got a couple of little rooms joining onto each other, I wish you'd let us have 'em. And we'd like a bit of supper besides," said Lyon Berners, with a sigh and a grunt.
"To be sure. I'll go and call my girl directly, and she'll walk up to your rooms while I have the supper got ready. Where would you like to have it? down here, or in your room?" inquired the landlord.
"In your room, Pappy. I hate a place like this a-smellin' of liquor and inyuns and things, and men coming in and out," said Sybil, digging her elbow into her "Pappy's" ribs, and turning up her nose at the little tavern sitting-room.
"Well, then, honey, we'll have it up there. Up there, landlord, if it won't be putting of you to too much trouble."
"Oh, not at all, farmer; it's all one to me. Now I'll go and call Rachel."
And the inquisitive and communicative host went out, and soon returned with a young woman of about Sybil's own age.
"This is my daughter, my Rachel, as I was telling you about, farmer. Rachel, honey, you just go long of the farmer and his daughter and show them where they've got to sleep, that's a good girl. Put 'em in the two little rooms over the bar, you know."
"Yes, father. Come, sir; come, miss," said the landlord's daughter, leading the way from the smoky parlor.
Lyon and Sybil followed her. Lyon walking slowly like a weary old man, and pausing at the head of the stairs, as if to recover his wind.
"Pappy, you look tired to death," said Sybil, in a rough sympathetic voice.
"Ay, ay; it is weary work for an old man to get up-stairs," grunted Lyon.
"The stairs are very steep, but here you are," said the landlord's daughter, opening the door leading into two little communicating rooms.
She entered, followed by Sybil and Lyon. She set the candle down on the top of the old chest of drawers, and turned around. And then the travellers noticed, for the first time, how beautiful the daughter of their host was.
Rachel's face was of the purest type of beauty, combining the physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Her form was of medium height and perfect grace; her head was finely shaped, and covered with dark brown hair, parted in the middle and carried over the temples, and arranged in a knot behind; her forehead broad and full; her eyebrows were gently arched, her eyes dark luminous gray, with drooping lids and long fringes; her nose small and straight, her lips full, small, and plump, and her chin was round and well set. There were some flaws in this otherwise perfect beauty and grace of form and face; for her complexion was very pale, her expression pensive, and her walk slightly limping.
While Sybil was observing her with both admiration and pity, and wondering whether she did not suffer from some hereditary malady that had carried off her mother and all her sisters and brothers, Rachel spoke:
"I think you have everything here that you require; but if you should need anything else, please call, and I will come and attend to your wants."
"Thanks!" answered Sybil, sweetly, forgetting her assumed character, and beginning to speak in her natural voice, for it seemed so difficult to act a part in the presence of this girl.
But Lyon set his coarse boot upon Sybil's foot, and pressed it as a warning, and then answered for both, saying:
"Thank y', honey, but I don't reckon we'll want anything but our supper, and the old man said how he'd send that up here himself."
"Then I will leave you. Good night. I hope you will have a good sleep," answered Rachel, bending her head.
"What a fine face that girl has," said Lyon Berners, as she withdrew.
"Yes; and what a sweet voice!" answered Sybil.
"But she is very pale, and she limps as she walks; did you notice?"
"Yes; I suppose she has ill health—probably the same malady that carried off her mother, and all her sisters and brothers."
"Consumption?" suggested Sybil.
"Scrofula," sententiously replied Lyon.
"Oh, what a pity!" said Sybil, when their conversation was cut short by the entrance of the landlord, bringing a waiter with the plain supper service and a folded table-cloth, and followed by a young man bearing another waiter piled up with materials for a supper more substantial than delicate.
The little table was quickly set, and the meal arranged and then the landlord, after asking if anything more was wanted, and being told there was not, left the room, followed by his attendant.
Lyon and Sybil made a good supper, and then, as there were no bells in that primitive house of entertainment, he put his head out of the door and called for some one to come and take away the service.
When the waiter had cleared the table, and the travellers were again left alone, Lyon said to Sybil:
"I must leave you here, dear, while I go down to the water-side and inquire what ships are about to sail for Europe. You will not be afraid to stay here by yourself?"
"Oh, no indeed! this is not the Haunted Chapel, thank Heaven!" answered his wife.
"Nor Rachel, the damp girl," added Lyon.
"No, poor child; but she may very soon become one," sighed Sybil.
And Lyon put on his broad-brimmed hat and went out.
Sybil locked the door, took off her red wig, and her coarse outer garment, and took from her travelling bag a soft woolen wrapper and a pair of slippers and put them on, and sat down before the fire to make herself comfortable. At first the sense of relief and rest and warmth was enough to satisfy her; but after an hour's waiting in idleness, the time hung heavily on her hands, and she grew homesick and lonesome. She thought of the well-stocked library of Black Hall; of her bright drawing-room, her birds, her flowers, her piano, her easel, her embroidery frame, her Skie terrier, her tortoise shell cat and kittens, her fond and faithful servant, the many grand rooms in the old hall; the negroes' cabins, the ancient trees, the river, the cascade, the mountains—the thousand means of occupation, amusement, and interest, within and around her patrimonial home, the ten thousand ties of association and affection that bound her to her old place, and she realized her exile as she had never done before. Her spirit grew very desolate, and her heart very heavy.
But Sybil really was not a woman to give way to any weakness without an effort. She got up and tried to engage herself by examining the two little rooms that were to be her dwelling place for a day or a week, as chance might direct.
There was not much to interest her. The furniture was poor and old, but neat and clean, as anything under the care of pale Rachel was sure to be. Then Sybil looked about to try to find some stray pamphlet or book, that she might read. But she found nothing but a treatise on tanning and an old almanac until, happening to look behind the glass on the chest of drawers in the inner room, she discovered a small volume which she took to be the New Testament. She drew it from its hiding-place and sat down to read it. But when she opened the book, she found it to be—"Celebrated Criminal Trials."
At once it seemed to have a fearful interest for her, and this interest was terribly augmented when, on further examination, she discovered that a portion of the work was devoted to the "Fatal Errors of Circumstantial Evidence."
To this part of the book she turned at once, and her attention soon became absorbed in its subject. Here she read the cases of Jonathan Bradford, Henry Jennings, and many others tried for murder, convicted under an overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence, executed, and long afterwards discovered to be entirely innocent of the crimes for which they had been put to death. Sybil read on hour after hour. And as this evening, while sitting in solitude and idleness and thinking of her home and all its charms, she had first realized the bitterness of her exile, so now, in reading these instances of the fatal effects of circumstantial evidence upon guiltless parties, she also first realized the horrors of her own position.
She closed the book and fell upon her knees, and weeping, prayed for pardon of those fierce outbursts of hereditary passion, that had so often tempted her to deeds of violence, and that now subjected her to the dread charge of crime. Yes, she prayed for forgiveness of this sin and deliverance from this sinfulness, even before she ventured to pray for a safe issue out of all her troubles.
Relieved, as every one feels who approaches our Father in simplicity and faith, she arose from her knees, and sat down again before the fire to wait for the return of her husband.
He came at length, looking really tired now, but speaking cheerfully as he entered the room.
"I have been gone from you a long time, dear Sybil, but I could not help it. I had to go to Portsmouth in search of our ship," he said, as he put his hat on the floor, and sat down at the fire.
"Then you found a ship?" she inquired, with so much more than usual anxiety in her expression, that he looked up in painful surprise as he replied to her question.
"Yes, dear; I have found a ship that will suit us. It is the 'Enterprise,' Captain Wright, bound for Liverpool within a few days."
"Oh! I wish it were to-morrow," sighed Sybil.
"Why, love, what is the matter?" tenderly inquired her husband, taking her hand, and looking into her face.
"That is the matter," replied Sybil, with a shudder, as she took the volume she had been reading from the chimney piece and put it in his hands.
It was a work with which Lyon Berners, as a law student, had been very familiar.
"Why, where did you get this?" he inquired in a tone of annoyance, for he felt at once what its effect upon Sybil's mind must be.
"Oh, I found it behind the looking-glass in the other room."
"Left by some traveller, I suppose. I am sorry, Sybil, that you have chanced upon this work; but you must not let its subject influence you to despondency."
"Oh, Lyon! how can I help it? I was so strong and cheerful in my sense of innocence, I had no idea how guiltless people could be convicted and executed as criminals."
"My darling Sybil, all these cases that you have read were tried in the last century, a period of judicial barbarism. Courts of justice are more enlightened and humane now, in our times. They do not sacrifice sacred life upon slight grounds. Come, take courage! be cheerful! trust in God, and all will be well."
"I do trust in the Lord, and I know all will be well; but oh! I wish it were to-morrow that ship is to sail?" answered Sybil.
"It will sail very soon, dear. And now we had better go to rest, and try to get some sleep. In my character of market farmer, I have to be up very early in the morning to attend to my business, you know," said Lyon with a smile.
Sybil acquiesced, and the fugitive couple retired for the night.
Bodily fatigue so much overcame mental anxiety, that they slept profoundly, and continued to sleep until near daylight, when they were both aroused by a loud knocking at the door.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, who is that?" gasped Sybil, starting up in affright, for every knock now, scared her with the thought of sheriff's officers armed with a warrant for her arrest, and excited a whole train of prospective horrors.
"Hush, darling, hush; it is only one of the men about the place waking me up, according to orders, to be in time for the market. We must keep up our assumed characters, my dear Sybil," said Mr. Berners, as the knocking was repeated, accompanied by the calls of,
"Aye, aye! I hear you. You needn't batter down the doors. I'm a-going to get up, though it's very early, and I an't as young as I used to be twenty years ago, nyther," grumbled the "farmer," as with many a grunt and sigh, as of an old and weary man, he got up and began to dress himself.
"Sybil," he whispered to his wife before leaving the room, "I shall have to take my breakfast at a stall in the market-house, and I shall not be back until the market is out, which will be about twelve o'clock. You can have your breakfast brought up here. And mind, my darling, don't forget to put on your wig, and keep up your character."
"I shall be very careful, dear Lyon," she answered, as he kissed and left her.
Lyon Berners went down stairs, where he found the landlord, who was an "early bird," waiting for him.
"Morning, farmer. What is it that you've brought to market, anyways?" he said, greeting his guest.
"Mostly garden truck," answered Lyon.
"No poultry, eggs, nor butter?"
"'Cause, if you had, I might deal with you myself."
"Well, you see, landlord, them kind of produce is ill convenient to bring a long ways in a wagon. And I came from a good ways down the country," explained Lyon, as he took his long leathern whip from the corner where he had left it, and went out to look after his team.
He found it all right, and he mounted the seat and drove to the market space, and took a stand, and began to offer his produce as zealously as any farmer on the ground—taking care, in the mean time, to wear his spectacles and broad-brimmed hat, and to keep up his character in voice and manner; and, as the morning advanced, he began to drive a brisk business.
Meantime Sybil, left alone in her poor room at the little inn, arose and locked the door after Lyon, to prevent intrusion before she should effect her disguise, and when she had thus insured her privacy, she began to dress.
As soon as she had transformed herself, she opened the door and called for Rachel.
The landlord's daughter entered, giving her guest good-morning, and kindly inquiring how she had slept.
"I slept like a top! But I'm not well this morning neither. So I'd just like to have my victuals sent up here," answered Sybil.
"Very well; what would you like?"
"Fried fish, and pork-steaks, and bri'led chickings, and grilled bacon, and—let me see! Have you any oysters?"
"Yes, very fine ones."
"Well, then, I'll take some stewed oysters too, and some poached eggs, and preserved quinces, and fried potatoes, and corn pone, and hot rolls, and buckwheat cakes, and cold bread and butter, and some coffee, and buttermilk and sweet milk. And that's all, I believe; for, you see, I an't well, and I haven't come to my stomach yet; but if I can think of anything else, I will let you know.
"Is your father going to eat his breakfast with you?"
"Who? pappy? No; he's gone to market, and will get his victuals at the eating stall. Wouldn't it be good fun to keep a eating stall in a market?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, never mind whether you do, or not. Hurry up with my victuals."
"Yes; but I'm afraid we haven't got all the things you want; but I will bring you up what we have," said the girl, who had opened her eyes widely at the bill of fare ordered by her sickly guest.
"Well, go do it then, and don't stop to talk," said Sybil, shortly.
Rachel went out, and in due time returned with a waiter containing Sybil's breakfast.
"Why, there an't half—no, not a quarter of the things I told you to fetch me," said Sybil, turning up her nose at the waiter that Rachel placed upon the table.
"I have brought you some of everything that we have cooked. I should be glad if I could bring you all you wish," replied Rachel.
"Then I s'pose I must be half-starved in this poor place. And me so weakly, too! I'll tell pappy as soon as ever he comes. I want to go home—I do. We've got as much as ever we can eat at home," grumbled Sybil, doing her best to act her part, and perhaps overdoing it.
But Rachel was not suspicious. She again apologized for not being able to fill her guest's order in its utmost extent, and she remained in the room and waited on Sybil until the breakfast was finished, and then she took away the service, wondering how little her guest had eaten, after having ordered such a vast amount of food.
Again Rachel came back to the room, and made everything tidy in each chamber, and then finally left her guest alone.
Sybil walked about and took up and put down every small object that lay about her humble apartments, and then looked out of each window upon the narrow crowded and noisy street below; and finally, she took the volume of "Celebrated Criminal Trials" that had a terrible attraction for her, in her present circumstances, and she sat down and read until her husband's return.
Lyon Berners drove his empty wagon into the stable yard, at noon. He had sold out all his produce, and pretended to be in great glee at his success. The landlord congratulated him, and some chance loungers in the bar-room suggested that, under such circumstances, it would be the right thing for him to treat the company. Lyon thought so too; and in his character of farmer, he ordered pipes and glasses all around. And then he made his escape, and went up stairs to see Sybil.
"Still moping over that depressing book. Put it away, Sybil, and get on your bonnet, and throw a thick veil over it, and come out with me for a walk; we have to buy something for our voyage, you know," said Lyon, cheerfully.
Sybil with a sigh given to her fears, did as he requested her to do; and the two went down stairs together.
"Going out for a walk, I reckon, farmer?" inquired the landlord, who stood at the bar-room door with a pipe in his mouth.
"Aye, aye. You know these girls—when they find out that their pappies have made a little bit of money, there is no peace till it's spent. My girl is taking me out shopping, to buy gimcracks and things! I'll be glad when I get her home again," grumbled Lyon.
"Well, well, she's your onliest one, and you mustn't be hard on her. My Rachel gets all she wants, and deserves it too. Dinner at two o'clock, sharp, farmer."
"Aye, aye! I know. Men o' my age never forget their dinners," said Lyon, as he drew Sybil's arm within his own and led her out into the streets.
They went only into the back streets, and the poor shops, and they bought only what was strictly necessary for their voyage; and having concluded their purchases, they returned to the inn in time for dinner.
Sybil was very much depressed. She could not rally from the effect the reading of that book had had upon her mind. She frequently repeated her fervent aspiration:
"Oh! that the ship would sail to-day!"
Lyon encouraged her as much as he possibly could, but he had his own private subject of anxiety. He had not of course told any one of his intention to go abroad. Every one believed that, having sold out his load, he would return home; but he was obliged to stay in the city until the sailing of the ship, and he wanted a fair excuse to do so.
That evening the weather changed, and the sky clouded over, and the next morning it rained, and it continued to rain for three days.
"This here will make them there roads so bad that we shan't be able to travel for a week, even if it does clear up soon," grumbled and growled the self-styled farmer, feeling glad all the while of an excuse to stay until the ship should sail.
"No, that you won't," echoed his friend the landlord, glad to retain a guest with whom he was pleased.
On the third day of the rain, the sky showing signs of clearing, Lyon Berners went over to Portsmouth to hear at what precise time the Enterprise would sail for Liverpool. When he returned he had good news for Sybil.
"The Ship will sail on Saturday! That is the day after to-morrow, dear Sybil. And we may go on board to-morrow night."
"Oh! I am so glad!" exclaimed Sybil, clapping her hands for joy. And she began to pack up immediately.
"Moreover, I have sold my wagon and horses to a party at Portsmouth. And so we can put our luggage into it and drive off as if we were going home; but we can go down to the river instead, and take it across in the ferry-boat. Then I can have our effects put upon shipboard, and then deliver the team to its purchaser and receive the price," added Lyon.
"Oh, but I am so delighted with the bare fact of our getting away so soon, that all things else seem of no account to me!" joyously exclaimed Sybil, going on with her packing.
The next morning Lyon went out alone to make a few more purchases for their voyage. While he was going around, he also bought all the daily papers that he could get hold of. He returned to Sybil at an early hour of the forenoon. He found her sitting down in idleness.
"Got entirely through packing, my darling?" he inquired cheerfully.
"Oh, yes, and I have nothing on earth to do now. How long this last day will seem! At what hour may we go on board, this evening?"
"Oh, that it were now sundown! How shall we contrive to pass the time until then?"
"This will help us to pass the day, dear wife," he answered, laying the pile of newspapers on the table between them.
Each took up a paper and began to look over it.
Lyon was deep in a political article, when a cry from Sybil startled him.
"What is the matter?" he inquired, in alarm.
She did not answer. Her face was pale as ashes, and her eyes were strained upon the paper.
"What do you see there?" again inquired her husband.
"Oh, Lyon! Lyon! we are lost! we are lost!" she cried in a voice of agony.
In great anxiety he took the paper from her hand, and read the paragraph to which she pointed. It ran thus:
"It is now certain that Sybil Berners, accused of the murder of Rosa Blondelle, is not in Annapolis, as was falsely reported; but that she has escaped in disguise, accompanied by her husband, who is also in disguise; and that both are in the city of Norfolk."
Now it was Lyon's turn to grow pallid with fear, not for himself, but for one dearer to him than his own life. Still he tried to control his emotions, or at least to conceal them from her. He compelled himself to answer calmly:
"Take courage, my darling! We are before them. In a few more hours we shall be on board the ship."
Her hands were clasped tightly together; her eyes were fixed steadily upon his face; her own face was white as marble.
"Oh, Lyon! save me! Oh, my husband, save me! You know that I am guiltless!" she prayed.
"Dearest wife, I will lay down my life for you, if necessary! Be comforted! See! it is now two o'clock! In two more hours we may be on shipboard!" he said.
"Let us go now! Let us go now!" she prayed, clasping her hands closely, gazing in his eyes beseechingly.
"Very well, we will go at once," he answered; and he took up his hat and hurried down stairs.
He told the landlord that, as the weather was now good, he thought he would risk the roads, and try to make a half-day's journey that afternoon, at least. And then, without waiting to hear the host's expostulations, he just told him to make out the bill, and then he went to the stables to put the horses to the wagon.
In half an hour all was ready for their departure—the bill paid, the wagon at the door, and the luggage piled into it. And Sybil and Lyon took leave of their temporary acquaintances; and Lyon handed Sybil up into her seat, climbed up after her, and started the horses at a brisk trot for the ferry-boat.
They reached Portsmouth in safety. Lyon drove down at once to the wharf, engaged a rowboat, put Sybil and all their effects into it, and rowed her across the water to where the Enterprise lay at anchor.
"Now I'm safe!" exclaimed Sybil, with a sigh of infinite relief, as she stepped upon the deck.
The captain did not expect his passengers so soon, and he was busy; but he came forward and welcomed them, and showed them into the cabin, apologizing for its unready condition, consequent upon the bustle of their preparations for sailing.
Lyon left his wife in the Captain's care, and went back to the shore to complete the sale of his wagon and horses.
He was gone for nearly two hours, and when he returned he explained his long absence by saying that, after all, the hoped-for purchaser had refused to purchase, and that he had to leave his wagon and horses at a stable in Portsmouth, and to retire to a restaurant and write a letter to Captain Pendleton, and enclose an order for him to receive the property on paying the livery.
Sybil was satisfied—nay, she was delighted. In company with Lyon she walked up and down the deck, looking so joyous that the men about the place could but remark upon it as they gossipped with each other.
The new voyagers took supper in the Captain's cabin, and afterwards returned to the deck and remained on it until the sun set and the stars came out.
"Oh, this sense of release from danger! Oh, this delightful sense of freedom! And the heavenly starlit sky, and the beautiful water, and the delicious breeze. Oh, the world is so lovely! Oh, life and liberty is so sweet, so sweet! Oh, dear Lyon, I am so happy! And I love you so much!" she exclaimed, almost delirious with joy at her great deliverance.
It was very late before Lyon could persuade her to leave the deck.
"I am too happy to sleep," she continually answered.
At length, however, he coaxed her to let him lead her to their state-room.
There, in the darkness and silence, she grew more composed, though not less happy. And in a few minutes after she had laid down, she fell asleep.
She slept very soundly until morning, when she was awakened by the cheerful chants of the sailors getting ready to make sail.
She lay a little while enjoying the joyous sounds that spoke to her so happily of liberty, and then she arose and dressed herself, and went up on deck, leaving Lyon still asleep.
The sun was just rising, and the harbor was beautiful. She walked about, talking now to the captain, and now to one of the men, and exciting wonder among them all, at her happiness.
At length she was joined by her husband, who had waked up the moment she had left him, and got up immediately, and dressed and followed her.
"Oh, Lyon! is not this a beautiful morning? And the Captain says the wind is fair, and we shall sail in half an hour!" was her greeting.
And Lyon pressed her hand in silence. A great weight of anxiety lay upon his heart; he knew, if she did not, that she was not safe, even on shipboard, until the ship should really sail. And now his eyes were fixed upon a large rowboat that was rapidly crossing the water from the shore to the ship.
"Do you expect any more passengers?" he inquired of the Captain.
"Oh, lots!" answered the latter.
"Are those some of your passengers coming in the boat?"
The Captain threw a hasty glance at the approaching object and answered carelessly:
"Of course they are! Don't you see they are making right for the ship?"
The boat was very near. It was at the side of the ship. The oars were drawn in. The passengers were climbing up to the deck.
"They look like nice people! I am sure they will make it still pleasanter for us on the voyage," said Sybil, who in her happy mood was inclined to be delighted with every event.
The Captain went to meet the new-comers.
Two gentlemen of the party spoke for a moment with him, and then advanced towards the spot where the husband and wife were standing.
"They are nice people," repeated Sybil, positively; but Lyon said nothing; he was pale as ashes. The two gentlemen came up and stood before Lyon and Sybil. The elder of the two took off his hat, and bowing gravely, said to Sybil:
"You are Mrs. Sybil Berners of Black Hall?"
Then all at once an agony of terror took possession of her; her heart sank, her brain reeled, her limbs tottered.
"You are Mrs. Sybil Berners of Black Hall?" repeated the stranger, drawing from his pocket a folded paper.
"Yes," faltered Sybil, in a dying voice.
"Then, Madam, I have a most painful duty to perform. Sybil Berners, you are my prisoner," he said, and he laid his hand upon her shoulder.
With an agonizing shriek she sprang from under his hand, and threw herself into the arms of her husband, wildly crying:
"Save me, Lyon! Oh! don't let them force me away! Save me, my husband! Save me!"
Had it pleased Heaven To try me with affliction; had He rained All kinds of sores and shames on my bare head; Steeped me in poverty to the very lips; I could have found in some part of my soul A drop of patience; but alas, to make me A fixed figure for the time of scorn To point his slow, unmoving finger at!—SHAKESPEARE.
"Save me! Oh, save me!" she continued to cry, clinging wildly to her husband's bosom. "Save me from this deep degradation! This degradation worse than death!"
And it is certain that if the immediate sacrifice of his own life could have saved her, Lyon Berners would have willingly died for Sybil; or even if the drowning of that law officer could have delivered her, he would have incontinently pitched the man overboard; but as neither of these violent-means could possibly have served her, he could only clasp her closer to his heart, and consider what was to be done.
At length he looked up at the sheriff's officer, and said:
"I wish to have a word alone with my wife, if you will permit me."
The man hesitated.
"You can do it with perfect safety. We cannot possibly escape from this ship, you know; and besides, you can keep us in sight," he added.
Still the man hesitated, and at length inquired:
"Why do you wish to speak with her alone?"
"To try to soothe her spirits. I know it would be quite useless to tell you how entirely innocent this lady is of the heinous crime imputed to her; for even if you should believe her to be so, you would have to do your duty all the same."
"Yes, certainly; and a most distressing duty," put in the officer.
"This arrest has come upon her so suddenly, and when she is so utterly unprepared to meet it, that it has quite overcome her, as you see; but leave her alone with me for a few minutes, and I will try to calm her mind, and induce her to yield quietly to this necessity," added Lyon.
"Well, sir, I am indeed very willing to do all in my power to make this sad affair as little distressing to the lady as possible," answered the officer as he touched his companion on the shoulder, and they both walked off to some little distance.
As their retreating steps sounded upon the deck, Sybil raised her head from Lyon's breast and looked around with an expression half-frightened, half-relieved, and murmured:
"They are gone! They are gone!"
Then clasping her husband suddenly around the neck, and gazing wildly into his eyes, she exclaimed:
"You can save me, Lyon, you can save me from this deep dishonor that no Berners ever suffered before! There is but one way, Lyon, and there is but one moment. You have a small penknife; but it is enough. Open it, and strike it here, Lyon. One blow will be enough, if it is firmly struck! Here—Lyon! here, strike here!" And she placed her hand on her throat, under her ear, and gazed wildly, prayerfully in his face.
"Oh, Sybil!" he groaned, in an agony of despairing love.
"Quick! quick! Lyon! We have but this moment! Strike here now—now, this instant! Strike first, and then kiss me! kiss me as I die!"
"Sybil! Sybil, darling you wring my heart."
"I am not afraid of death, Lyon; I am only afraid of shame. Kill me, to save me, Lyon! Be a Roman husband. Slay your wife, to save her from shame!" she cried, gazing on him with great bright dilated eyes, where the fires of frenzy, if not of insanity, blazed.
"My best beloved! my only beloved! there can be no shame where there is no sin. I will save you, Sybil; I swear it by all my hopes of Heaven! I do not yet see clearly how; but I will do it," he said, solemnly, and pressing her again to his heart.
"Do it this way! do it this way!" she wildly entreated, never removing her frenzied eyes from his face.
"No, not that way, Sybil. But listen: there are safe means—sinless means that we may use for your deliverance. The journey back will be a long one, broken up by many stoppages at small hamlets and roadside inns. Escape from these will be comparatively easy. I have also about me, in money and notes, some five thousand dollars. With those I can purchase connivance or assistance. Besides, to farther our views, I shall offer our wagon and horses, which luckily were not sold, but remain at the livery-stable at Portsmouth—I shall offer them, I say, to the officer for his use, and try to persuade him to take us down to Blackville by that conveyance, which will be easier even for him, than by the public stage coach. Take courage, dear Sybil, and take patience; and above all, do not think of using any desperate means to escape this trouble. But trust in Divine Providence. And now, dear Sybil, we must not try the temper of these officers longer, especially as we have got to leave the ship before it sails."
And so saying, Lyon Berners beckoned the bailiffs to approach.
"I hope the lady feels better," said the elder one.
"She is more composed, and will go quietly," answered Mr. Berners.
"Then the captain says we must be in a hurry. So if there is anything you wish to have removed, you had better attend to it at once," said the man.
"I do not wish to leave the side of my wife for an instant; so if you would be so kind as to speak to the captain and ask him to have our luggage removed from our state-room and put upon the boat, I should feel much obliged."
Leaving his companion in charge of the prisoner, the senior officer went forward and gave his message. And the captain, with a seaman-like promptness, immediately executed the order.
Then Sybil's hat and cloak were brought her from the cabin, and she put them on and suffered herself to be led by her husband, and helped down to the boat. The Sheriff's officers followed, and when all were seated, the two boatmen laid to their oars, and the boat was rowed swiftly towards shore.
The husband and the wife sat side by side in the stern of the boat. His arm was wound around her waist, and her head was resting on his shoulder. No word was spoken between them in the presence of these strangers; but he was silently giving her all the support in his power, and she was really needing it all, for she was utterly overcome; not by the terrors of imprisonment or death, but by something infinitely worse, the horror of degradation.
All this time too Lyon Berners was maturing in his own mind a plan for her deliverance, which he was determined to begin to carry out as soon as they should reach the shore.
In a few minutes more the boat touched the wharf, and the party landed.
"I must trouble you to take my arm, Mrs. Berners," said the Sheriff's officer, drawing Sybil's hand under his elbow.
She would have shrunk back, but Lyon looked at her significantly, and she submitted.
"Where do you mean to take us first?" inquired Mr. Berners, in a low tone.
"I wish to make this matter as little painful to this lady as the circumstances will permit. So I shall take her for the present to a hotel, where she must of course be carefully guarded. To-night we shall start by the night coach for Staunton, en route for Blackville," answered the elder officer, as with Sybil on his arm he led the way into the town. Mr. Berners walked on the other side of his wife, and the second officer followed close behind.
"We thank you for your consideration, Mr.—Mr.—" began Lyon.
"Purley," continued the elder officer. "My name is Purley."
"I do not remember you among the officers of the Sheriff's staff, however."
"No; I am a new appointment. I must tell you, sir, that so strong was the feeling of sympathy for this lady, that not one of the bailiffs could be induced to serve the warrant; they resigned one after another."
"They all knew Sybil from her childhood up. I thank them, and will take care that they shall lose nothing in resigning their positions for her sake," said Lyon Berners with much warmth, while Sybil's heavy heart swelled with gratitude.
"And to tell the whole truth, had I known this lady, I should have felt the same reluctance to serving this warrant that was experienced by my predecessors in office."
"I can well believe you," answered Mr. Berners, gravely.
"Now, however, having undertaken the painful duty, I must discharge it faithfully," added the officer.
"Yes, Mr. Purley, but gently and considerately, I know. You will inflict as little of unmerited mortification as may be consistent with your duty."
"Heaven knows I will."
"Then I have a plan to propose, and a favor to ask of you."
"If I can gratify you with safety to the custody of my charge, I will do so; but here we are at the hotel now, and you had better wait until we get into a private sitting-room. The people of the place need not know that we are officers in charge of an accused party; but may be left to suppose that we are ordinary travellers."
"Oh, I thank you for that!" exclaimed Mr. Berners, warmly.
They entered the hotel, a second-class house in a cross street, where the elder officer asked for a private sitting-room, to which they were immediately shown.
As soon as the four were seated, Mr. Berners turned to the elder officer and broached his plan.
"You spoke of taking the night coach for Staunton. Now, if another conveyance could be found—a private conveyance that would be more comfortable for all parties, and would also be entirely under your own control—would you not be willing that we should travel by it?"
"Oh! if you are able and willing to furnish a private conveyance for the journey, and place it as you say at my own exclusive orders, I shall be happy to take the lady down that way, rather than expose her in a public stage coach."
"Thanks. I have a wagon and horses here at livery. They can be put to use at a few minutes' notice. So, if you prefer, you can start at once upon this journey, and make some twenty-five or thirty miles before night."
"Let us see the team first, and then we shall be able to judge," said the officer.
And after a few minutes' conversation it was arranged that Sybil should be left in charge of the second officer, and that Mr. Purley should go with Mr. Berners to the livery stable to look at the horses and wagon. These two went out together, and Purley took the precaution to lock the door and put the key in his pocket.
"Why have you done that?" inquired Lyon, reproachfully.
"Because women are irrational and impulsive. I have always found them so! She might suddenly cut and run; and although it wouldn't be a bit of use, you know, because she would be sure to be retaken in an hour or less time; yet, you see, it would cause a fuss, and be very unpleasant to me and you and her and everybody."
"I see," said Mr. Berners, with a sigh, acknowledging the truth of the position.
Meanwhile Sybil sat, absorbed in despair, and guarded by the second officer. Suddenly she heard her name softly murmured, and she looked up. The young bailiff stood before her. He was a sturdy looking young fellow, swarthy skinned, black haired, and black bearded.
"Miss Sybil, don't you know me? I beg your pardon! Mrs. Berners, don't you know me?" he inquired in a low tone, as if fearful of being heard.
Sybil looked at him in surprise, and answered hesitatingly:
"You forget people that you have been good to; but they don't forget you. Try to recollect me, Miss Sybil—Mrs. Berners."
"Your face seems familiar; but—"
"But you don't recollect it? Well, may be you may remember names better than faces. Have you any memory of a poor boy you used to help, named Bob Munson?"
"Bob Munson—oh, is it you? I know you now. But it has been so long since I saw you!" eagerly exclaimed Sybil.
"Eight years, Mrs. Berners; and I have been fighting the Indians on the frontier all that time. But I got my discharge, and came back with Captain Pendleton. You know it was him as I went out with, when he was a third lieutenant in the infantry. I 'listed out of liking for him, and we was together from one fort to another all these years, until Captain Pendleton got a long leave, and come home. I couldn't get leave, but the Captain got my discharge. And when he goes back to his regiment, I mean to enlist again and go with him."
"But how came you to be a sheriff's officer? and oh, above all, how could you come to take me?" reproachfully inquired Sybil.
"Oh, Miss—I mean, Madam,—can't you guess in your heart? When all the bailiffs throwed up their places rather than serve a warrant on you, and Mr. Purley, who was a stranger, got an appointment and kept it, they wanted another man. And then my captain said to me, 'Munson, apply for the place; I will back you. And then if you get it, you will have an opportunity of serving, and perhaps freeing, Mrs. Berners.' And a great deal more he said, to the same purpose, Ma'am; and so I did apply for the situation, and got it. And now, Madam, I am here to help you with my life, if necessary," added the young man, ardently.
"Give me your hand. God bless you, Bob! Help me all you can. I ought to be helped, for I am innocent," said Sybil, earnestly.
"Don't I know it? Don't everybody with any sense know it? Don't even old Purley know it, ever since he first clapped eyes on your face?"