We need hardly say that with such intimate association, Mr. Scofield learned to love little Ida as a father loves his own child. Had it not been for the judicious watchfulness and careful training of her excellent mother, she might have been spoiled by his petting. As it was, no child could be gladder to see a parent than she was to see her friend. She would bound away to meet him; and when seated, would climb upon his knee while young, and when older seat herself by him and listen to the stories he would tell her, or play in his locks with her childish fingers.
About a year after his friend's death, Mr. Scofield's only sister lost her husband; and, at his earnest solicitation, she and her little boy came to live with him.
Mrs. Hadley was not wealthy, though she could not be called poor, as her husband had left her a small property, which, by careful management, would school Charles and keep them both until he should arrive at manhood, when, by his own exertions, he could carve out a fortune for himself.
Mr. Scofield soon learned to love Charles very dearly, for he was an amiable and affectionate boy, and always strove to be kind and dutiful to his uncle. It was one of the brother's first acts to introduce his sister to his friend's wife; and they were not long in forming a warm attachment for each other; so much so that Mr. Scofield became almost jealous of each of them for cheating him out of so much of the society of both. He might have become quite jealous had it not been for the fact that while the mothers were entertaining each other, he was left to entertain the children, who, of course, were soon almost constantly together, and were not long in becoming as familiar and affectionate as brother and sister.
It was not long until Mr. Scofield conceived the idea of a marriage between these two children when they should arrive at proper age; and this finally became the darling wish and object of his life.
It does not come within the scope of this sketch, to dwell upon particulars in regard to the affairs of these two happily situated families, and so we pass over the intervening years, until Charles, at seventeen, was sent to College. About the same time Mr. Scofield was called away to the West Indies on business, and by his advice, the two widows were to live together during his absence.
He had never breathed his intentions concerning the young people to any one, and he hoped no interference would be required, but that the constant association of the two would naturally result in an attachment like the one he so anxiously desired to spring up between them.
Charles made rapid progress at college, and in three years graduated with honor. During these three years he had seen his uncle but once, as his India business was much more complicated than he had expected to find it, and detained him, with the exception of a brief visit home, a little over three years in arranging it, which, was finally done by closing it up and removing his funds nearer home.
He was very proud of Charles as a student, and often prophesied great things for him; but he was sorry to be able to perceive no signs of an attachment like that of lovers existing between the young folks. Still he was hopeful. They might love and not know it themselves; if so, it would require something to awaken them to a consciousness of the fact. He resolved on trying an experiment. Meeting Ida alone, he said:
"Do you know, my dear, that I am about to send Charles away?"
"No. Where is he going?"
"Where there is a possibility we may never see him again."
"Oh, don't say so, uncle!" (She had learned to call him uncle.) "What would we do without him? Do send some one else, and let him stay!"
The uncle thought he saw the evidence of a deep affection in her evident distress, and, as this was his object, he replied:
"Oh, I had only thought of sending him to the West Indies; but if you insist so hard, I suppose I shall have to find some one else to go."
"There, that's a good, dear uncle, as you always are. Oh, I am so glad Charles will not be sent away from us!"
With secret delight—for he felt sure she loved his nephew as he wished—Mr. Scofield next sought Charles, to see if an interview with him would result as satisfactorily to his wishes as with Ida. He was disappointed; Charles evidently loved Ida, but it was only with a brotherly affection. He waited a few weeks longer, and then spoke plainly to his nephew on the subject that lay nearest his heart. He told the young man how much he desired to see him and Ida united, and hoped if he did not already love her, that he would try to do so. As Charles had formed no attachment at that time, he readily consented to converse with Ida—ascertain whether her affections were engaged to him, and if so, to reciprocate them, if possible. He did so; but he found that Ida's attachment was like his own, and then he plainly told her of his uncle's wishes.
"I had never thought of that," she said; "but if it is his desire and yours also, that we should be united, I think I could live happily with you."
This was said in a matter-of-fact way, that, more clearly than anything else, showed her want of that peculiar kind of love which sanctifies marriage. Charles saw this, and replied:
"I have no doubt, Ida, but you would make one of the best of wives; but I should fear to wed you, when neither of us loved more ardently than we do."
"Why would you fear?"
"That either or both of us might afterward see some one that we could love as those are expected to, who enter into the solemn obligations of the marriage covenant. The heart is not master of its own emotions; they come and go, regardless of our calls and commands, and we may not count upon being able to control them. How wretched it would cause either of us to be united to each other, while a third party was loved, I leave you to determine for yourself. I have been so accustomed to regard you as a sister, it seems strange to think of you in any other light; and I hope this little passage between us will not mar the freedom of our intercourse."
"I am sure I do not intend that it shall; and I think in consenting to become a nearer companion to you than even a sister, I have given ample assurance of my esteem and regard."
"We will then continue to be friends, and I will go at once and communicate our decision to my uncle."
When Charles related to Mr. Scofield what had transpired between himself and Ida, he saw that his uncle was deeply disappointed and dissatisfied.
"Boy!" he said, in more of a passion than Charles had ever seen him, "Boy, you've made a fool of the matter and of yourself, too!"
"Why, uncle!" replied Charles, in utter astonishment.
"Yes, you have!" continued the old gentleman, "and I am provoked at you. I have always intended to make you my heir, but I shall not do it now, at least, not until you consent to wed Ida."
"Ida does not wish to marry me."
"She'll not object, I know she will not. I have set my heart upon the match, and you must marry her, Charles."
"I am deeply pained to say so, but I cannot."
"Nay, then, I will not!"
"Boy! do you wish to drive me to disinherit and disown you?"
"Disinherit me if you will, but I beg you will not disown me. I have a conscience in this matter; if it was only a whim, I would yield to your wishes."
"And you utterly refuse to accede to my desires?"
"Well, I am sorry for you, but I am resolved, seeing you care so little for me, to substitute Ida's name for yours in my will."
Charles could bear to be treated harshly, but to be accused of want of affection and gratitude toward the benefactor to whom he owed so much, called tears to his eyes.
"You know, uncle, that I love you as I would a father, and it is unjust of you to charge me with a want of affection."
Mr. Scofield was moved by the evident distress his words had caused in his nephew's mind, and relenting a very little, he said:
"I will try you, then; instead of cutting you off at once, I give you a week to consider the matter over; if, in that time, you find you love me well enough to accede to my wishes, well and good; if not, I will surely do as I have said."
Saying this, he abruptly closed the interview, and left Charles in a state of the deepest distress and sorrow. His mother tried to persuade him to yield to his uncle's good pleasure; and, finally, Ida and her mother joined in entreating him not to break all their hearts by suffering himself to be driven from home. He had most difficulty to overcome Ida's pleadings, for she told him no fate could be so bad as for him to be sent away, to wander in the world, and die, perhaps, among strangers, with no kind mother, sister or friend to minister to his wants or smooth his dying pillow.
"Spare me, Ida!" he said with emotion. "You will yet see the day when you will thank me for my firmness. If I did not think so—if I could be convinced that you loved me, as every woman's heart must love some one at some period in life, I would not hesitate to comply with the wishes you all express, and remain on my uncle's terms. As it is, I shall go."
The week expired, and at its close Charles had everything arranged to leave home. He formally told his uncle of his determination to seek his own fortune, as it was impossible for him to comply with his wishes; but that he did not go in anger. For his fortune he cared but little, though it was a great grief to be compelled to go from him bearing his ill-will.
The uncle was much affected, and a word of entreaty from the young man would have induced him to recall the sentence of his doom; but as that word was not spoken, he could not quite unbend enough to voluntarily ask his nephew to remain. Charles left on the morning after the interview, for the west, having, after due reflection, arrived at the conclusion that a competence could be secured there as speedily as anywhere else. Fortune led him to the Mandeville settlement, where he soon became a favorite, and where he was in a fair way to accumulate a reasonable share of this world's goods, when the incidents occurred and the mishaps befel him, which have already been narrated.
With these digressive remarks, thrown in to give the reader a fuller knowledge of the character and position of one of our most interesting characters, as, also, that what follows may be understood, we return to that portion of our story now supposed to be more deeply interesting to those who have followed us thus far, in the perusal of this more than merely romantic tale.
As we said, Hadley's time was taken up first, in waiting upon his mother, and then upon his uncle. In the midst of these trying but cheerfully performed duties, he found but little time to think upon his own prospects, though not an hour passed that the image of Eveline was not called up before his mental vision, and if left to the current of thought for a brief period, his reflections became of the most agonizing character, and the topics upon which he dwelt something like these:
Was she sick? or, worse for his hope, had she passed to that "bourne from whence no traveler returns?" If alive, was she still persecuted by Duffel? was her father still resolved to force her to wed the villain against her will?
As such thoughts rushed through his mind, he almost became impatient of duty and ready to leave his post to fly to the rescue of his love. But a groan from either of the invalids would instantly call back his wandering mind, and in the active labor of kindness and sympathy, he always forgot his own troubles. It was well for him he knew not of the charge preferred against him by his base rival, and still better that he knew nothing of the villain's intentions in regard to the idol of his heart, or he would probably have left the sick ones to care for themselves, and flown to the rescue of her he loved, ere she was stolen and conveyed to the cave.
In the midst of his duties at the bedsides of the afflicted, he had forgotten to inquire after his old friends, Ida and her mother; but so soon as Mrs. Hadley began to mend, she told him they were away from the city on a visit to some friends, but were expected to return in a few days. He was glad to hear this, for as soon as he could leave, he wished to return to the west. He made a confidant of his mother, and told her she must excuse his impatience to learn the fate of his affianced bride. She remembered but too well the days of her youth to chide him, telling him he should go as early as he felt it safe to leave his uncle. They had scarcely finished their little communications, when Charles was called to minister to the other invalid. After making him as comfortable as possible, Mr. Scofield requested him to be seated, and then opened a conversation with him, on this wise:
"I suppose, Charles, you have not forgotten the cause that separated us?"
"No, uncle, I have not?"
"And do you still adhere to your old determination?"
"Well, I have repented of my rashness, and I hope you will forgive me."
"I have nothing to forgive, but much to be thankful for."
"I was very cruel, for I had set my heart on the marriage, and it was a deeper disappointment to me than you could well imagine; but it is over now, and I am satisfied all has turned out for the best, seeing you did not love each other. I have finally arranged my affairs, and my will bequeathes ten thousand dollars to Ida, and the rest, about fifty thousand, to yourself. I may not live long, or I may linger for years; but whether I go soon or remain long, be a friend to Ida and her mother when I am taken from them."
"I could not be otherwise, my dear uncle; it will be truly a pleasure to serve and protect them. But now let me thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your kindness. I am unworthy to become your heir, but if it so please Providence and you to permit me to become the recipient of your bounty, I shall make it my endeavor to use and not abuse your wealth."
"God help you there, my boy! It is a difficult thing to make good use of riches."
We shall not dwell to narrate all that transpired. In a few days Ida and her mother came home, and learning the situation of their friends, immediately installed themselves as nurses to the sick.
Hadley was now relieved from the weight of care and duty he had assumed, and took more rest.
His meeting with Ida was cordial, and it was not many hours till they were mutual confidants, and Ida said:
"So, you see, I do thank you for your firmness. But, oh, I so much wish to see Eveline. You must go back soon. She may need your aid."
And he did go soon. Mr. Scofield soon began to convalesce; his mother was out of danger, and bidding all an affectionate adieu, with the hope soon to meet again, he started in the early dawn of a beautiful morning for the scene of his hopes and fears.
On the second day of his journey, a sad presentiment of impending evil took possession of his mind. Ah! had he known the situation of his beloved at that hour, how his heart would have died within him, and his soul burned to inflict merited retribution on the heads of her enemies. But the dark fate that hung over her at that hour was vailed from his view, and hope mingled with fear in his bosom. Fear, however, kept increasing, and before the close of the third day, a voice seemed to Whisper:
"Haste, Hadley, haste! Wings of lightning can scarcely bear thee swift enough to the rescue of her thou lovest so dearly!"
THE UNKNOWN LISTENER.
Eveline continued to indulge in her pleasing reverie of hope, and in the cheering thoughts that came crowding upon her mind in anticipation of a speedy release from her dungeon, and restoration to her father and friends, she forgot that her situation, in the meantime, was one of peril, even if her newly found friends should be able to accomplish their object. Duffel might return at any moment, and, in vindictive fury, bring about her ruin or death. Such dark pictures, however, were, for the moment, driven from her mind by those of a more enlivening nature, and she ceased to search after, or even to bear in mind, the secret passage.
As she sat in peaceful quiet, thinking of home and dear ones, her eye chanced to fall upon a spot in the wall, where, the light striking it to advantage, a clear, crystaline stone, flashed back the rays from her lamp, as it sparkled with a brilliancy scarcely inferior to that of a diamond. Curiosity led her to a more minute examination of this singularly bright object; and approaching, she placed her finger upon it. It seemed to be imbedded firmly in the solid rock, but projected out a very little beyond the surrounding portions of the wall, just far enough to be perceived by the touch. She pressed upon it to ascertain if it was really unmovable, and, as she did so, open flew a small door, barely large enough to admit a single person through its portals. In a twinkling her labors of the past day and night came to remembrance, and she exclaimed:
"The secret passage!"
In a moment all her former feelings returned; and, taking a lamp in her hand, she prepared to explore the mysterious avenue thus opened before her. Before committing herself to the unknown, perhaps tortuous passage, she took the precaution to place an obstruction in the doorway, so that the door could not, by any possibility, swing to and shut her on the outside. She took the forethought, also, to see that her dagger was safely secured about her person, not knowing whither she was going, or into what company she might fall.
Having thus prudently provided against accidents and emergencies, Eveline entered the passage, which was dark, damp, and dismal, with trembling nerves and a timid heart. Slowly, cautiously, step by step, she felt her way, aided by the light of her lamp. It seemed strange that she should have to go so far to get into the other room; yet still she moved on and on without coming to the end of the passage or to any place of egress.
The way was narrow and somewhat zigzag, and in several places she had to stoop in order to proceed. Where did the underground passage terminate? With what did it connect? Was it a natural one? or had it been made by man? Perhaps it was the connecting line between the cave she had left and some other den of wickedness known and occupied by this band of villains? With such and a hundred similar suggestions her mind was occupied, and she began to feel unpleasant. Perhaps she was venturing into the presence of those who would have even less regard for her than Duffel. An undefined terror for a moment seized upon her, and she was about to yield to the dictates of fear, and return to her room, when a kind of murmuring sound, as if of voices in the distance, met her ear. Listening a moment she felt quite sure there were living persons somewhere near; and summoning all her resolution, she boldly pushed forward, determined to solve the mystery in which she was involved, and if human beings were in her vicinity, to ascertain who and what they were.
Advancing with a cautious but firm step, she was not long in doubt as to the nature of the sound; it evidently proceeded from human lips. As she drew nearer words became distinguishable; and then she came to the end of the passage, which abruptly terminated against a solid wall, like those of the cave. But the wall was evidently a thin one, and on the immediate outside—or other side—were the persons, who were engaged in conversation. She stood there but a brief moment when her attention became fixed and all absorbed in the conference going on between the interlocutors, both of whom (she could distinguish but two voices,) seemed to be deeply interested in some matter under consideration.
"I tell you what it is, Bill, I don't like this here bizness of runnin' off that gal a bit. I've been thinkin' the matter over, and the more I think, the more I don't like it."
These were the first words that Eveline heard distinctly and connectedly. Who were they? and who was the girl? There seemed to be something familiar about the voice of the speaker, and yet she could not tell where or when she had heard it before. In a moment came the reply:
"I thought that point was settled. I tell you I'd take her if it was only to spite Duffel."
"Duffel!" ejaculated Eveline in thought, and she came near making the exclamation aloud. "Duffel! then these men know him!" In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind. It was Duffel's friends, her captors, the ones from whose aid she was so soon to be delivered! Yes, now she remembered the voices! And for a moment her heart bounded in gratitude to the last speaker, whose words she understood to express his firm resolution to liberate her. The moment the rejoinder came from the other, however, her mind was perplexed, but as she listened further the whole matter was untangled:
"And wouldn't it spite Duffel just as much if we should take her back?"
"No, I don't think it would. Beside, I want to show him how completely we can beat him at his own game; and then, too, I wish to be revenged on him to the fullest extent; he likes the girl, and to know that she is in the hands of another, who has entirely outwitted him, will be a source of chagrin, and the spark to light the fires of jealousy."
"You don't intend to let him know that you have taken the gal!"
"Certainly I do!"
"And then have the whole League after us! A fine plot, truly!"
"League the h——! I tell you I'm going to blow the whole thing to nothing, cave and all!"
"When I leave this region there will be no League here. This cave will be in ruins, and the whole order scattered to the four winds of heaven!"
"Are you crazy, Bill Mitchel!"
"No, I am just coming to my senses. Here we have been these many years, doing all the most dangerous and daring work of the order—work that others were too chicken-hearted to undertake—and what is our reward? We are esteemed as the meanest of the Clan, and as being hardly fit to associate with those who claim to be the gentlemen of the League. Why, I believe the officers would cut our throats at any time to save themselves. See what Duffel is after at this very time. Never was a man served more faithfully than we have served him, and now that we have rendered him all the aid he needs or desires at our hands, he would cut us off; aye, worse, he would murder us—murder us as we have murdered for him. Do you think I would let an opportunity to be revenged on him pass unimproved? Never!"
"But how are you goin' to do all this mighty work?"
"I'll tell you. The captain is away; I intend that Duffel shall be secured by the officers of the law; the rest of the members I will take measures to frighten; and when they resort to this infernal cave for refuge, counsel, or concert of action, they will find it in ruins."
"How in ruins?"
"Isn't there powder enough in the magazine to blow it to atoms?"
"Yes, powder! Is there anything in that explosive material that need cause you to look so wild? I thought you were better acquainted with its properties."
"I believe I begin to understand your intentions; but they don't exactly chime with your plans of yesterday."
"Yesterday! I tell you I was only half awake then. I hadn't considered all the sides to the question; and the more I think, the madder I get. I tell you we have been imposed upon; and I am going to pay back the debt with interest. I had another idea yesterday; but my plans were then immature and unsettled, now they are arranged even to the details. I tell you I have been thinking for the last twenty-four hours; and it has been to some purpose, as you and the rest of these fellows, and Duffel in particular, will find out."
"Very well; if the order is to be destroyed, then there is no need of fearing to let the girl go home, as she could do us no harm if she did reveal our secrets."
"I tell you I have taken a fancy to the girl myself and have set my heart on possessing her, and I will do it. It's true I don't care for the order now. I defy all its members; but that makes no difference about the girl. She goes with us."
"I don't believe any good will come of takin' her, but there is a plaguy good chance for evil to come of it."
"Let it come, then, and we'll face it like men! I tell you I am desperate; I have fixed my stakes and I don't intend to be driven from them. The more I think, the more determined I become."
"But it looks so mean and cowardly to abuse a woman."
"Who said I was going to abuse her?"
"I say so."
"You'd better be a little careful of your speech, my good fellow!"
"I'll say what I please; and you know what I have said is the truth. Haint you goin' to deceive the gal? Didn't you jist tell her that you was her friend? and that we'd liberate her? And don't she expect us to take her home, instead of away off to that cave in Virginny, where she'll be no better off than she is here? And haint it cowardly to lie and deceive them as trust in your word and honor?"
"Honor! a pretty word that for such a fellow as you to use! How long have you entertained such high notions, pray?"
"Allers, sir, allers! Did you ever hear me tell a lie? Did you ever see me betray any one that put themselves under my care? Say, sir, have you?"
"Well, no, I don't know as I have; but what of that?"
"A great deal, sir; a great deal! It means that I'm not a mean, cowardly dog; that I don't go to a woman with a lie in my mouth, and sneakingly deceive her! No, sir, I am above such work."
"That will do, I can't bear everything, even from you, and I warn you not to go too far!"
"Warn away, then; I'm not the man to be skeered by any woman-stealer that ever walked the earth. No, sir, I'm not! And I say ag'in, the man that'll impose on a woman is a coward, and a mean one at that."
"Come, come, Dick, it's no use to be talking in that manner. You know I am no more of a coward than yourself; and so what's the use of such an ado about nothing. Didn't you tell me yesterday you would stand by me in this affair? Come, now, keep your word, and don't prove yourself a liar after such a boast of truthfulness, just a moment ago?"
"Yes, there it is ag'in. You told me it was for our personal safety, and such like stuff, that you were goin' to take the gal along; and now you defy the whole order, and are goin' to blow them all to atoms! I take it that makes quite a difference."
"Didn't I tell you the girl was to go any how? And didn't you say it would hardly be fair to help an enemy and not a friend? Come, where is your honor now?"
"That promise, I tell you, was obtained under false pretenses, and is not binding!"
"A pretty excuse, indeed!—Well to bring the matter to a point at once, I now state distinctly that I am going to take the girl with me, because I wish to do so, and for that reason alone; and I want you to help me. Will you do it? That's the question, and I want a positive answer, yea or nay, and no more palaver on the subject. Say, will you stand by your old friend in this last great hour of need?"
"I s'pose I'll have to; but it goes mightily ag'in' the grain, to be mixed up in these women affairs, and I feel as mean as a kill-sheep dog, when I find myself at such a dirty work.
"Well, that matter is settled, then, and I hope we shall have peace and agreement between us hereafter. I know when you say you'll do a thing, you'll do it, and I want a reliable companion to stand by me just now. Once we get into our new quarters, in old Virginia, I shall feel safe, as we can bid defiance to our enemies."
"Well, let us be off, then, as quick as possible; for, to tell the truth, I don't like this part of the country much; it's gittin' entirely too hot for our bizness, and is by no means as safe as it might be."
"We must be off to-morrow, if we can finish all our arrangements, which I hope we shall be able to do, if we lose no time. We must have our horses ready to-night, at all events; for it may suit to start in the night, if we fail to get away to-morrow. I am not sure but it will be the best plan to leave in the night, any how."
"Certainly, it will be."
"Well, it's settled, then, that we leave to-morrow night; and that being the case, I must hasten away to get the key made. You stay here till the sentinel returns, and then meet me at the usual place this afternoon, and we will have everything arranged in order."
With this the villains parted, Bill going out of the passage, and Dick into the cave.
To all this Eveline was an absorbed, but to them unknown, listener. How the great hope of the morning died in her bosom, as the fearful truth was revealed to her, that another snare was laid to entangle her feet—that her newly found friends were but enemies in disguise. Instead of liberators, who would restore her to home and friends, they were vile miscreants, destining her to a fate no better than that which now surrounded her, and removed still further from the possibility of succor. For a little time she clung to the hope that Dick would hold out in her behalf; but this last prop was taken away, and she felt that there was no help from any quarter, and that self-dependence was her only safeguard.
Ah, how desolate was her heart in that hour! How like a lone reed in the pelting tempest did she feel herself to be! Surrounded by enemies on all hands, a prisoner in a dungeon, with no friendly arm to lean upon, no kind voice of sympathy to encourage and strengthen her, she felt almost like giving over the struggle, and lying down to die where she stood.
But this feeling of despondency was of short duration. Arousing to a lively sense of her situation, this apathy was thrown off, and the native energy of purpose which she had exhibited so strikingly on former occasions, quickened her spirit and restored vigor to her frame. Immediately she began to collect her thoughts, and cast about to see if there was no way of escape from this new danger. At first she thought of making a confidant of Duffel, and throwing herself upon his generosity; but remembering all that he had done, she felt that this would be vain, so far as she was concerned, while it might save him from merited exposure and punishment; and so she at once abandoned the idea.
In the midst of perplexity and doubt, the thought struck her with the vividness of a flash of intelligence, that the passage she was in might communicate with the outer world! The very suggestion caused her to heave a sigh of relief. What so probable as this supposition? At any rate she had something to do, a definite object to call forth her energies; and this was no small matter, in the state of mind under which she was laboring at that hour.
Raising her lamp to a level with her face, she passed the light close to the wall, scrutinizing every spot, to see if there was no sign indicative of another spring-closed door. But no brilliant fragment of stalactite appeared as a reward for her search, and she turned away with a feeling of disappointment, and heaviness at her heart. As she did so, for the first time her eye fell upon a polished surface, much resembling the face of a mirror, upon the opposite wall. Looking more attentively, she discovered, as it were, trees, shrubs, a running stream of water, and all the accompaniments of a finished landscape painting. Fearful as was her situation, she could not help pausing to admire the beauty, the naturalness, the perfection of the scene. She had never beheld any thing half so vivid, so truthful, from the pencil of the artist. It actually seemed as if water was running over its gravelly bed, as if the bushes moved in the breeze; in a word, the whole looked far more like a reality than a cold painting. As she was gazing in admiration upon this singular appearance, a bird actually flew over the scene! She could hardly believe her senses; but soon another one followed, and she knew there was no deception in her eyes this time.
Philosophy was not universally taught in those days, as it is now, and Eveline did not know how to solve this mystery as well as many a school girl could do at the present day; but she had read of the tricks of the magicians of Egypt and India, and what seeming wonders they could show in their magic mirrors; and she came to the conclusion that the robbers of the cave had learned the same art, and that before her was one of the soothsayers' glasses.
But what was the design had in view in placing it in that obscure and unfrequented place? As this query suggested itself to her mind, a man passed along on the bank of the stream! and in a few minutes another in the opposite direction; and in the last one she recognized one of her captors! She at once comprehended the design of the apparatus; it was to reveal what was passing without to the eye of the individual within, who had doubtless adopted this method of informing himself of passing external events, as a means of personal safety in case of need. It was, she supposed, a device of the captain of the thieves, to save himself, either from the ministers of the law or from the violence of those under him, in case of revolt.
It is not our design to enter into an elaborate description of this piece of mechanism, as every student of philosophy, who is well acquainted with the reflection and refraction of rays of light, will understand how an ingenious contrivance produced the results spoken of. The same principle enters into the arrangement of the camera obscura. There was an aperture very artfully cut through the wall, and so guarded on the outside as to escape notice; and in this a tube was placed with a set of happily contrived fixtures, by the aid of which the scene without was accurately depicted on the polished surface within. It was the work of the captain, as Eveline supposed.
As this contrivance was evidently intended to give information of danger from without, it must certainly be connected in some manner with the means of escape; else what was it worth? Such was the conclusion to which Eveline arrived, as she philosophized upon the matter. And she reflected further, what other method of escape was there, save a secret medium of communication with the outer world? None at all, except it be a quiet waiting within the passage she now herself occupied, which she could not bring herself to believe was the case; so she renewed her search for the door of egress.
On minutely examining the mirror, she saw at one side of it a small projection, like a ball of ivory, and pressing hard upon it, a door, of which the mirror itself was a section, sprang a little way open. She threw it back wide on its hinges, and holding her lamp in the opening, saw at her feet a flight of stairs leading down into the gloom below. A damp current of air came up from this subterranean cavity, and its clammy coldness sent a chill almost of horror through the frame of the agitated girl. One less resolute than herself would have shrunk at the idea of exploring so dismal a looking place; but not so she. Summoning all her energy, she boldly descended the steps, which had evidently been cut out by the hands of man, and soon found herself at the bottom of the course. In front of her, all was solid earth and rock; but on turning to the right she discovered an opening, following which it was but a little while till she saw light ahead, and a few more steps brought her to the margin of the stream, along the bank of which was the path to the cave. That path, then, was immediately above her! And here she was with the wide world before her! How her heart bounded!
Her first thought was to fly immediately; but prudence dictated a cautious survey of the place before venturing her all in an attempt at flight.
She accordingly ventured out in the most guarded manner, to make explorations. The water was but a little way below where she stood, and when in a high stage must evidently flood the place she occupied and the steps leading up out of it. But as the stream was now very low, she had a fine opportunity for making observations. Stepping down to the edge of the water, she had an excellent view of the stream both ways. The banks were very high on each side, steep, and inaccessible; so much so, indeed, that for a moment she was in despair of getting from her prison, now that she had found the way out. A closer inspection of the bank where she stood showed her the possibility of escape, by following the water's edge to some point below or above, where the high bank receded. This was enough; all she wanted was the bare likelihood or possibility of escape, and she would venture all upon the trial.
Having made these hasty observations, she started back, to make preparations for an immediate departure. When she reached the upper passage and closed the door, she glanced at the mirror to see what was going on without. What was her disappointment and horror, to see Duffel's image passing before her on his way to the cave! She had hoped to get off before his return; but now that hope was gone. She must meet him again; and to what desperate extremities might he not proceed in the interview in which she must now be compelled to take a part! Then she remembered that she had left the door from her room to the passage ajar, and he might reach it before she could get there, and revealing to him her secret, cut off her last and only hope of escape. The thought awoke all her energies, and dashing along the narrow way at the top of her speed, stooping as she ran, to avoid the low places, she reached her room and closed the door of the passage, just as she heard a knock at the other one, opening into the larger room.
THE THREAT AND ITS EXECUTION—EVELINE LOST.
Quickly arranging things in her room, and restoring the lamp to its accustomed place, so that every article should appear in usual order and nothing betray her secret, Eveline—the knocking at her door being just then repeated—demanded:
"Who is there?"
"It is hardly worth your while to ask that question, when you know there can be but one person having access to this place."
"Excuse me, sir; but I have understood that you were only here by courtesy, the rooms belonging to another."
"Well, I am here, at any rate, and have the mastery as well as the occupancy of the place. Will you open the door?"
"If I please."
"Well, do you please?"
"And if I do not?"
"Then I shall enter by another way."
"As I am not overly anxious to see a master, you may enter as you can."
Eveline chose not to open the door for two reasons: first, she wished to ascertain whether or not there was a secret passage between the rooms; and, secondly, if Duffel's assertion in regard to the matter should prove true, she wished to know at what point the entrance was situated, that, if need be, in any future movements she might make, obstructions could be placed in the way of ingress. One thing, however, perplexed her a little; she could not keep her eyes on all sides of the room at once, and Duffel might come from some quarter unawares, and take her at advantage, ere she could meet his attack. Thought is very rapid in times of danger, if presence of mind is retained, and the difficulty stated had fixed her attention but a few seconds, ere several plans of release had suggested themselves and been abandoned; but at length it occurred to her, that as it was impossible for the secret door to be in the same place as the other one, she would be perfectly safe, in taking a position against the latter, from any possibility of surprise, and standing there she could seem more at her ease than in any other position, where her continued watchfulness would betray anxiety.
She had scarcely placed herself in the posture desired, before she saw a portion of the wall to her right slowly move from its place, and presently a mass, the size of a small door, stood out fairly into the room, and from behind it stole the villain, in such a manner as to leave no doubt of his intentions to surprise her, if possible. Seeing she was prepared for his reception, and aware of his entrance, he closed the door, and, boldly stepping into the room, addressed her thus:
"So, incredulous fair one, you see I am here, notwithstanding your disbelief in my word."
"Yes; I see you are here."
"Well, that is a very cordial welcome to an old friend, certainly. In what school have you taken lessons in hospitality and politeness?"
"In one where I have learned to treat insolence according to its deserts."
"Indeed! then I think we must have graduated at the same institution. Perhaps we had as well try each other's skill and proficiency, and the one that shall prove the aptest scholar be declared victor in the contest between us. Do you accept the challenge?"
"I accept nothing from you; your pretended friendship I despise; your threats I hold in as much contempt as I do their author; your intended insults I will pay back even to death, sir!" and as she spoke, there was a flashing light in her eye which gave the villain to understand she meant all she said; but assuming not to heed his convictions on that point, here plied, with as much seeming ease as he could command:
"Oh, I have heard such talk before."
"Yes, and like the base coward you are, you sprang from the dagger at your breast, even though it was but a woman's hand that held it."
"Girl! don't presume too far on my forbearance! I warn you in time to beware of that!"
"I presume nothing on any good trait of character or nobleness of soul you may possess, sir, but on your cowardice!"
"Do you wish to drive me to extremes?"
"You are already on the extremest verge of all that is vile and loathsome."
"By the furies of h——, I'll not endure this longer!"
"Oh, yes, you will; you need not expect any other treatment so long as you continue to force your unwelcome and disgusting presence upon me. I have not taken lessons in the school of which you were talking, in vain: and as you set yourself up as a rival, just exercise your skill; I ask no favors, and fear not your opposition."
"Yes, you do; with all your boasting, you fear me, coward though I be, at this very moment."
"Yes, exactly as I fear the proximity of any other corrupt thing with which it is unpleasant to come in contact. There is a certain small animal of the cat species, bearing, however, another and very significant name, with which it would be about as disagreeable to come in contact as with yourself; as I would fear it, so I fear you; in my estimation you are equally vile and equally to be avoided."
Again Duffel grew red in the face with rage, and he was on the point of seizing and overpowering Eveline; but his eye fell upon the dagger, which she held in her hand, and prudence or cowardice held him back. His response was given with savage malice:
"I'll take the fire out of your temper, ere you are many hours older; mark that! You have gone too far for me longer to continue my gentle dealings toward you. I have endeavored to persuade you, I have expostulated with you, and made all reasonable offers to induce you to acquiesce peaceably in your fate, which I would have made an honorable and enviable one; but you have treated all my kindness with contumely and misconstrued my forbearance into cowardice. Now you must prepare for the worst."
"Sir—villain, rather, every word you have uttered is as false as the pit of night, and you know it! Yes, sir, you know that as you stood there and spoke, unmitigated falsehoods fell from your lips while every declaration! And knowing this, and knowing that I know it, also, you have the audacity and the insolent impudence to say that you have offered me an honorable position in life! Is it possible that you are so fallen as not to know that in a truthful, virtuous, and noble soul there can be nothing so abhorrent as lying, villainy, and cowardice? Talk of honor! Better might Satan take of goodness!"
"Go on! you are only placing thorns in your path, every one of which will pierce you as a pang of agony."
"I have no doubt you would like to intimidate me by such ominous remarks; but I have heard similar ones from the same source before; and knowing the distance which separates their author from truth, you may well rest assured I place implicit confidence in their falsity."
"I'll prove to you how true they are, then; in one thing, at least, you shall be convinced of my veracity; and that is, that I am now in earnest, and mean to remain in earnest until my wishes are accomplished, and you, the victim of my pleasure, become a suppliant for mercy and restoration to an honorable position in society."
"We shall see; I have been talking,—from this time on, I act!"
Saying this he drew a pistol from his pocket, and holding it before her, went on:
"You see I came prepared this time! I was fully resolved to bring matters to an issue at any rate, and more especially if you persisted in your insulting course of address. You have done so; the cup of your transgressions is full, and the time of your probation expired. Now comes the judgment!"
He had expected to see her turn pale and tremble, and, perhaps, become a suppliant for more time to consider the matter; but with the exception of a little closer compression of the lips, and, if possible, a little more determined expression, he saw no change pass over her countenance. If terror she had, it was kept out of sight. She made no reply, and he proceeded:
"You think because your dagger served you once it will do so again; but it will not. I could execute my plans immediately and at once have you helplessly in my power; but I prefer to give you one more and the last opportunity of deciding for yourself. Know, then, that as soon as I find this offer rejected, I will send the contents of this pistol through your right arm, and if that is not enough I have another in my pocket here, which shall pay the same respects to your left arm. You will then be at my mercy as completely as though you were an infant. I leave your own fancy to picture what will follow, understanding my intentions as you do. With this certain doom before you, will you, Eveline Mandeville, consent to be my wife, now or at some future day?"
"I WILL NOT!"
The reply was clear, bold, decided, without a tremor of voice or the quivering of a muscle. The fiendish wretch was awed by her courage, but having, as he said, resolved to bring matters to a crisis, he went on:
"You have chosen your fate, be the consequences upon your own head!" He raised the pistol.
"Will you throw away that dagger and permit me peaceably to approach you?"
"I will ask you three times, and with your third refusal I shall fire; so beware! Will you throw away the dagger?"
"This is the third and last time I shall ask the question," and he repeated it slowly: "Will you throw away t-h-e d-a-g-g-e-r?" and he brought the weapon to his eye.
There was a pause of a second, and then a flash of fire, a cloud of smoke, and the report of a pistol told that his threat was executed. The brutal monster waited a moment for the smoke to clear away from his vision, not liking to venture upon that ominous looking dagger until assured of a bloodless victory. Poor, despicable coward!
As he kept his eye fixed toward the spot where Eveline stood, eager to see the result of the shot, he felt something strike his breast, and, turning his eyes downward, he beheld the glittering dagger glance along his left side! A button had turned its course and saved his life! He sprang away, uttering an affrighted oath, and grasped for his other pistol. It was not in his pocket! and there he stood unarmed, before the unhurt but outraged woman he had attempted to destroy!
Eveline, though excited, was unusually self-possessed during all the interview just related. She felt the imminence of her danger, but it only aroused her faculties to a more acute observation of every incident and circumstance that might, by any possible chance, be turned to advantage. When she saw that Duffel was resolved to put his threat in execution, she determined to make him the victim instead of herself, if it were possible to do so. In speaking of this reserved pistol he unconsciously placed his hand in his pocket—a side coat pocket—and drew the weapon up, so that the breech rested upon the upper and outer edge of the receptacle in the garment. Eveline noticed this, and in a moment her plan of action was formed. She did not like the thought of killing a human being, but as Duffel had proceeded to such extremes, she felt that if it was not her duty to slay him under the circumstances, she would, at least, be justifiable in so doing. She, therefore, settled it in her mind to go to this extreme length, much as she shrank from a deed of blood, in case the monster fired at her. She took in the idea at once that a puff of smoke would conceal her movements for a moment, and, under its friendly cover, feeling sure of her ability to avoid the shot, she would smite the villain to the heart and seize the pistol at the same instant, to use in case the thrust should prove ineffectual. Having her mind divided between the two acts, both of which must be done in the same breath, she did not aim the dagger with as much precision as under other circumstances she might have done, and the result was as already stated; the pistol, however, she safely secured; and when she saw Duffel feel for it, and perceived his disappointment and alarm at not finding it, she said:
"Here it is, sir, and for once you are in my power! It is now my turn!"
The miscreant cowered before her determined gaze.
"Prepare for your end!"
"I crave your mercy."
"Mercy! You, vile, unmanly wretch! did you show mercy?"
"I was excited,—spare me!"
"Down on your knees, then, and beg for your life!"
He hesitated to demean himself thus, she raised the pistol, and there was a fire in her eye which spoke volumes to the craven soul of the poltroon. He obeyed, fell upon his knees and begged his life at her hands, promising to liberate her if she would grant his prayer. When he ceased pleading, and paused for her reply, she answered:
"Know, base coward, that, woman as I am, I would scorn to take the life of an unarmed enemy. I was only trying you to ascertain how low you would degrade and how debasingly demean yourself to beg for mercy. I would have made you swear to take me from this place, but I knew you would perjure yourself the moment an opportunity afforded, and I did not care to burden your guilty soul with another crime. For the same reason I decline accepting your proffer to take me away. I know you would prove treacherous, and I will not trust myself in your hands. Go, now, and remember that the next time you enter this room in my presence, you die! I will not permit another insult of the kind; no, sir, never! Open that door and leave!"
He obeyed; she followed him with the pistol presented, until he was out of the captain's room. He closed the door into the outer cave with a slam, and locked it, and then called out:
"Madam, you were a fool for not securing the keys while you had me in your power. I now curse and defy you, and swear that I will make you repent this day's work in the dust and ashes of humiliation. I shall not come alone next time, but with fifty men; and you shall be overpowered and feel the weight of my vengeance! I'll wring your proud heart till it bleeds, and in your degradation will scorn you!"
She did not wait to hear more of his harangue, but hastened back into her room, shut and bolted her door, placed every movable object in the apartment against the one by which Duffel had entered, and then entering the secret passage, ran to the mirror to see if the villain left. She had been there but a few minutes when he passed, cursing as he went, and swearing to be revenged.
The reader may wonder why Eveline did not shoot the wretch when she had him in her power, but the truth was, she knew nothing about using fire-arms, and feared to make the attempt, lest, failing, she should be again in his hands. She knew, too, that it would not be prudent to trust herself to be led out of the cave by him, as the moment he met one of his followers he would betray her, and she would be again a prisoner. Still she would have made this venture, had not the secret passage held out to her a more hopeful mode of escape.
All these considerations, dangers and probabilities flashed through her mind with the fleetness of thought, and she came to conclusions with the same rapidity. Doubtless, she pursued the best course. She could presume on Duffel's cowardice, but she dare not trust his word or his oath.
So soon as her persecutor passed out from the cave, as shown by the mirror, she hastened back to her room to make preparations for leaving the den of infamy in which she had been confined, feeling well assured that but a few hours would be suffered to elapse, ere Duffel, with as many adherents as he deemed necessary to accomplish his ends, would return, to wreak his pitiless vengeance upon her. Making everything ready for her departure, she awaited the darkness of the approaching night, that in its friendly mantle she might find protection and shelter. But ere the light of day had withdrawn, she again ventured out into the stream for the purpose of more fully reconnoitering the place, and fixing in her mind the relative position of things, obstacles and distance, and to obtain such knowledge in general as might facilitate her escape.
Night came; she left her room, the common door locked and bolted, the secret one clogged with the furniture of the room, so that it would require the united strength of several men to force it open. The door of the secret passage which she had learned to open and shut from both sides, was closed after her, and alone she passed along that damp aisle, paused a moment before the mirror to note whether it reflected the scene without, and seeing upon its face but blank darkness, she opened the last door between herself and the world into which she was going, closed it as she passed through its portals, descended the stairs, reached the outer extremity of the passage, put out her lamp, and the next minute stood on the pebbles at the margin of the stream. A brief survey of the coast in all directions satisfied her that she was not observed, and without more delay she moved down the stream as rapidly as the nature of the ground and her want of experience in such places and mode of travel would permit.
It was about a mile from the starting point before she reached the first recession of the high bank, that afforded an opportunity to leave the stream, which she improved without delay, and after a laborious ascent of an inclined plane, more than a hundred yards in extent and quite steep, she found herself on the high bluff, with the cave in the distance.
But now a new and before unthought of difficulty faced her. She was in a wilderness, with no compass by which to direct her course, and no friendly guide to conduct her to the habitations of men. For a moment she was almost paralyzed by the magnitude of this untried danger, and hope well nigh fled from her breast. But rousing her energies she boldly looked her fate in the face, and committed herself into the hands of that Providence who had so often befriended her in former times of peril, and then shaping her course as well as she could by the stars, she plunged into the dense forest, with her face, as she believed, toward home, which she hoped to reach some time the next day.
Alas for her hopes! in less than an hour she was totally bewildered and lost in the wilderness! She felt her loneliness and helplessness now more than when facing her malignant enemy; and to add to the horrors of her situation, howls of wild beasts soon greeted her ears!
THE TABLES TURNING.
When Duffel left the Cave, as shown in the preceding chapter, he went immediately to the place where he had appointed to meet Bill and Dick, boiling over with rage all the way, and "breathing out vengeance" on the head of Eveline. He had entered her room so confident of triumphing, that the humiliation of defeat was tenfold greater than if he had doubted of success. And then the degradation to which he had been forced to abase himself! The very remembrance of it set his blood to boiling! He cursed himself for his cowardice; he cursed Eveline for her manifestation of courage and for everything else she had done. To be forced to kneel and beg his life of a woman! and that woman his own prisoner, on his own terms, in his own dungeon! The thought burned into his very soul! and the more he thought the fiercer became his wrath.
In this frame of mind he reached the rendezvous, and found his accomplices awaiting his arrival, for they had work of their own on hand and did not wish to be detained too long by their old leader but now secret foe.
"I'm glad to find you here," he said, as soon as he came up, and his tools saw in a moment that something unusual had happened or some extraordinary work was to be done.
"We are always punctual," Bill replied.
"And it is well you are this time; for there is work to do immediately. I want you to collect together as many of the members of the League as can be found, and assemble them in the cave by midnight."
"Why, what in the world has happened?" inquired Bill in some alarm, lest his own scheme should be frustrated by these demonstrations on the part of Duffel.
"Not much of anything; indeed I may as well tell you at once, that this movement has reference to Miss Mandeville. I have just returned from the cave where I called upon her, and from her obstinacy and a number of hints thrown out, I am fully persuaded she expects deliverance from some quarter; and I am determined to put an end to such anticipations without further delay. I think the sooner she is conquered the better. I should have proceeded to extremes at once, but I wished to persuade her into a voluntary marriage, so that I might come in for the old man's money; but she has found some means of arming herself and is firmly bent on having her own way, while I am as fully resolved she shall not. But I must have a dip into the old gentleman's purse; that's another fixed fact; and so I am going to marry the girl whether she will or not; and I want you, Bill, to act the parson. I know you can do it. Disguise yourself and—. But you know all the details as well as any reverend pastor in the land. Do it up right, and give each of us a certificate in due form, so that it will stand in law; and you shall be liberally rewarded; yes, and promoted, too. You shall not serve me for nothing. Come, now, away as fast as possible to get the men together, and report to me at midnight precisely, in this place."
Duffel had managed to smother his wrath during the brief moments he was giving his orders; but no sooner had the seemingly pliant tools of his will left, than he again foamed over, and pacing back and forth, continued his cursing, as though he would spend his impotent fury in blasphemy.
Bill and Dick started off, as if in the most cheerful manner and with the greatest alacrity they would do their leader's bidding. But no sooner had they reached a safe distance than they began to consult how they were to manage this new and unlooked for phase of affairs, which seemed destined to undermine all their former arrangements and to overthrow their entire calculations and plans. But Duffel could not be more determined to avoid defeat than they were, and they set down the thwarting or overreaching him as the first object to be accomplished. Bill reflected awhile, and then said:
"I think we can manage it. Instead of going after the men, you must get three horses ready for our immediate departure, while I go and prepare the lady for the journey. We must endeavor to have everything arranged by eleven o'clock, so as to be sure of success."
"But how are we to manage Duffel?"
"Leave him to me; I can do that part of the business effectually, I think."
With this understanding, the rascals parted, each to carry out his part of the work for the evening and night; and they had but little time in which to work, for the afternoon was far advanced, and they had many miles to travel, in order to accomplish their ends.
Before proceeding to the cave, Bill sat down and dated and signed a note, already written, which he folded and addressed to 'Squire Williams, and procured the service of a little boy to carry it to him. We shall hereafter learn its import and object.
When he reached the cave it was already night. He found the sentinel in a very uneasy mood, and very anxious to get off till morning, to carry out some design of his own. He had engaged a member to take his place, but from some cause he had not arrived. Bill gladly assumed the post, and in a few minutes was alone with his thoughts and plans.
When assured that the other was far enough away, he closed the door to the cave and locked it. Then, going to the armory, he selected several braces of the best pistols, and secured them about his own person, for his and Dick's future use. He next opened the money-chest, and took from it all the gold that had been collected since the last division, some two thousand dollars in all. This he fastened in a belt worn next to his person. After making every other arrangement about the room according to his wishes, he went to the magazine and brought out all the powder it contained, and so placed the kegs and other vessels containing it, as to secure the greatest amount of destructive force from the whole. All these he then connected by trains of the explosive material, which were united in one wider one leading out at the door of the cave.
These preparations made, he went to apprise Eveline of their readiness for departure, intending while she was making the few preparations necessary for starting, to go out and see after Dick.
When he opened the door to the captain's room, he was struck with the profound stillness which everywhere pervaded the place. No Eveline was there; but he remembered having seen the door to the small room open on a former occasion, and supposing her to be within, went and rapped on the door, at first gently. No answer. Then louder, and louder. All was still. He called her. No response came. Wondering if she was asleep, or what could prevent or deter her from answering his call, he proceeded to break open the door. This he succeeded in doing, after considerable effort; but when he perceived she was not there, his surprise and astonishment were unbounded. He knew not that while he was robbing robbers, and placing powder for the demolition of the cave, she had left its dismal precincts by a way unknown to him or Duffel, and was now far away in the wilderness.
"Where is she? What does it mean?"
These questions he put to himself, but could not answer. A thousand conjectures rushed through his brain; but no satisfactory clue to the mystery was hit upon. Had Duffel deceived them? No, his anger and earnestness were too real for that. Had she other friends? Had not the sentinel turned traitor, and having liberated the prisoner, was anxious to get away, lest his perfidy should be discovered, or to gain a reward for his treachery? This, though hardly probable, was the most plausible supposition, and Bill concluded to act upon it. He was resolved to carry out his plans in, all their details; except that Eveline could not be taken with them; for he was not going to yield up his stolen gold, nor forego his revenge on Duffel.
Looking at his watch, in the midst of these perplexing reflections and strengthened resolves, he saw that it was time for him to be off to see Duffel, as the place of meeting was some ten miles from the cave, and a part of the distance had to be gone over on foot. He reached the spot about the hour appointed, and found the miscreant already there, impatiently awaiting his arrival.
"What success?" inquired Duffel, the moment he came up.
"None at all, your honor."
"Bad news, very."
"I fear there is treason in the League. The doors of the cave are all open, even to the inner door of the inner room, and no living person is within its walls!"
Duffel was speechless with surprise and terror, the astonishing intelligence seeming to paralyze all his powers; at last he made out to loosen his tongue and queried:
"She is gone, then?"
"Yes, and the sentinel, too!"
"Then we are betrayed! What shall we do?"
The terrible news Bill brought, completely unmanned Duffel, and his presence of mind entirely forsook him; hence his last query, which was propounded with all the imbecility of helplessness.
"I'll tell you what I am going to do," said Bill; "and that is, leave this part of the country as speedily as possible."
"But won't the officers be upon us immediately?"
"No; if at all, not before to-morrow. We can make our arrangements to-night, lay in the swamp all day, and leave to-morrow night. You have a horse already prepared in the swamp; I would advise you to go home without a moment's delay, and make all necessary preparations for your journey, and be back in the vicinity of your horse before daylight, or as soon after as possible; and to-morrow night we can set out for the cave in the south-west."
"I believe your plan is a good one; but when shall we meet again?"
"Not until we get away from this section of country; perhaps not until we reach our ultimate destination. But we have no time to lose, all depends upon dispatch, and we had best be about our preparations. Good-by, captain."
"Good-by, my fine fellow. I thank you for your advice, and hope that when we meet again it will be under more cheering skies, and with brighter prospects before us. Good-by."
And thus they parted, to meet again—where?
Bill hastened back to the cave, where he found Dick in waiting with the horses. In as few words as possible, Bill explained to his confederate how matters stood, and what measures he had taken; then sending Dick back some distance with the animals, he laid a long train of powder from the cave outward, and at the farthest extremity placed a can of the explosive compound, wherein he had adjusted a slow match, to which he now set fire, and then hastened away with Dick to a place of safety.
Duffel, as we have seen, was thoroughly alarmed by the intelligence communicated by Bill; and like all who depend more on stratagem than on courage, he cowered before the danger which seemed to stare him in the face. The suddenness of the announcement had not a little to do in producing the result; but when on his way home from the interview, after having more time to contemplate the calamity and his own situation, his fear did not abate. Every little noise startled him, and his mind was constantly harassed with the idea that officers of justice were after him. One cause of his trepidation may be traced to the fact of his many and fearful crimes; he knew how deeply he had involved himself in guilt by the abduction of Eveline and the murder of her lover, as he believed, at his own instigation and command; and he felt well assured, now that his intended victim was at large, she would not be slow to act with vigor for his apprehension and punishment. He knew full well, too, that Mr. Mandeville, when once his eyes were opened, would pursue him with unflagging energy and tireless perseverance, until his crimes were duly expiated to the full extent of the law. With such knowledge and reflections for companions, well might the guilty wretch quake with fear. If "conscience makes cowards of us all," how much more so him, reeking as he was with blood and crime!
Notwithstanding all his fears, he reached home in safety, made a few hasty preparations for his journey, placed his effects left behind in as good order as the shortness of the time would allow, gave them in charge to his servant, with such orders for their disposal as pleased him, and then started for the swamp, which he reached about daylight, and into which he plunged with as much pleasure as ever a hunted fox entered its secure burrow. Though still very uneasy, he breathed more freely than before since receiving the unwelcome tidings from Bill.
* * * * *
'Squire Williams was seated in his easy chair after the labors of the day, quietly enjoying himself in a train of dreamy reflections, when he was aroused from his state of languor and but half wakefulness by a knock at the door. Feeling tired, he did not get up to open for the visitor, but in the old fashioned style, requested the knocker to "come in."
A neighboring boy entered, and handed him a letter, saying:
"The man who gave me the letter for you told me to tell you, you had better read it immediately."
"Indeed! Then it must be of some importance," said the 'Squire as he opened the document. It read as follows:
"'SQUIRE WILLIAMS:—Having learned that you take a deep interest in the movements of young Mr. Duffel, who is supposed to be connected with a body of outlaws and thieves by yourself and others, I take the liberty, though a stranger, to address a line relative to the individual named, which may be of some service to you in detecting him, and to community, by preventing his further operations.
"If you will go to the swamp, nine miles from C——, early to-morrow morning, and watch closely all day and all the next night, should he not make his appearance sooner, you will detect him in the act of leaving the place on a horse which he has forgotten to pay for. I would advise that you take a few confidential friends with you, and, if possible, induce Mr. Mandeville to be one of them; you will understand my reasons for making this request in the end. Make all your arrangements with great caution and secrecy, and be sure to trust no one in whom you have not the most implicit confidence, or you may be betrayed. I make this remark, on the supposition that you are not aware of the fact, that some of your neighbors are associated with a class of men who do not live by lawful avocations, but are members of an organization which has for its object union of strength and harmony of action among those who prey upon community. I would further advise, that you do not go to the swamp before daylight—give him time to get into the trap. I will cut the letter B on a beech-tree at the south-western corner of the swamp, which will be a sign and guide-mark that you are in the right way; from that tree keep a direct north-east course until you reach a large walnut tree, then turn at right angles with your former course, and cross the marsh on the logs which you will find placed there for that purpose. Beyond the marsh, or rather in the center of it, there is an island, which it is extremely difficult to reach by any other route than the one pointed out. On it you will find Duffel, provided you are cautious and wary in your movements. You will wonder how I am so familiarly acquainted with the operations of these bad men: without fully satisfying your curiosity, let me say, that whatever I may have been, I am now desirous of handing over to justice one who is deeply guilty—guilty of crimes of which even you, perhaps, have never dreamed of accusing him. On this point I have only to say, you yourself came near losing your life in place of one of his victims. I allude to the attack made upon you by two persons in the 'dark passage,' some weeks ago. You will remember it! I know all, though revealing but little; and as it will be known that treason is in the camp of the League of Thieves, I shall leave the country at once. Go to the swamp as directed, and you will satisfy yourself of all that I have told you; but let me advise you to note strictly the directions I give you, and be extremely careful in your movements and choice of confidants. Yours, for law and justice,
So soon as he finished reading this singular communication, the 'Squire asked the boy:
"What sort of a man was he, that gave you the letter?"
"He was large, with dark eyes, and sun-burnt face."
"You did not know him, then?"
"No, sir; he was a stranger."
"That will do."
The 'Squire was puzzled to know what to do. The man might be acting in good faith, or he might be only leading him into a snare. After mature deliberation, he came to the conclusion that his informant was not deceiving him, and resolved to act upon the suggestions of the unknown writer, be he friend or foe.
He accordingly set about making preparations for the adventures of the morning, without delay. By midnight all his arrangements were completed, and he lay down to snatch a little rest before setting out on the expedition. At three o'clock in the morning, the little company, numbering five in all, of whom Mr. Mandeville was one, set out for the swamp.
Bill and Dick had scarcely reached a safe distance from the cave, when a sound as of ten thousand thunderbolts rent the air, and the ground at the same time trembled as in a violent earthquake. The horses plunged and snorted, and then stood still in mute fear. The villains, who were looking in the direction of the cave, saw a column of fire, smoke, earth, and rocks heaved up in the air—a huge mass like a mountain—some portions to the height of several hundred feet, and then fall again with a heavy crash, making the earth vibrate beneath them. They knew then that the cave was in ruins, and its place occupied by a shapeless mass of matter.
The explosion took place a little after three o'clock in the morning, and consequently but a few minutes after 'Squire Williams and his party had set out for the swamp. They heard it, and felt the quivering of the earth, though twenty-five miles distant, and for a moment paused in alarm, fully believing it was an earthquake. But as no repetition of the sound or shock took place, they concluded the danger was past, and proceeded on their way.
Duffel also heard the report and felt the shaking, and it filled him with alarm. He was nearing the swamp at the time, and for a little while hesitated to proceed, but finally did so, arriving at the same conclusion as did the party in his rear.
It became the general belief in the neighborhood, and for forty miles around the cave, that the noise and its accompaniments were to be attributed to a veritable earthquake; and we believe a report to that effect finally went the rounds of the press.
EVELINE PURSUED BY WOLVES—BILL AND DICK—DUFFEL.
Terrible was the condition in which Eveline felt herself to be placed when the deep-toned howls and piercing screams of the ferocious denizens of the forest fell upon her ear! In a moment all the wild and horrible stories of adventures with wild beasts she had ever heard or read about, came vividly up in her memory, and from a hundred places her disturbed fancy pictured the glaring eyes of savage monsters which she imagined were in the act of springing upon her. From these she would turn in affright, and hasten away as fast as her trembling limbs could bear her. In this way her confusion became more aggravated, until, finally, every trace of knowledge as to distance or courses, was obliterated in her mind, and she wandered without method or aim, save that she always went in an opposite direction to that from which the last sound proceeded. But this indefinite way of fleeing from harm did not answer her wishes; for soon she heard the baying of wolves in her rear, and the constancy of their howling, and the directness of their movements convinced her that she was pursued! What a thought was that! Alone, and lost in the wide wilderness, and the fiercest and most daring of its ferocious inhabitants on her track!
No sooner was this conviction fixed in her mind, than she flew rather than ran, tearing her clothes and lacerating her flesh against the brush and thorns which beset her way. She scarcely felt the wounds and thought as little of the destruction of her garments, but kept on, on, on, she knew not whither, and cared not, so that she escaped from her dreaded pursuers. All would not do. Ever and increasing, nearer and nearer, came the dismal sound! How her heart died within her, as the increased loudness of the baying of the wolves told her they were fast overtaking her! In vain she exerted all her remaining strength, and taxed every nerve and muscle to its utmost capacity! There was no help! As unerring as mistakeless instinct, and as certain as the decree of fate came the blood-thirsty pack! Despair began to settle down upon her spirit, and she was almost ready to wish herself back in the cave. But at this juncture, a sound seven-fold louder than any thunder she had ever heard, broke with stunning violence through the solemn forest, and at the same moment, far in the distance, flashed up a column of fire sparkling and scintillating, and sending a gleam, as of lightning, among the shades of the dim wilderness. It was the knell and funeral light of the cave.
Instantly everything was as hushed as the chamber of death; not a sound disturbed the stillness of the deep solitude that reigned around her, and Eveline herself paused, and held her breath in alarm and wonder. The illumination lasted but for a moment, and all was dark again; but in that moment the affrighted girl saw a large tree before her, with a cavity at its base, sufficiently large to admit her person; and, as soon as she could collect her thoughts after the surprise of this unexpected and mysterious phenomenon, she resolved to make the cavity an asylum for the night. She no longer heard anything of the wolves; the unaccountable light and noise seemed to have frightened them away, and with deliberation she rolled up pieces of timber to block up the mouth of her retreat, then entered and barred herself in as securely as she could, and patiently and sleeplessly awaited the dawn of day. The night being already far advanced, she had not long to wait, though to her it seemed like an age ere the welcome light appeared; but it did at last, without the anxious moments being disturbed, and she stepped forth from her hiding-place to renew her efforts to reach home. But she was at a loss to know which course to take, or what method to adopt in order to extricate herself from the mazes of the pathless wilderness in whose impenetrable shadows she was enveloped. She stood for some moments in a state of perplexing irresolution, and then resolved to walk in the direction of the rising sun, thinking that if she did not reach home in that way, it was probable she would arrive at some settlement; and she was anxious to see the habitations of men, even if the occupants were entire strangers, for she felt a deep dread of remaining another night in the wilderness, and knew that once among honest men, it would be quite an easy matter to get home, even if the distance was great.
Having settled upon a line of action, Eveline began to execute her purpose with all the energy and promptness for which she was distinguished. She had proceeded some distance, and the sun whose dim approach was only heralded by a few faint streaks of light when she set out, was now pouring a flood of light through the interstices of the forest, when her attention was suddenly arrested by the appearance of two horsemen wending their way amid the intricacies of the wild-wood. Her first thought was to call to them for help, but on more mature deliberation she was fearful they might belong to Duffel's band, and if so, would betray her into the hands of that unprincipled and enraged villain, when she knew but too well that death or a fate infinitely worse, was the the alternative left for choice; she therefore kept silent, preferring to take the chances of her lone pilgrimage to casting herself into unknown and suspected hands.
It soon appeared, however, that the discovery was mutual, and that the horsemen had less fear of her than she of them; for, after a moment's pause to satisfy themselves of the reality of her presence, they turned their horses' heads toward her, and in a few seconds arrived at the spot where she stood, silently awaiting their approach. She had feared they were members of the association of thieves, and as such, was expecting to see hard features with a brigand's expression upon them; but, much to her surprise and pleasure, the men before her bore none of the marks she had pictured to herself, but were genteelly dressed and quite fine-looking fellows. One of them addressed her in the most polite manner and with a grace that showed plainly he had been in good society:
"Will you pardon me, fair lady, a stranger, for being so bold as to presume to address you? but it is so strange to see one so delicate as yourself in the midst of a wild wilderness at such an early hour. May I inquire if misfortune has overtaken you? or why it is that you are here? and if we can be of any service to you?"
There was something in the voice that sounded familiar to Eveline, and she looked at the speaker to see if she could recognize him as a casual acquaintance, but she could not; his features and face were entirely strange to her; and though every word he uttered seemed to be in a tone she had heard before, it was impossible for her to tell where or when, and she concluded it must be a singular coincidence and nothing more. When he concluded, she replied:
"I have been so unfortunate, sir, as to lose my way in the forest, and have wandered I know not whither, in my nightlong efforts to extricate myself from the unpleasant situation in which I am placed. If you can aid me to get to C——, or to any other neighborhood, I will take it as a great favor, and will reward you for your trouble."
"We will escort you with the greatest pleasure to any point you may wish to go. You must have wandered a long way if you started from C——, for it is more than fifty miles to that place."
"Indeed! I had no expectation it was so far. I cannot think of asking you to take me such a distance."
"We will do so with the utmost pleasure without being asked; it is exactly in our way, and very fortunately we have a horse at hand, already caparisoned for a lady's use, which is at your service." Then turning to the other he said:—"Bring up the led horse for the lady," and his companion started as directed. The speaker then continued, again directing his discourse to Eveline:
"By the appearance of your apparel, I should suppose you had not found the underbrush of the forest a very pleasant impediment to travel; your face and hands, too, I perceive, have suffered severely."
"Yes, I have found darkness and the brush and thorns rather difficult opponents to contend with;" saying which, she glanced at her habiliments for the first time, and their tattered appearance caused her to blush; but in explanation, she narrated the adventures of the night, except such parts as related to the cave and her captors, which she deemed it best not to divulge, not knowing into whose hands she was falling. As she finished the narrative, the other man came up with the horses, and she was assisted to mount the one adapted to her use, when the three immediately started on their journey.
We have only to say—and the reader, most likely, has already anticipated us—that these two men were none other than Bill and Dick disguised, who had accidentally fallen in with her in that unexpected place, to the great delight of the former, and with ill-concealed disappointment on the part of the latter. They had intended to remain in the woods that day, and had just left the led horse for the purpose of making observations, when the unexpected event caused them to change their original intention, and set out on their journey for Virginia immediately. Little dreamed Eveline that she had fallen into such hands—that these, her seeming friends, were the very villains she had heard plotting their schemes of rascality and crime. How different from what they were would have been her feelings, had she known the truth in relation to her situation!
* * * * *
'Squire Williams and his party had no difficulty in finding the way into the swamp, as pointed out in Bill's note, and ere the sun was two hours in the heavens they had passed the marshy place spoken of, and were on the island, where, if the note of information was correct, they might expect to find Duffel and the stolen horse.
Here the 'Squire directed the men to remain while he went forward to reconnoiter and ascertain, if possible, where the animal and the villain were. He returned in less than an hour, bringing the intelligence that he had found the whereabouts of the former, but had been able to discover no traces of the latter.
A consultation was held as to what should be done, but opinions were divided. At this juncture Mr. Mandeville, who had manifested but little interest in the affair until now, and who was not apprised of the individuality of the persons they were after, seemed suddenly to become himself again, and taking in the whole subject at a glance, threw in his opinion to the following effect:
"The horse being found as stated in the letter, we have every reason to believe that the thief is not far off; and as the beast cannot live without food, at some time during the day the thief, who is, doubtless, secreted somewhere about the vicinity of the horse, will come out to feed him. I think all we need to do is to hide ourselves near the animal and wait for the fellow to appear."
This advice was at once adopted, and moving forward under the 'Squire's guidance as noiselessly as Indians, the whole party secreted themselves in ambush, within shooting distance of the horse, which was hid away in a thicket of bushes so nicely, that it was a mere accident the 'Squire discovered him. Here they remained in whispered silence for several hours, until some time in the afternoon, and were about to despair of seeing the culprit, when their attention was directed by Mr. Mandeville, who had kept a sharp look out, to a man descending from a thick, bushy topped tree. He was a good way off, and they could not distinguish his features; but he paused and looked around in all directions, as if to satisfy himself that there was no one near to observe his motions; then going to a large tree, and taking another look around to be sure of safety, he removed some bark from its base, which was very dextrously fitted to its place, and revealed a large hollow caused by the decay of the inner portions of the tree, from which he drew forth a bag of oats, and, cautiously approaching the horse, gave him a mess.
"Now is our time!" whispered the 'Squire. "Two of you go on either side so as to cut off his retreat, while Mandeville and I march directly upon him. You, Jake, look out for, and take charge of the horse. Move rapidly, but with as little noise as possible. Strike out!"
With the concluding words all five rose from their hiding-place and proceeded to execute the parts assigned them.
Duffel, whose senses were quickened by fear, heard the breaking of a small stick under the tread of one of the party, and looking out, saw his danger; for he recognized his pursuers, though they had not, as yet, ascertained who he was. In a moment he decided upon his course of action, which was to flee for life; and, mounting the horse, which he had in preparation for any emergency, he bounded away at as rapid a rate as he could force the animal into going.
The 'Squire called out to him to stop; but he seemed not to hear.
"Stop!" repeated the 'Squire, "stop, or I'll shoot you!"
Still he heeded not the command or the warning, but made only the greater exertions to get out of reach of gun-shot and make his escape.
Without losing more time, the 'Squire leveled his rifle and fired. The rider tottered for a moment and then fell from his seat. In a minute or two he was surrounded by his pursuers.
"You have killed me, 'Squire," were his first words, as that gentleman came up.
"Well, why did you not stop; I should not have fired if you had done so."
"I did not wish to be taken alive."
At this juncture Mr. Mandeville came round where he had a view of the thief's face, and, with unfeigned horror and amazement, he recognized him, and exclaimed:
"Yes, Mandeville," said Duffel, "it is I, and there is Tom, your horse."
"So he is, as I live," said the bewildered individual. "How is this? I certainly am not dreaming."
"No," replied Duffel. "I would to God it was a dream. You see before you the very man of all others you had chosen for a son-in-law, and but for your daughter's opposition, I would this day have stood in that relation to you, which I am now glad is not the case. But I have much to reveal to you and little time to do it in."
"Well, first of all, have you seen anything of Eveline?"
"Yes, I have both seen and conversed with her, and until last night I knew where she was, but now I do not."
He then entered into a brief history of his past conduct in relation to Hadley and Eveline, keeping nothing back.
"So, then, Hadley is dead?" queried the 'Squire, who felt a deep interest in that young man's welfare.
"Yes, sorry enough I am to say it, for it is the only murder that rests on my conscience, and a heavy burden and a deep stain it is with which to appear in the presence of an offended God!"
"And you know nothing of Eveline?" interposed Mr. Mandeville.
"Nothing more than I have told you. She may be on her way home, or she may have fallen into the hands of those who will have as little regard for her feelings and wishes as I had. I think she has been taken from the cave by some of our number, but with what design is more than I can tell."
"Where is the cave?"
"I am bound by the most solemn oath never, under any circumstances, to make known its location, and if I were to do so, it would avail you nothing now; she is not there."
"Well, can't you give us some clue to its whereabouts?"
"No, I dare not. I know how great must be your anxiety to learn the fate of Eveline, but I can assist you no further in prosecuting a search for her. She is either safe, or her doom is sealed, and I know not which is the most probable, safety or destruction. In fact I am as much in the dark as you are in relation to her last disappearance; it is a mystery which I can only account for on the supposition already stated, that there is treason in the League."
All this was said with difficulty by Duffel, who suffered great pain from his wound, but would not allow himself to be disturbed until he had revealed what was on his mind. He now permitted himself to be placed on a rude litter, which was prepared by the men out of the branches of trees, and was carefully borne toward his home.
But before they had emerged from the swamp he motioned them to stop, and they did so.
"I am going!" he said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper. "I thank you for your kindness. Whoever bears the tidings of my death to my mother, please break the news to her as gently as possible."
The thought of his mother seemed to awaken the better part of his nature, and at the same time to quicken his pulses. He grew stronger under the excitement, and ejaculated in a louder tone:
"Oh, my God! that I should come to this! I fear the intelligence will kill her!"
He covered his face with his hands and groaned in agony. Every eye in that solemn group around him was moist with tears.
"Take me on!" said the sufferer, after a pause. "Possibly I may be able to hold out till I reach home. If I do not, Mr. Mandeville, and you should ever see Eveline again tell her that almost with my dying words I craved her forgiveness."
Duffel the man and villain was subdued, and Duffel the boy was again come to life. The memory of a mother's love opened the long-sealed fountain of affection in his sin-encased heart, and he felt once more, in a little degree, as he had done in the days of his innocence.
As he was carried along the current of thought again changed, and he cast a retrospect over the years of crime, which had made him an outlaw, and brought him down to the gate of death. The dark picture shut out the light of more pleasant memories, and his soul sunk back into the night of darkness which the blackness of his crime had cast around it! Again he groaned in anguish of spirit and closed his eyes, as if by so doing he would shut out the phantoms of his evil deeds from his soul's vision.
The excitement of conflicting emotions threw him into a fever, and before he reached his home, which was not till after night, he was delirious. A broken hearted mother laid her soft hand affectionately upon his head, and called his name in such endearing tones as only a mother's lips can breathe; but he knew not that it was her, he felt only the touch of a horrid specter, and heard but the mocking of fiends!
Then he raved and bid the ghostly phantoms begone! Oh, it was terrible to witness his soul-disordered agony, and hear the awful words that fell from his fevered lips!
"Why, in Satan's name," he said, "have you come to torment me with your jeers and scoffs, ye minions of h——? Away with you! Back! back! I say, to your black home in the pit!"
Then covering his eyes he lay and shuddered for a brief period, but soon screamed out:
"Keep your forked tongues out of my face, you hissing devils!"
These paroxysms, upon the horrors of which we have no wish to dwell, lasted all the night, but subsided about the dawn of morning. The last image conjured up by his distempered fancy seemed to be one of Hadley:
"Oh, Hadley," he pleaded in piteous tones, "do not look upon me in that way! Take from me those mournful eyes, oh, take them away! for that look burns into my heart! Hadley! Hadley! have pity on me! and spare me! Am I not tormented enough already?"
But we will not linger to depict this harrowing scene. When the fever subsided he was weak as an infant. His mother asked him if he knew her, and he whispered:
"Yes, oh, yes! God forgive me for bringing your 'grey hairs in sorrow to the grave!' Oh, that I could die with your forgiveness graven upon my heart; but I dare not hope—I dare not pray for it!"
"God bless you, my son! and forgive you as I do!" passionately exclaimed the parent; and her heart was writhing with agony!
What a fearful thing it is to bow a parent's head with shame! to crush out the joy from a tender mother's heart, and shut the light from her spirit forever! And, oh, what a fearful thing to die with this consciousness burning into the soul like the sting of scorpions!
None of the horrid visions that visited his fevered brain in the hours of delirium were half so painful as the anguished expression on that mother's face. It sunk to the great deep of the guilty son's soul; and, with that pale face bending over him, his last glimpse of earth, his sight paled and his spirit left its clay tenement for eternity. What a lesson in his life and death!