"What do you think of that?"
The question found her still in doubt as to what she should say in defense of her lover, but with the query came decision of purpose, and she readily replied:
"I think it is a forgery."
"Yes, so far as Hadley is concerned. I do not believe he has ever seen it."
"You surely do not believe I would be guilty of such baseness as your words imply."
"Oh! no, no; I do not for a moment doubt your good faith and perfect sincerity; but I think you are deceived. How did you get possession of this document?"
"Well, I must confess, not in the most upright manner, or rather, my knowledge of that portion of its contents which is intelligible, was obtained ignobly; but I cannot blame myself for the act, since it has placed such important facts at my disposal."
Here he related the circumstance of finding and reading the letter, and then added:
"You see the whole train of circumstances renders it impossible that Hadley should not be the one to whom the letter was addressed. I found it just in the place where he was in the habit of coming, a spot that no one else frequented, and so secluded as to forbid the idea of a casual passenger dropping it. Beside, where is there another person of the same name?"
"I frankly own there is a mystery connected with the subject which I cannot explain, but that mystery does not convince me of Hadley's guilt."
"What incredulity! What stronger evidence do you want to convict him?"
"I desire positive assurance that the letter was actually written to and for him; at present I do not believe that it was."
"Love is truly blind!"
"What has that to do with the case under consideration?"
"It is not worth while for you to disguise the fact that you have loved Hadley; I know that you do or did, and your own heart knows full well how much it has suffered through that love. Alas, that I, your own father, should have caused you so much anguish!"
"Does my father really say that?"
"Yes, Eveline, and much more. If you only knew how deeply I have suffered, what anguish I endured, as your fevered and broken exclamations fell upon my ear while watching by your bedside, I think you could find it in your heart to forgive me for the unintentional wrong, it was my misfortune, and not my wish, to inflict upon you."
"Father, I have wronged you," said she, leaning forward and winding her arms about his neck. "Forgive me for accusing you of cruelty and unkindness in my thoughts."
"You had cause for such accusation, though it was farthest from my thoughts to injure you. I did, however, once think of forcing you to wed Duffel, and this is the only real wrong I meditated against you, and I was persuaded it was for your good; but I see differently now—you shall never be coerced into a union with any man against your will."
"Thank you for that assurance; it relieves me from one source of disquiet."
"I am entitled to no thanks; it is not a parent's prerogative to use violence in such cases, though I once held differently. And let me here say to you, that in all I have done my motives were pure. I desired your good above all else, and that I was endeavoring to procure happiness for you in the wrong way was only an error of judgment, the incorrectness of which I now see clearly."
"How much I have misunderstood you, and how much you have misconceived your own heart."
"True; the world, and the opinions of worldly men, had almost buried up the good that was in me; but the light of Heaven has shone into my spirit, the fog is dispelled, and I see where I have departed from the right way."
"Thank Heaven for that!"
"I hope, now that we understand each other, I may dare to make a request of you, which you may or may not feel free to grant."
"It is this, that you will hold no communication with Hadley until this matter is satisfactorily cleared up, or until he can show that he is innocent of the crimes this letter would fasten upon him."
"If it is your wish I will do so, though I should be pleased to know what he could say in his own favor. I feel strongly confident he will be able to prove himself innocent of all and any participation in the many thefts and other villainies which have of late become so common. Where is he now?"
"Ah, there it is again! I have not told you that Tom was stolen some time ago."
"Yes; he was taken very soon after this letter came into my possession, and Hadley has never been seen or heard of since!"
"On the very night that Tom was taken from the stable, Hadley disappeared, and neither he nor the horse have been heard of since! Have I not strong reasons for believing him guilty, as held out in this letter?"
"I must confess, this last piece of intelligence staggers my faith."
"You will now begin to understand why I took such decided steps toward him, as a visitor here, on that memorable occasion which resulted so disastrously. I had the strongest assurance of his being associated with bad men for bad purposes, ere I forbid him the house. I only regret that I acted so precipitately. I hope, however, all will come right in the end."
"God grant that it may."
Here their intercourse was interrupted by the announcement that Duffel had called and inquired for Mr. Mandeville.—They returned to the house, and the two gentlemen had a private interview to the following effect:
"How is Eveline?" inquired Duffel.
"I am happy to say she is very much better."
"I am truly glad to hear that she is convalescing. What do you think is the state of her feelings in certain delicate matters?"
"I am persuaded her good opinion of Hadley has received a shock from which it will never recover. That letter, in connection with his present disappearance, was too much for her faith."
"And well it might be! I do not see how any one could doubt his guilt in the face of such evidence."
"Yet I think Eveline does doubt; but that the doubt will soon give place to full conviction, I am quite sure. Once you can fix a partially formed belief of crime in the mind, and if the evidence continues, especially if it accumulates, there is a moral certainty of its producing the effect we desire in the present instance."
"How long do you suppose it will take Eveline to forget any preference she may have had for Hadley?"
"I do not know."
"Do you not think the exercise of a little paternal authority would accelerate the accomplishment of your wishes? I hope you will pardon me if the suggestion is ill-timed or out of taste; it is made in accordance with a declaration to that effect you will remember to have made to me a short time previous to your daughter's illness."
"I have not forgotten the declaration to which you allude; it was made in the heat of a moment of excitement; but I am frank to own that it was then my determination to use parental authority toward Eveline, in case it became necessary to do so, in order to bend her will to my purposes. This intention I have entirely abandoned. I have reflected more dispassionately on the subject; and I now see clearly that my daughter has rights as well as myself, and that first in importance among these, is the right to bestow herself in marriage to whom she chooses. I will continue to give you my influence, but I have already pledged her my word that she shall be free to make her own selection of a husband."
"You are right, sir, right. I see wherein we have both erred in our former views; but then we were blinded, at least I was; for you know love has always been blind. I must crave your pardon, as I would the forgiveness of Eveline, were she present, for having entertained so unjust a thought toward her for a single moment. Be assured, if she cannot be won by gentleness and love, I shall never consent to make her my wife, though she is dearer to me than life itself."
"Very well; I still feel that all will come out right, and that a peaceful calm of sunshine will succeed the season of storm and clouds; but we must not hurry matters; time will do more for us than we can for ourselves, whereas haste might defeat all our hopes. At present, I do not think it would be advisable for you to urge your suit to her; her mind is not yet prepared to receive you with that degree of favor desirable."
"I shall act in the matter as your better judgment and clearer perception shall dictate, and hope for the best."
And thus the interview ended. How strange that Mr. Mandeville should be so easily deceived in regard to Duffel! and how debasingly hypocritical was the dissembling villain! Will he never be overtaken by his crimes?
THE "DARK PASSAGE"—THE THEFT.
On the appointed night, the two ruffians, Bill and Dick, repaired to the "dark passage," according to arrangement, and with daggers and pistols (the latter only to be used in case of necessity, as the report of firearms might lead to detection,) awaited the arrival of their victim. About nine o'clock, the sound of horses' feet, approaching at a rapid gait, gave them to understand the hour of their deadly work was at hand. Taking their stand, one on either side of the road, they silently awaited the horseman's coming.
It was a dismal place, a low, wet valley, densely shaded and overgrown by trees, whose thick foliage scarcely admitted a single sunbeam to penetrate to the earth beneath. This gloomy passage was about half a mile in extent, and at its dark center the villains had posted themselves. Their plans were all fully matured, even down to the minute details. They were both to spring out and seize the horse by the bridle; then, while Bill held the animal, Dick was to strike the fatal blow to the heart of the rider. Not a word was to be spoken. As the man entered the passage, his pace was slackened, and he kept his eye about him, as if in fear of an attack. When within about a hundred yards of the concealed assassins, Bill whispered to his companion across the road:
"Now, Dick, make sure work of it; let the first blow tell the tale, while it silences his tongue!"
"Never fear for me; take care of your own part, and I'll do the same by mine," was Dick's reply.
In a few seconds, the horseman came abreast of the ambuscaders, both of whom sprang out at the same moment, and seizing the bridle-reins, checked the horse so suddenly as to throw him back on his haunches, to the imminent peril of the rider, who was nearly thrown from his seat. In a moment, the glittering blade of steel was at his breast. Just then, the moon broke through a rift in the clouds, and being directly in a line with the road, shone fully on the group and into the face of the traveler.
"By Jove! it's the wrong man!" exclaimed Dick, as he lowered his blade and looked at Bill inquiringly.
"So it is!" said Bill; and then, addressing the stranger, continued: "Beg pardon, sir, for our interruption. We have mistaken you for a notorious villain, thief, and robber, who was to pass this way to-night, and who, as the laws are too weak to protect us, we have determined to punish ourselves. The fact is, these, horse-thieves must be dealt with, and that speedily, too, or there will be no such thing as safety for our stock. For our parts, we have resolved to defend our property at all hazards, and others will have to do the same thing, or keep nothing of their own, for these thieves are banded together, and they are so numerous, and some of them so respectable, it is impossible to convict them before a jury; they swear each other off. Hope you will not think evil of our plans."
"To tell the truth, gentlemen, (for I take you to be gentlemen in disguise,) there is too much reality in what you say. I fear we shall have to take the law into our own hands, for these depredators are becoming so numerous and bold, there is no telling to what length their wickedness may run. These thieving operations must be stopped, cost what it may; but it seems to me this is a bad place to commence the work; it looks too much like secret murder. When I have recourse to the last resort in defense of my property it will be upon my own promises, and while the villains are in the act of crime."
"That is doubtless the best method in all ordinary cases; but the rascal whom we were expecting to pass this way to-night is too cunning to be caught at his work. He is well known to be guilty, and has more than once been arrested and tried; but always with the same result; his friends have sworn him clear; and now, we've sworn he shall go free no longer."
"Well, be careful, and don't kill the wrong man."
"We'll take care. Excuse the manner in which our introduction was made."
"Certainly, gentlemen, certainly; but don't miss your man again."
"Good night, and a pleasant journey for you."
The man rode on and was soon out of hearing. He was the more easily deceived as to the character of his assailants, because he knew that the sentiments they expressed were held almost universally by the honest portion of the community, and already several thieves had been shot at, some of whom were known to have been wounded, though not fatally. The miscreants knew this state of public feeling, and hence their ruse. When the man was beyond hearing, Bill said, exultingly:
"Didn't I wool the fellow's eyes beautifully?"
"It was well done, Bill, well done—the best job you ever bossed. But say, do you know the man?"
"No, not from the devil."
"Well, sir, it's 'Squire Williams, sure's I'm a living son of my mother!"
"Yes, it is. I've known him ever since I had such hard work to get off from him; I tell you, when I thought of the trial, I felt mightily like payin' him off for his advice on that occasion, after I was cleared; but, think's I, it won't do."
"It's well you come to that conclusion; we don't want over one dead man on our hands at once. But say, what shall we do?"
"Wait a while longer for that Hadley, and if he don't come, then go to meet Duffel."
This suggestion was accordingly acted upon. After remaining nearly three hours longer for their victim, who came not, they repaired to the place of rendezvous, to report to their employer and superior, and finish up the other branch of the night's business.
Arrived at the spot, they found Duffel pacing up and down in a state of impatience and disquietude. So soon as he was cognizant of their presence, he inquired:
"How now? What has kept you so late? Is all right?"
"If your honor will take breath a moment between the questions, we will endeavor to answer them," replied Bill.
"Well, proceed. Did you do the job?"
"No, not exactly as laid down in the bill, but—"
"What! did you let him go?"
"Why, no, your honor, we didn't let him go, for the very good reason that he didn't give us a chance to show him so much mercy."
"You see the fellow didn't come himself, but sent a substitute!"
"The deuce, he did! How's that?"
"That's what we can't tell; we only know, that instead of young Hadley, we came within an ace of killing 'Squire Williams!"
"Yes, sir. He came along at the precise hour that should have brought the other, and it being too dark to distinguish one man from another, or from old Nick for that matter, we fell on to him, and but for the merest chance would have finished him."
Here the enactment of the early part of the evening was rehearsed in full.
"It is well you got off so easily, and I must give you credit for your ingenuity; but I am exceedingly sorry the bird we were after has escaped. However, as that cannot be helped or amended just now, we will proceed with the rest of our work."
"What hour of the night is it?"
"About one o'clock; and that reminds me of the fact that we will not have time to take all the stock to-night; we shall, therefore, confine our operations to a single item—the taking of Mandeville's horse."
"Yes; why not?"
"I thought your honor was playing for another stake in that quarter?"
"And if I am?"
"Why, I just thought it was a queer way of gaining the old gentleman's good will—that thing of taking his horse."
"Not so queer as you might think for."
"Oh! I remember now; excuse me; this Hadley was to be made the scapegoat; you were to get a horse and have the blame of the theft thrown on a rival, whose non-appearance should condemn him. I see it all now, though I did not perceive this delicate undercurrent in the plan of affairs. Lieutenant Duffel against the world, I say!"
"Silence! Dick, you are familiar with Mr. Mandeville's premises, I believe?"
"Yes, tolerably so."
"Well, I want you to bring Tom here in about half an hour; and do the job up nicely, too."
"I'll try, sir."
"You must do it. Be quick; it is going to rain soon, and we must get him away before the tracks will show; but don't so much as disturb the sleeping grasshoppers by your noise."
"Go now, and be here again in the shortest possible time. Bill and I will arrange matters for future operations while you are gone."
Dick hastened away to do the bidding of his master, and Duffel communicated to Bill the following piece of intelligence:
"I was very much in hopes the whole of our plan for to-night would succeed, though I heard that in the evening which caused me to have misgivings on the subject. I learned that Hadley received intelligence that his mother and uncle were both sick and not expected to recover.—They live in Philadelphia: the uncle, his mother's brother, a bachelor, by the way, with whom she is living, is reputed wealthy, and, it is said, has willed his property to young Hadley. The news of these events was brought to him yesterday, and he made immediate preparations to go east, but did not expect to get off until this morning. I presume, however, he must have started yesterday in the after part of the day; but be this as it may, I wish you and Dick to follow after him, and don't fail to finish him somehow and somewhere. If you could only manage to get ahead of him and waylay him at some point in the mountains, it would be the best place for you to do the deed and conceal the commission of the act."
"Yes, if he should be alone."
"Which will most likely be the case, at least a portion of the time. But should no such opportunity occur, or should you fail to get beyond him on the way, you must watch for him in the city; follow him as closely as his shadow, and in some dark alley, or at some unseasonable hour, put him out of the way."
"You understand that this must be done, do you?"
"If Lieutenant Duffel says so."
"Well, I do say so, most emphatically. I am more anxious than ever to have him settled, since this new phase of affairs has come up."
"I understand; but when are we to start?"
"Early in the morning. We will find out as soon as possible whether he started yesterday; then you must show yourselves for a little while, as was before determined; and as soon afterward as possible be off. Be sure to get on the right track, and don't lose it."
"Never fear on that head. We will follow him as the lion does his prey."
"Well, I leave the matter with you; see that you acquit yourself as a good soldier. Give Dick such instruction as may be needed.—Here he comes."
Dick rode up on the horse he had stolen, and they all immediately repaired to the swamp, where the scheme of villainy had been planned, in the middle of which the horse was concealed for the present, as they were unable to take him further then without incurring great risk of detection.
The next morning after mingling awhile with the indignant crowd of citizens, who were collected together on hearing of the theft, and pouring out invectives on the "villain of a thief" in no measured quantity, the two ruffians, Bill and Dick, set out on their errand of death? Learning that Hadley had started the previous afternoon, they followed after him on two of the fleetest horses in the possession of the clan.
It might be well enough to remark, that in those early days most of the traveling was done on foot or on horseback.
On the evening of the second day of their pursuit, Dick and Bill found themselves in the immediate presence of their victim, they having reached the same inn at which he had already put up for the night. The meeting was unexpected to them, and at first they feared it might frustrate their designs; but as they had taken the precaution to throw off their usual habiliments and character, and to assume the dress and address of gentlemen, Hadley did not recognize them, though the impression fastened itself on his mind, that he must have seen them and heard their voices before, but where and when he could not remember.
The villains, from his musing manner, half suspected that he was trying to call to mind who they were, and one remarked to the other that they had better go out and see after their horses; but it was more for the purpose of consulting about the affair they had in hand than for the good of their beasts, that they wished to leave the house. When assured that they were beyond hearing distance, said Bill to Dick:
"Well, we have treed the game at any rate."
"Yes, but I don't see as it signifies much if we have, for we can't keep him treed, nor bring him down neither, in this place."
"But we know where he is, and that is something."
"I take it, it's but little. What can we do with him?"
"Why, we can get ahead of him and select our place for the next meeting, and then—"
"How do you know that? We can't tell which road he will take."
"We'll find out, though."
"By asking him."
"And exciting his suspicions. Yes, a pretty way of doing, certain."
"Never do you mind; leave that to me; and if we don't know all we want to know by morning, you may call Bill Mitchel a fool; and the fellow won't suspect anything, either."
"Well, go ahead, but don't make a fool of yourself, nor spoil the job we have in hand, neither."
"I'll take care for that; only you be cautious, and don't say too much, and when you do speak, throw off your rough manners and talk and act like a gentleman. I am afraid you will forget yourself, and instead of being Mr. Richard, will act the part of ruffian Dick."
"Never do you fear; 'ruffian Dick' knows what he's about, and you'll see how handsomely he can act 'Mr. Richard' to-night."
With this understanding between them, they returned to the inn, which, by the way, was a very primitive establishment, not only in construction, but also in the character of the entertainment.
Bill worked his card so as to draw Hadley into conversation, and incidentally, but designedly, remarked that they (himself and his companion) had passed through C—— two days before.
"Indeed!" said Hadley; "I am well acquainted in C——. Did you hear any news there?"
"Well, no, not in C——, but a little way beyond the town a horse had been stolen the night previous, which caused considerable excitement in the neighborhood."
"How far beyond was it?"
"About five or six miles, I should think."
"Did you learn any of the particulars?"
"Why, yes, pretty much all of them, I think."
"I know pretty much everybody in that region, and it may be that it was some of my friends from whom the horse was stolen. What was the owner's name, if you heard it?"
"Mandeville, I think; yes, Mandeville."
"Mandeville! I know him well. Has he any idea who took the horse?"
"I think he suspects some one for the theft—a young man that had been in the neighborhood, but disappeared the same night of the theft, and no one knew where he had gone."
"In the neighborhood," repeated Hadley, musingly, as if thinking aloud. "It must have been the stranger; and yet I thought he was gone some time ago."
"I don't think it was a stranger; they told us his name, but I do not know whether I can call it to mind or not. Let me see, I think it was Hardy or Hartly, or some such name."
At this juncture, Dick caught Bill's eye, and gave him a look, as much as to say: "What the d——l do you mean?—Are you going to excite his suspicions and send him back home to clear himself from imputation?" And Bill as plainly replied by looks: "Never do you mind. I'll fix it up right."
While these magnetic looks were exchanged between the murderous reprobates, Hadley was engaged in trying to think if there was anybody by either of the names mentioned in the vicinity where Mandeville lived, but he could remember no one. All at once the thought struck him that he himself might be the person accused, and the bare idea that such might be the case sent the blood to his heart and a cold shudder through his frame.—He was pale as marble, for a moment, and the rascals saw it. Mastering his emotions, he inquired calmly:
"The name you heard wasn't Hadley, was it?"
"No, that wasn't it. I heard his name mentioned, but they said he had started for Philadelphia the day before the theft."
At this announcement, in spite of himself, Hadley drew a sigh of relief, and as he did so Bill gave Dick a knowing look. Hadley replied:
"Perhaps the name was Huntly?"
"That's it!" said Bill; "that's the name; I remember it now."
"I should hardly have thought him capable of such a crime."
"Just what the people said, exactly."
"And to take advantage of the sickness of Mandeville's daughter, at that; I can hardly believe it of him."
"You talk precisely as his neighbors talked."
"I do not believe he is guilty; no, I am sure he is not. There are others I would suspect a thousand times of such an act before I would him."
"Well, I am sure I can't tell as to that. But, to change the subject, may I be so bold as to inquire which way you are traveling?"
"Certainly, sir; I am on my way to Philadelphia."
"I was in hopes you were going the same way as ourselves; perhaps you are; we are bound for Wheeling, Virginia.—Do you go that way?"
"No, I go by way of Pittsburgh."
"Do you tarry long at Pittsburgh? We may have to go there before we return."
"No sir. My mother is very sick at her brother's house in Philadelphia, and I shall hasten to her with all dispatch."
"Then, I perceive, we shall have to part company."
"I am sorry for that, as I should be pleased to have companionship on my lonely journey."
Having found out all that concerned his purpose, Bill changed the conversation, and all of them being fatigued with hard riding throughout the day, the three soon retired for the night. Bill and Dick roomed together, and when alone the former said:
"Didn't I do it up about the right way, Dick?"
"Better than I expected; but, —— me, if I didn't think you'd got on the wrong track once."
"I knew what I was at all the time; but I saw you were scared."
"Well, what's to be done next?"
"We must get ahead of him, and do the thing up while he is crossing the mountains, as Lieutenant Duffel suggested, and as I told you before."
"We can do that easy enough; but what do you think; shan't we make Duffel side with us in the Duval affair for putting us to so much trouble?"
"Yes, and that is one reason why I wish to get through with this job as soon as possible. We must get back in time for the League meeting somehow."
"We'll have to ride like the d——l, then; for the meeting is on Friday night week."
"Well, we must be there if it is next Friday night, and we must finish our work before we go."
"I'm with you."
"And then, if Duffel don't assist us to fix Duval, or at least, if he don't let us have our own way in the matter, we will raise Hadley's ghost before his eyes, and threaten to 'blow' on him."
"He'll do it."
"He shall do it."
"Well, as that's settled, let's go to sleep."
"Yes, for we have a hard day's ride before us to-morrow."
* * * * *
The shades of evening were gathering over the rugged steeps and deep dells of the Alleghanies, as two horsemen, leaving the summit of the mountains, descended to a deep, dark valley, shaded and environed by a dense growth of pine and other wood, on the eastern slope leading to the Atlantic. As they entered this dismal looking spot, one of them broke the silence by remarking:
"This is the place."
"Shall we rob him after he is dead?" inquired the other.
"Certainly. He has a pile about him; and it was for this I was trying, when he accused me of attempting to rob him, and resenting the accusation brought on the quarrel, and with it the insult. Yes, I must have his life and his money, too."
"I'm with you. But hold! What's that? Horses' feet, as I'm alive. He's coming; we must be quick to our place of concealment."
In the briefest possible time their horses led out of sight of the road, and hid away among the bushes, while the two murderers took their stand at the side of the road in ambush, to await the arrival of their victim.
They had only a few minutes to wait, when other two horsemen made their appearance, and took their stations exactly as they had done, but about a hundred yards further up the mountain.
"What the d——l does this mean?" inquired one of the other.
"I don't know, unless some others have an eye on the gold, as well as ourselves."
"That's it, I'll warrant. Good! They may do the murdering, and we'll rush up in time to secure the booty, by frightening them away. Then we can take the body to the next tavern, and tell how we came upon the robbers and murderers, just as they had finished their work.—Good! Let us get our horses nearer at hand, and be ready to dash upon them."
While the first two villains were preparing for the new phase the affair in which they were engaged had taken, as they supposed, the two who had arrived last busied themselves in making ready for some damnable work which required darkness and that secluded spot to hide it from the sight of man. We will look after them.
"Well, here we are at last," said Bill to Dick, for it was these that had arrived last. "How soon will he be here, think you?".
"In a few minutes. When I last saw him, I don't think he was to exceed half a mile behind us."
"He is coming now. Be sure of your aim."
"Better take that advice yourself."
"I intend to, for I don't want any botch work of the job."
"Think those men have got ahead far enough?"
"Yes, they were more than a mile ahead of us, and they will ride like Satan was after them through these wild glens."
"Prepare! put your pistol close to his heart when you fire!"
"All right; do the same."
And the other two concealed villains were equally ready for action.
"There he comes!" said one. "Their attention will be taken up that way now: let us mount, and as soon as they fire, put spurs for the scene."
"Perhaps they will not use pistols," suggested the other.
"Then, as soon as they strike or spring upon him."
In a few seconds, Hadley came abreast of the villains who were lying in wait for him.
"Now!" said Bill in a hoarse whisper, and the two at once sprang upon the lone rider, and fired the contents of their pistols into his breast. He fell from his seat, with a deep groan. The murderers were about to rifle his pockets, when they were arrested in their work of robbery by the approach of the other two horsemen, and seeing their danger, hastened to mount, and left the scene of their bloody deed, at the top of their horses' speed. The others pursued for a mile or more, and then returned to look after the slain man and their booty.
"By heavens, it's not the man!" they exclaimed in a breath, as they knelt by the side of Hadley.
"As I live, it is our acquaintance of yesterday! Poor fellow, he deserved a better fate."
"He did, indeed. Let us return his kindness by seeing that he is decently buried; we owe him this much at least."
"So we do. If I had known it was him he should not have died in this way."
"Shall we go back or forward with him?"
"Forward; it is nearest that way to a hamlet."
"Does he breathe yet?"
"No; he is quite dead."
Gathering up the body of Hadley, they bore it along in silence toward the nearest habitations of men, some five miles ahead.
The two had proceeded with their burden but a short distance, when they were suddenly startled by a groan from the wounded man, who they had supposed was dead. They laid him down carefully, and one of them produced a flask, from which he poured a little brandy on his lips, and the stimulant penetrating his mouth, revived Hadley, and this, with the aid of other restoratives, soon brought him to consciousness. Seeing he was not dead, his companions now dressed his wounds as well as they could, under the circumstances. It was soon perceived that they were not of a very dangerous order. One bullet had struck a button and glanced off, leaving only a bruise on the breast; the other had penetrated the chest, but not in a fatal direction. The fall from his horse had stunned Hadley; there was also a mark on the side of his head, indicating that the horse had struck him with his foot, adding materially to the effect of the fall. After his wounds were properly dressed, he was assisted into his saddle, and, supported by his benefactors, was enabled to ride to the next village, where he received every attention, and was so far recovered in a week as to proceed on his journey. His escape was almost miraculous, and seemed a direct interposition of Providence. On the previous day he had assisted the two men out of a difficulty before a magistrate, where they were accused of the crime of setting fire to a man's house on the previous night. It so happened that they were not guilty of the act as charged, but had passed the night in question at the same inn with Hadley, who, fortunately for them, heard of the affair, and went before the magistrate and testified to the facts in the case, and by so doing cleared them. This kindness, volunteered on his part, was repaid by the men, as we have seen, though they were desperate characters, and ought to have been in the penitentiary, and, as we have noticed, went out to kill and rob some man at whom they had become offended.
Had not this train of circumstances led to the result we have chronicled, there would have been but one fate for Hadley, death; for even if the ruffians had left life in him, ere the lapse of three hours he would have been devoured by wild beasts, a pack of which, howling dismally, and thirsting for blood, crossed the road where he had lain, and licked up the few drops that had run from his bosom!
Bill and Dick were pursued, but escaped without the slightest clue to their whereabouts or identity being ascertained.
Perhaps we had as well remark, at this point, that Hadley's departure was known to but two personal friends and their families, in the Mandeville settlement, and by them was to be kept a secret, as he did not wish Duffel, or any of his supposed companions, to know of his absence until he had been gone long enough to reach his destination, for he believed Duffel was bad enough at heart to stop short of no wickedness to carry his ends, and felt fearful he might send some of his minions to waylay him. How nearly he guessed the truth! He, however, gave another reason for wishing the fact kept among his friends and though they thought a little singular of the request, they acted as desired.
Duffel overheard a part of the conversation between him and a young friend—hence his knowledge of Hadley's movements. Mandeville did not know anything about the matter until some time afterward, and this ignorance led him to suspect Hadley of the theft, as already recorded.
He and Duffel agreed to keep their suspicions to themselves, until they could get at some tangible evidence to prove Hadley guilty. This exactly suited Duffel's purpose, as it gave him just the time and advantage he desired, in order to perfect his own schemes.
How easily a few words would have exonerated Hadley in the eyes of Mandeville: and had he made a confidant of the magistrate in this second instance, those words would have been spoken, to his enlightenment, and the great relief and joy of his daughter. But, by an unfortunate combination of circumstances, the reverse was the case.
When Duffel learned that Mr. Mandeville would not interpose parental authority to compel his daughter to acquiesce in his wishes for her in regard to marriage, he set his scheming wits to work for the purpose of devising some means whereby to accomplish his ends. As we have already said, Duffel had taken a fancy to Miss Mandeville, with whom he was better pleased than with any other lady of his acquaintance. He called his passion love, but it was too sordid and selfish to be worthy of a name so sacred. More than once he called to see Eveline, and though she treated him civilly, he saw plainly that she had an aversion for his society, and that it cost her an effort to treat him with politeness, even though it was formal; so, as we were saying, he endeavored to hit upon some more successful mode of furthering his wishes.
"If Bill and Dick were only here," he thought to himself, "the matter could be easily come at; but, as it is, I don't see my way exactly. I should not like to trust every one, even of the League, with my secret, much less with the execution of such a difficult undertaking as that of placing her there. I wish I had not sent them after Hadley; I might have accomplished all without that; and it is not the pleasantest thing in the world to have a murder laying on one's conscience. But then, I thought other means would succeed: I had no idea that old Mandeville was becoming so tender-hearted. The old devil himself must have been playing mischief with my calculations. Well, let him play away; once Bill and Dick return, and I'll try my hand at heading his sulphurous majesty, and all others that oppose me."
In this mood, Duffel found himself when the duties of his office, in the absence of the captain, required his presence at the cave, to preside over the League at the regular meeting, as already known to the reader. The night of the meeting came, and found him undecided as to the course of action to pursue. Time was short; the captain might return any day and resume command; and what was to be done must be done soon.
In this state of uncertainty, he repaired to the cave, with the vague and indefinite hope that his associates in crime might be there also. Arrived there, he began pacing up and down in a state of uneasy and restless disquiet, looking expectantly At every new-comer, but with the same result—disappointment. It was but a few minutes until the hour for business, and he retired to the captain's room to make such preparations as were necessary for the occasion.
When he returned, the members present were all masked, a rule of the order making this a duty at initiating meetings, and he could not tell whether Bill and Dick were among the number or not.
The business proceeded until the question was asked:
"Is there any one who, having knocked at the door of our order, is now waiting for admission?"
"There is, your honor, Abram Hurd, who has been found worthy of a place among us."
"Is he present?"
"He is in waiting, your honor."
"Let him be conducted into the presence of the order."
It is not our intention to enter into all the details attending the ceremony of initiation into the order, as we apprehend that a few of the leading features in the process of villain-making will be more entertaining and acceptable to the reader.
When the candidate for admission entered the cave, he found himself vis-a-vis with fifty masks, of all shapes, forms and appearances; some horrible, some odd, some commonplace, and some fantastical, and altogether, a medley of strange, undecipherable, yet impressive combination of devices, well calculated to excite a feeling of awe, and, with the timid, of terror, in the mind of the beholder. Into this singular assemblage Hurd was ushered, a wilderness of confused images before him. He was taken through a course introductory to the more serious parts of the formula of induction into the order, which were intended to increase the first bewildered impressions on entering the cave, and was then led up in front of the captain, who addressed him thus:
"Abram Hurd! by your presence here, I am to understand that you desire to become a member of our order?"
"Have you considered well before taking this step? The duties of members are often laborious, and their performance attended with the most imminent danger! We want no unwilling hands; are you ready to incur the risks?
"Suppose the requirements exacted at your hands should cause you to look the penitentiary in the face, have you the courage to do so?"
"But further yet; should the good of our order require you to take the life of a fellow-being, would you, in obedience to the commands of your superior, perform that extreme act?"
"I was not aware that murder was included in the catalogue of duties imposed upon members of the order."
"Nor do I say that it is; I only wish to know if you are willing to go any lengths for the preservation or advantage of the order, in case of necessity? You will mark the difference between murder and killing in self-defense. With this explanation, are you willing to take the required obligation?"
"With the understanding, then, that you may have to face imprisonment or death and obligate yourself to do all that shall be required of you for the good of the order, even to the taking of life, including all other acts that are held criminal among men, are you still willing to proceed?"
"I must furthermore inform you, that if you falter in the discharge of any duty imposed upon you, or manifest the least disposition to betray the order, your life will fall an immediate sacrifice for such delinquency. Are you prepared for this?"
"Will you take upon yourself these obligations in the form of an oath?"
"The oath is a most solemn and binding one; perhaps you may consider it horrible, and we want no faltering."
"I will take it."
"It involves life and death."
"I am prepared if it does."
"You cannot release yourself from its binding force; it is for life; and whether you abide with us or not, it binds you to secrecy. No after-thought, no change of feeling, no repentance can unchain its iron links from your soul. Are you still resolved?"
"Let me here advise you, that one more step will place you beyond the pale of retreat. Consider well what you are about to do. Until the oath is administered, you are at liberty to retire, and, blindfolded as you came, will be escorted to a place of safety to yourself and us, where we will leave you as we found you; but once you have taken upon yourself the obligations of the oath, all is fixed and immutable. Are you yet willing to take this last step?"
"Enough! you are worthy to become a member of our order. Lay your right hand upon your heart, your left upon the Book, and receive the oath."
"I, Abram Hurd, calling heaven, earth and hell to witness, do most solemnly swear, in presence of these, my fellow-beings, and into the ears of the spirits of the invisible world, that I now take upon myself the obligation of a member of the Order of the League of Independents, as laid down in the rules ordained for the government of said Order, and explained to me this night; and I also obligate myself to obey the officers of the League who shall be appointed over me for the good government of the same, in the performance of all and singular the duties that shall be required at my hands; and I furthermore obligate myself to advance the interests of the Order to the utmost of my ability, in all things and in all ways, even to the taking of property and life, if need be; and in so doing will use all the means of aid in my reach, including fire, steel and powder. And I most solemnly swear, in the presence aforesaid, of the visible and invisible worlds, that I will faithfully keep the secrets of the Order, and of all the members of the same that shall be intrusted with me, and no torture of body or mind shall extort them from me. And I hereby bind myself, in the same solemn manner, and in the same presence, that I will defend the members of the Order in all circumstances and places, us far as in me lies, even to the giving up of my own life, if such a sacrifice shall be required—that I will stand by them one and all in every emergency, and, if occasion require, will not hesitate to give false testimony in courts of justice, to clear them in suits at law, or in criminal prosecutions, choosing rather to brave the penalties of perjury than violate this my most solemn oath. And as I faithfully perform this my oath to the Order, in whole and in part, may I prosper; but if I willfully fail in anywise, to fulfill all that I have herein obligated myself to perform, may the heavens become black above me, may the earth become thorns and thistles, and a curse to me in body and in soul; may my life be devoid of peace, and harassing care be my portion, with blight and mildew on all my hopes, and all that my hand shall touch; may my friends desert me, and my own blood rise up and curse me; may I become an outcast, among men, a wanderer and a vagabond on the face of the earth, a prey to fear, and to the lashings of conscience: and, finally, when death comes, may he send me from the tortures of this life, to those of endless perdition hereafter."
After taking this horrible and blasphemous oath, the initiated was required to sign a compact with his own blood, when he was duly pronounced a member of the Order, which might truly be termed hellish. This done, the captain said:
"Brethren of the Order, remove your masks, and welcome your brother!"
In a minute the fifty masks were cast aside, and Hurd looked around him in amazement, for in that company were more than a dozen of his acquaintances and neighbors, who passed in society—most of them—for honest men; but most of all was he surprised to see Duffel there, in the character of first officer.
All came and shook him by the hand, and to their friendly greeting he could reply to many:
"Why, A., B., C., D., are you here? and here's 'Squire F., and Constable H., as I'm alive!" and such like expressions of recognition.
When the masks were removed, Duffel had the satisfaction of seeing Bill and Dick among those present, and so soon as the League adjourned, he drew them one side, and began a confidential conversation with them; but fearing that they might be overheard, before entering upon the secrets of their own, he conducted them into the captain's room.
This room was a curious structure. Its walls were solid rock, naturally of a brownish-gray color, but had been painted in a tasteful style of art, with graceful nymphs, winged cupids, vases of flowers, and many other embodiments of fancy, or representations from nature. The effect on the beholder was pleasant and cheering at first view, but a more critical observation would lead to the conclusion that there was too much of the voluptuous in the design and execution of the penciling. In one corner of the room was a door which opened into an inner room of small dimensions, in which was a downy couch, and all the paraphernalia of a luxurious and elegant bed-room. It was a place that contrasted very strangely with the misery and crime it had sheltered—with the tears of unavailing agony that had been wrung from eyes that sparkled above once happy hearts—alas! no longer the abode of peace, hope or joy. Ah! had those walls the power of speech, what tales of horror they could rehearse! what anguish reveal! what eloquent pleadings for mercy disregarded! what silencing of hope in despair! But they reveal not the secrets of the place, which are known to but One, from whose eye no dark dells or earth-emboweled caves can hide the transgressor; and the tears, the sighs, the blood—aye, the blood—of that solitary cavern are all known to Him, are all put down by the recording angel in the archives of heaven. But we digress.
When the three confederates were securely to themselves, Duffel inquired:
"How did you succeed in that affair. Well, I hope, as you are so soon back."
"Yes, better than we expected. We passed Hadley and awaited him in the mountains. Two pistol balls were sent through his heart, and in less than an hour his body was devoured by howling and hungry wolves, from a ravenous pack of which we escaped ourselves with difficulty, so fierce had a taste of blood rendered them!"
It will be noticed that Bill drew largely upon his imagination in this brief account of their adventures, and that he never once hinted at the real truth of the matter, and how they were driven away, and had to flee for their lives. He knew that his story had the characteristics of probability; and he had an object in view in imposing on his superior, though he had no doubt at all of Hadley's fate, believing him to be certainly dead.
"So far good," replied Duffel; "but are you sure the act was undiscovered and undiscoverable?"
"Quite sure, your honor; it was dark at the time, and no one near, and therefore impossible that any one should know of the transaction."
"Very well, I am pleased with your promptness and dispatch in the execution of this plot. You shall have your reward for the diligence and faithfulness of your labors. But just now I have another affair on hand, in which I shall need your aid."
"We are your men."
"I know I can rely upon you, and that is the reason I have chosen you from among all the other members of the League to assist me."
"And you shall never regret the choice. What is the nature of the work you would have us perform?"
"I have heretofore spoken to you concerning its principal feature. It relates to a lady, and you may remember what was formerly said in regard to the matter."
"Oh, yes, perfectly well."
"Well, I wish the young lady to be taken—kidnapped—and brought to this place. Can I rely upon you to do the deed?"
"We have already pledged ourselves to that effect."
"So you did, I had forgotten. I shall soon need your services, if all things proceed as present appearances indicate that they will. When everything is ripe for action, I will inform you of particulars, and give you the necessary instructions. Till, then, meet me every day in the 'swamp,' for I may wish your aid at any moment."
"All right; we'll be there."
And thus the conference of the villains ended.
THE INTERVIEW—THE PLOT—THE ABDUCTION.
Before proceeding to extremities, Duffel resolved to try the effect of smooth words and persuasive eloquence on the mind of Eveline. For this purpose he called upon her with the express intention of urging his claims to her hand in a personal interview. She received him, as she had been accustomed to do of late, with cold politeness. Had he been a real lover, actuated by pure motives, he would have been deterred from prosecuting his suit, or even mentioning the object of his visit, for he could not but perceive that he was not warmly received. But he had resolved upon a course of action, and was determined that nothing should influence him to turn aside from the line of conduct he had marked out for himself. After a little conversation on commonplace matters, he attempted to introduce the subject uppermost in his thoughts, but finding no encouragement, addressed his companion thus:
"Why this coldness, Miss Mandeville? would that I dared to call you, Eveline! You have ears for others, for me you have none; you have smiles for others, but on me you never bestow a gladdening look; and yet, of all the world, I most long for a smile, for the privilege to talk to you as a friend."
"I hope I have always treated you with kindness; it has certainly been my intention to do so."
"No, Miss Mandeville, not with kindness, pardon me, but it has only been with cold civility. I am sure that if you only knew how my heart yearns for a gentle and hopeful word from your adored lips, how it bleeds and recoils within my bosom when your cold words pierce it as with an arrow, you would certainly relent."
"The heart, Mr. Duffel, is not master of its own emotions; they come unbidden often, and not unfrequently remain when we would gladly have them depart."
"May I trust that in those words there is hope for me—that you would really banish old memories and old prejudices, and receive me as my heart continually pleads to be received?"
"I am not aware that any such changes as those of which you speak have taken place in my mind or memory. I have no old and dear memories that I wish to banish; and I believe my feelings toward you have not materially changed."
"Oh, what crushing words! Surely your heart cannot be so hard as to drive me away in despair, when my spirit is bleeding at the wounds your cruel words have made."
"As I was saying, when you were so impetuous as to interrupt me, a few moments ago, we cannot bid our feelings go and come as we would. The heart will not love this one or that, at the dictates of cold, calculating intellect, and the more it is urged to do so, the farther it is from yielding, especially when harsh means or commands are used to bend it. If you have permitted your feelings to rest upon me as you say they do, it is your misfortune, not my fault; and because I cannot reciprocate your feelings and wishes, you have no right to task me with cruelty or hard-heartedness; and I hope you will not forget this in any future remarks you may have to make on the subject."
"Pardon me, my dear Miss Mandeville, if, in the bitterness of my disappointment, I have spoken harsh or unguarded words. When we are in deep distress and anxiety we are apt to say and do things that we should not. It was farthest from my design to wound your gentle heart, or say one ungenerous word to you, the best beloved of my friends. Should you ever have the misfortune to endure the pangs of unrequited love, which may Heaven forbid, you will know how to feel for me, and to appreciate my situation."
"Perhaps it would be well for you to cease conversing on a subject so painful."
"Ah, there it is. Great sorrows are uppermost in the mind, and though every word brings a tear to the eye, and sends a pang to the heart, we must talk about them."
"I was always impressed with the idea that such griefs as lay hold upon the soul, were too deep for utterance."
"Yes, when the last ray of hope is gone, and the night of despair settles upon the soul. But, oh, must I go out into that unillumed darkness, forever shut out from light and hope? Is there no hope that I may some day call you more than friend? that in time, even though it be years in the future, I may be able to awaken emotions of tenderness in your heart?"
"I think I have answered that question often enough and plain enough. I do not know why you wish to put me to the unpleasant necessity of repeating that answer. But if I have, by any misconception of the use of words, and the meaning of language, failed to be sufficiently definite in my speech, please now, once for all, understand me distinctly. I cannot bid you hope for any change in my feelings toward you so far as love is concerned. I never can look upon you as an accepted suitor for my hand, nor will it ever be in my power to love you."
"Perhaps you may think differently hereafter."
"Then my purpose is fixed. You shall not wed another! You, too, shall feel what it is to be disappointed. You love Charles Hadley. Ah, I knew you did! but mark me, you shall never wed him—never! I would sooner imbrue my hands in his blood, than that you should! But he is a guilty culprit, a wandering fugitive from justice, and will never dare return."
"Mr. Duffel, I have heretofore borne your persecutions with patience; I will do so no longer. You, sir, are more guilty this day than Charles Hadley. Look at the blood spots on your hand."
"What! ha! said the villain, taken aback by the bold remark.
"Yes, you may well flush and turn pale when your crimes stare you in the face!"
"Crimes? Who dares to accuse me of crimes?"
"I do, sir!"
"You will repent it, madam."
"I do not fear your threats any more than I regard your hypocritical protestations of esteem."
"I will make you fear, then," and with the words he left the house in a rage.
While together, Eveline and Duffel were both defiant, though they felt internal fear of each other, she at his threats, and he in alarm lest she should know something of his secret villainies; and when alone each gave way to the feelings uppermost in the mind; she after this manner:
"God grant that no harm come to Charles from this wicked plotter! And yet I fear he has already contrived to do him mischief. How he was agitated when I threw out the accusation. Oh, my God! if his hands really are stained with innocent blood! Charles is no where to be found; what if he has fallen by the hands of his enemy? What a terrible suspicion! Would to Heaven I knew the truth!"
But the more she thought the more she feared, until the subject became so painful she tried to banish it from her mind.
Infuriated and alarmed, Duffel raged on this wise when alone:
"It's all over now! this palaver about love and money! I shall never win my way to the old man's purse in that manner; but I'll try my skill at taming that proud, free spirit! Blast the girl! I wonder if she knows anything? But pshaw! what a thought! How could she?—What a fool I was to be so startled!—Well she is shrewd, and I give her credit for her penetration; but she must not be left to surmise and publish her suspicions: I've too much on hand just now to be set upon by spies; and so the sooner I get her out of the way the better. Once in my power I'll see that she tells nothing to my hurt.—Oh, but won't I have a glorious time!—But enough of anticipation; I must be up and doing lest the captain return and spoil all my calculations; so now for my precious rascals, Bill and Dick—and then!—" And with this he started for the "swamp."
When Duffel reached the place of meeting, his accomplices were not there, and he sat himself down on the trunk of a fallen tree to ruminate until they should come. As was customary with him under such circumstances, his thoughts commenced running on schemes of villainy; and he became so deeply absorbed in fitting out the details of his present all-absorbing operation, as to be scarcely conscious of anything else, either as regarded time or place. At length his corrugated brow relaxed, a kind of sardonic smile of joy spread over his countenance, and he exclaimed in gleeful elation of spirit:
"I have it! By Jove! it's the crowning cap on the climax! I have been afraid of the consequences until now, for I know old Mandeville will raise earth and hell when he finds his daughter is missing. But now I have him! What a glorious idea! But it is a wonder I had not thought of it before. Well, it will not be the first time a dead man has served a good purpose!"
At this moment Bill and Dick made their appearance, and he immediately opened business with them.
"Well, you are here at last! I have been waiting on you this half-hour!"
"If it please your honor we are here at the appointed time. You must have some urgent business to be done that you are in such haste?"
"I have. The time has come that I shall need your service in the matter on hand. Miss Mandeville is in the habit of visiting the spot I pointed out to you, daily. To-morrow her father is going to C—— and there will be no one at home but the daughter and the house girl. You must be in waiting as agreed upon. You, Bill, must cautiously approach her and represent yourself as the friend of Hadley, for whom you must be the bearer of a message. If that does not succeed, then you must have recourse to the other means, as already arranged. So soon as you get her fairly in your possession and secured, bear her to the cave, with all dispatch, by the secret route. I will meet you on the way."
"All right. We understand the plan, and will take good care that it be properly carried out; but afterward we shall expect your aid, or at least your non-interference in a little affair of our own."
"Oh, certainly. Go ahead; but don't make a fuss about it. Who is she?"
"Oh, dang the women, we don't meddle with them; it is with Duval that we have an account to settle."
"Be careful there! Remember your oath to the order!"
"We do; but he is a traitor, and if you expect us to work for you in such life-taking business as we have lately been engaged in, you must let us have our way in this instance."
"Very well; if you will be cautious and commit no others but yourselves I shall not oppose you."
"We'll take care on that point."
"Never fear. She shall be yours before the setting of the sun."
Again the villains parted; but Duffel was not well pleased with the demand the ruffians had made of him, until a new thought struck him, and he said to himself:
"That will do. I will get all I want out of them; and then to save trouble and to be sure of my own secret, I will have them arraigned before the Order for killing a member, and they shall suffer the penalty, death. I will then be free from fear. Capital! Everything is working to suit my purposes!"
Exulting wretch! would to heaven the vengeance of an angry God could overtake you, ere your schemes of fiendish crimes and dark murders are completed. But, alas for the innocent, crime is yet in the ascendant!
* * * * *
In a pleasant grove, a part of the old forest yet standing near to the dwelling of the Mandevilles, sat Eveline, beneath the shade of a friendly tree, in a spot rendered sacred to her by endearing associations and holy memories, musing on the past with heart cheering pleasure, on the present with sadness, and the future with hope. So absorbed had she become in her own meditations, time fled unheeded, and the world was forgotten—forgotten all, save only two beings, the loved and absent Charles—with whose well-being or misfortunes her own fate was strangely blended—and herself; but of herself in the single light in which the mysterious ties of love united her to him.
How long she had thus remained absorbed in her own reflections she knew not, when her attention was drawn from her own thoughts to outward things by the approach of a very neatly dressed gentleman, who, addressing her in the most respectful manner, inquired:
"Does Mr. Mandeville live in this vicinity?"
"Yes, sir," she replied, at the same time rising to her feet. "That is his residence yonder, which you can just distinguish through the surrounding trees."
"A beautiful place!—May I be so bold as to inquire if you know whether I will find him at home to-day?"
"No, sir, he is not at home."
"Perhaps I might still presume on your kindness, and inquire if he has not a daughter that is or has been afflicted, and if she is already convalescent, or is likely so to be soon."
"His daughter has been very sick, but has recovered."
"Would she—? But perhaps you do not know her history? Has she any friend now absent, from whom she would be pleased to hear, do you know?"
"What is the object of the question, sir?"
"I hope you will excuse me, if I should presume too far; but I am the bearer of a message from one who esteems her above all the world beside, and—"
"How! do you know Charles Hadley?" she inquired, with deepened interest.
"Ah, I perceive you are not unacquainted with the history of the young lady. Perhaps I am addressing Miss Mandeville in person?"
"Your supposition is true, my name is Mandeville. But you have not answered my question yet."
"Pardon me, fair lady, for my seeming rude neglect. Yes, I know Mr. Hadley well, and a better man does not live. He is my near and dear friend."
"Do you say so much? Then it is from him you have a message?"
"Oh! tell me, is he well?"
"He is, but is longing to hear from you, to see you, to know that you are still spared by the hand of death."
"You speak as though he were near. Is it indeed so?"
"It is, fair lady; he awaits your presence, or such word as you may be pleased to send him, a short way from here, in the denser portion of the forest, not wishing to transgress your father's commands contrary to your wishes, or to expose himself to the displeasure of your parent, lest it bring trouble and disquiet to your own heart. But please read the note he commissioned me to bear to you; it probably explains the matter better than I can, as he only confided to me such facts as were essentially necessary for me to know, in order to an intelligent performance of the part he has allotted to me as his friend."
Saying this he presented a letter, which Eveline received with a joy-beaming countenance, and read with a wildly-throbbing heart. It ran as follows:
"DEAREST EVELINE: For some weeks past, I have been in a distant city, at the urgent call of duty, to attend the bedside of a sick mother. I left while you were yet very ill, and bore with me the heavy fear that you might never recover to bless me with a kind word or gentle look. So terrible has been the suspense, and so deep the anxiety of mind under which my spirit has labored, I could only perform my duties to a beloved mother by resolutely bending my energies to the task, and with the first hour of assured convalescence hastened to learn your fate. Oh, best beloved, may I not hope to see you again? I have learned that you are better, and the first great burden is removed, but I so long to behold you once more,—to hear you speak—to know that I am not forgotten. But you know I dare not come to you without incurring your father's deep displeasure; and I have been in doubt and perplexity how to act. This note will be borne to you by my most confidential friend, who will not betray us. If you can come to me, even if it be but for a few brief moments, I beseech you to do so; but do in this matter as your own better judgment shall determine. If you cannot come, send me a note, even though it be but a line, that I may have some precious token of remembrance to gaze upon. I am but a short distance from your home, and a few steps will bring you to me; if you come, place yourself under the guidance of my friend. Leaving you to act as prudence and your own heart shall dictate, I remain, impatiently,
"Yours, most faithfully,
"P.S. Do permit me to entreat you to come if you can. I have a thousand things to tell you, and some of them are cheering. I have not time to write more now."
As we have said, Eveline read this letter with the wildest emotions thrilling through her heart. A tumult of joy was in her bosom—joy more exquisite than had gladdened her spirit since the hour when her young heart knew that its deep love was reciprocated. Hadley was near her—he had been falsely accused, and instead of the vile criminal he was represented, he was a loving and dutiful son, fleeing to the bedside of a sick mother! What a consolation to her heart! Without a moment's hesitation, she resolved to see him, and turning to the gentleman, from whom she averted her face, while reading, to conceal her feelings, she said, deeply blushing as she did so:
"Mr. Hadley wishes me to see him, and directs me to place myself under your guidance. Will you be so kind as to show me the way to him?"
"With the greatest pleasure; for I know he will be but too happy to behold you. Pardon me, if, in my zeal for my friend, I should say aught that may be out of place."
He led the way into the deeper recesses of the forest, and she followed him. All this had been done in a moment, as it were, and without time for the slightest consideration. Under other circumstances, or with a little reflection, Eveline might have acted differently.
The two had proceeded a quarter of a mile or more, when Eveline, in passing a large tree, was suddenly seized by rude hands, and ere she had time to scream, a covering was placed over her mouth, and her hands secured. In these operations her recent guide took an active part, and when they were completed, he said:
"You shall not be injured by us, fair lady, and we only regret that we are compelled, by the force of circumstances, to put you to the inconvenience of a journey on so short a notice. You must go with us; but we will deal tenderly with you so long as you are peaceable and quiet; but you must beware how you attempt to make any noise; for we will not suffer ourselves to be betrayed by such means."
With these remarks the two kidnappers, one on each side of their captive, started off through the wilderness at as rapid a rate as their fair prisoner could move.
To attempt a description of Eveline's feelings at this hour would be a vain task. In a moment, she was brought down from the pinnacle of hope to the depths of despair; for she saw in all this that had passed the hand of Duffel, her avowed enemy; and, indeed, as the reader has doubtless already concluded, she was in the hands of none others than Bill and Dick, who were bearing her off to the cave.
When Mr. Mandeville returned home in the evening, he found the maid in great trouble on account of Eveline's long continued absence, and he himself became alarmed on learning that she had not been seen since early in the forenoon. He knew that she often recreated in the grove, and, after finding her in no more likely place, he proceeded thither. No Eveline was there, and no voice answered to his repeated calls; but in his search he found two billets of paper, and hastening to the house, for it was too dark to read them in the woods, he eagerly perused them.
One of the two was the letter to Eveline, purporting to be from her lover, which she had accidentally lost in her agitation, at the moment of setting out on her at first hopeful but sadly terminated errand; its contents are already known to the reader; and the other read as follows:
"MR. MANDEVILLE:—Being aware of your dislike to me, and having learned that you charge me with a crime of great magnitude—no less than that of stealing your horse, (of which, permit me to say, I am as innocent as yourself,) and feeling assured, from these circumstances, that there was no hope for me ever to gain your consent to wed Eveline, I have taken the only alternative left me in the premises—that of persuading your daughter to elope with me. She has consented; and ere you read this note, will be my wife. I hope you may find it in your heart to pardon us for taking this step, as it appears to us the only way in which our ardent wishes can be accomplished; but if you cannot pardon me, at least forgive Eveline, who has had a hard struggle between filial affection, duty and regard, and the strong pleadings of her heart; though her deep love at last conquered.
"But as we feel certain you will be highly exasperated at the first on receiving this intelligence, we have deemed it best to absent ourselves for a time. You will not be able to find us, if you choose to institute a search, until such time as we please to show ourselves; hence you need not put yourself to the trouble of looking after us. So soon, however, as you feel a willingness to receive us as your children, we will gladly return to you. To ascertain your feelings on this subject, we will voluntarily open a correspondence with you at some period in the future, perhaps in a month, when you can communicate to us your wishes and commands.
"With sentiments of high esteem, and deeply pained feelings that I am compelled to take this step, I am, my very dear sir,
"Your obedient servant,
Mandeville read this letter a second time to assure himself that its contents were what they seemed, and when satisfied on this point, he stood mute for a brief space of time, as if to fully take in the astonishing truth that Eveline, his only, his beloved child, had so far forgotten her duly and her promise, yes, her solemn promise, as to leave her home and his care, for the love of a stranger! At last the great reality seemed to enter his soul in all its crushing force, tearing from his heart the affections that had clustered around his only child for years, from his bosom the hopes of a lifetime, and leaving him a desolate, smitten, soul-chilled being, with all the beauty and brightness of life departed!
Oh, ye children of affectionate parents! beware how you crush the hearts that have "nourished and cherished" you as only parents' hearts can do! God will smite the undutiful child with a curse! Bear and forbear, even if the commands of those appointed over you should seem to be unjust. Remember their labor, and toil and suffering in your behalf, and spare, oh! spare them in their old age, when their bodies are ripening for the grave, and their spirits for the skies. Let not their gray hairs go down to the chambers of the dead in sorrow, nor their failing strength be suddenly brought low by the anguish you have inflicted upon their spirits; but spare them as you would be spared!
Several minutes elapsed before Mr. Mandeville could collect his scattered and stunned thoughts together. The blow was so sudden, the shock so terrible, they almost prostrated him. He walked up and down the room, with paleness on his cheeks, and a load in his bosom. The only evidence he manifested of the great grief that was consuming him was an occasional groan, which came up from the great deep of his heart, as though they were forced out by some unseen or over-mastering power. He was like the tall oak of the forest when blasted by the fiery thunderbolt! What a sad picture!
At length the exclamation burst forth from his lips, as though the overcharged heart would relieve itself in words:
"Oh, my God, pity me!" and he clasped his hands, and pressed them upon his laboring breast, as if to still its tumult. Then came another groan, accompanied by a deep, soul-desponding "Oh!"
And the strong man was calm. But such a calmness! It seemed as if years of suffering had stamped their impress upon his brow, and in his face, in those brief moments of agony! Ah, how true it is, that the soul may grow old in a day!
After a time he again took up the letters and perused them.
"How artful!" he mused to himself, as he read the one to Eveline. "Every word is written with studied care, and every sentence conceals a temptation. Then the last, the postscript, so much to tell her, to excite her curiosity, as well as operate upon her affections!—The villain! But she ought not to have yielded to his solicitations; even in her great love I can find no adequate excuse for her. She knew he was accused of a crime, and pledged me her solemn word that she would never see him until the accusation was proved false. But she is gone—gone! Oh, what desolation in the thought! And I am left alone and forsaken in my woe! Ungrateful child! may heaven reward you as you have dealt by me! No, no, God forbid! Heaven be merciful to her! But on him, on the miscreant who is at the bottom of all this undutiful conduct, of all the pain it inflicts, may the fierce lightning of God's vengeance descend in burning wrath, and as a consuming fire! God of heaven! thou who beholdest the anguish of a stricken parent's heart, smite him with a curse; aye, pour out upon his forsaken head the vials of thy hot anger! Give him no rest to his soul, day or night, until the hour of reckoning shall come!"
Amen! Let that prayer enter the ear of Him who sitteth upon the Throne; and may He commission the angels of wrath to bear the curse, and heap it upon the head of the guilty author of all this wretchedness, and of the unutterable pain inflicted upon another heart!
* * * * *
Bill and Dick proceeded with their prisoner through the denser portions of the wilderness for two or three miles on foot, when they met Duffel, who had prepared horses for their flight, as it was a good long way to the cave. The villain approached Eveline, and said:
"I hope you will pardon the seeming rudeness which necessity compels me to manifest toward you in the present emergency. I hope soon to find you a pleasant resting-place, where I shall have leisure and opportunity to make explanations and amplify on this brief apology."
To this insulting speech Eveline made no reply, but she cast a defiant and piercing look upon the miscreant, which made him quail with cowardly fear, and took from his manner much of its bold assurance. He saw in that one glance of her eye an unconquerable resolve to meet him as a foe, and never to be vanquished; the victory he had flattered himself as being nearly won, he now saw afar off, unless the most beastly violence should be resorted to. But without a moment's delay, she was placed upon a horse, himself and accomplices mounted on others, and, he by her side, with Bill and Dick in the rear, the whole party pushed forward for the cave, where they arrived a little past the middle of the afternoon without any serious adventure.
Duffel placed his captive in the Captain's room, with the bed-room to retire to at her pleasure.
"I trust," said he, "you will find this a comfortable place; and be assured I shall strive to do all in my power to make your stay here as agreeable as possible. Books you shall have whenever you desire them; there are a number in the case yonder, and any others you may wish for shall be procured. The length of time you will remain my guest depends upon your own choice, with one condition annexed, of which I will speak to you more fully to-morrow. At present I have urgent business to attend to elsewhere, which cannot be delayed; I regret to leave you so soon; I hope you will pardon me, and I will endeavor to make amends in the future for any apparent neglect at the present. You will find the key to the bed-room in the lock on the inside; make yourself easy during my absence. I shall lake the precaution to lock the door of egress and ingress to this room, so that you may rest in perfect security that no one can harm you. And now good evening, for I must be off, and may pleasant dreams attend your slumbers."
With this mockingly polite address and adieu he left the room and the cave, securing the door after him, and was soon on his way back.
Eveline had sustained herself with the most determined and heroic fortitude during all the trying scenes of the day, and until Duffel was gone. By a great effort of the will to seem calm, she had kept herself from betraying any emotions of fear while her enemies were near to observe her bearing; but now that she was alone, the unwonted tension to which her powers of endurance had been subjected, caused a reaction to take place; she was overwhelmed by the flooding tides of thought and despair that rushed in upon her. What a day of calamity it had been! What a night of rayless darkness was before her!
She knew that she was in the hands and at the mercy of an unscrupulous villain, who was incapable of performing a noble or magnanimous act, but base enough to resort to any means in the use of which to carry an end, or gain a point. She but too well knew the fate before her, if no means of resistance were placed in her hands; and where to find these she knew not. She was, as we said, overwhelmed with dismay. But gradually, as she had time to reflect, to collect her thoughts, and form resolves, she began to grow calm. There was a strength in firmness of will which could surmount many difficulties. It was, indeed, a kind of wall of defense about her, which might materially aid her in the contest she clearly saw before her, with her unprincipled enemy. He was, she knew, like all villains, a coward, and she determined, among other things, to operate upon his fears.
It might be supposed that she would feel little like sleep under the circumstances by which she was surrounded; but having overheard part of an aside conversation between Duffel and his confederates, in which he mentioned meeting them at some place designated, and about something to be done on the morrow, she felt assured of what she could not have been certain on his own word merely, that he had business which would detain him until the next day, and, consequently, would not return to molest her for the present. She retired to the inner room, locked and bolted the door, (she had not expected to find a bolt on the inside, and the fact that there was one gave her a feeling of greater security,) then knelt down and offered up a fervent prayer to heaven for protection, for shielding care and final deliverance; after which she laid down, and composed herself to rest. Her slumbers were peaceful and undisturbed, attended with pleasant dreams; and she awoke, in the morning, as she supposed—for the light of day never visited the dark recesses of her abode, which were lighted by artificial means alone—much refreshed, with her spirits quite restored to their former elasticity.
She went out into the other room, and selected a book for perusal; it chanced to be a work on metaphysics, and after poring over its abstruse pages for some time, she became drowsy, and finally fell into a dreamy sleep. In her fitful slumbers, she was visited by a dream or vision of extraordinary vividness, which made an indelible impression upon her mind, because she felt personally interested in the characters that appeared before her, and by alluding to the scenes, she might alarm the guilty soul of her persecutor; so, at least, she hoped and believed; with what reason we shall see hereafter.
* * * * *
After leaving the cave, Duffel hastened back to Mr. Mandeville's as fast as his fleet steed could bear him. It was after dark before he drew up in front of that gentleman's house, his horse covered with sweat and foam, and well-nigh exhausted. It was his wish to be there before the father should institute any search for his missing daughter, that he might succeed in throwing the blame upon Hadley, in case the letters dropped for the purpose of implicating him should not have fallen into the hands of the parent; and with this view he had a story already made up, to the effect that some one had seen the fugitives in their flight. As was his custom, he paused on the outside of the house to listen, hoping by that means to obtain a knowledge of affairs, and of the feelings of Mr. Mandeville relative to his daughter's desertion or abduction as the case might be. He soon heard the hurried footsteps of that gentleman, as, in his deep distress, he paced the floor—heard, also, his broken exclamations and heavy groans, and the only sentiment all these things awakened in his callous soul was expressed in the unfeeling words spoken to himself, in thought: