This uncouth chorus ended, the marriage proceeded. Sybil had disappeared. Had she fled? No! she was by the bride. Eleanor mechanically took her place. A faint voice syllabled the responses. You could scarcely have seen Miss Mowbray's lips move. But the answers were given, and the priest was satisfied.
He took the ring, and sprinkled it once again with the holy water, in the form of the cross. He pronounced the prayer: "Benedic, Domine, annulum hunc, quem nos in tuo nomine benedicimus, ut quae eum gestaverit, fidelitatem integram suo sponso tenens, in pace et voluntate tua permaneat atque in mutua charitate semper vivat."
He was about to return the ring to Luke, when the torch, held by the knight of Malta, was dashed to the ground by some unseen hand, and instantly extinguished. The wild pageant vanished as suddenly as the figures cast by a magic-lantern upon a wall disappear when the glass is removed. A wild hubbub succeeded. Hoarsely above the clamor arose the voice of Barbara.
"To the door, quickly!—to the door! Let no one pass, I will find out the author of this mishap anon. Away!"
She was obeyed. Several of the crew stationed themselves at the door.
"Proceed now with the ceremony," continued Barbara. "By darkness, or by light, the match shall be completed."
The ring was then placed upon the finger of the bride; and as Luke touched it, he shuddered. It was cold as that of the corpse which he had clasped but now. The prayer was said, the blessing given, the marriage was complete.
Suddenly there issued from the darkness deep dirge-like tones, and a voice solemnly chanted a strain, which all knew to be the death-song of their race, hymned by wailing women over an expiring sister. The music seemed to float in the air.
Fast the sand of life is falling, Fast her latest sigh exhaling, Fast, fast, is she dying.
With death's chills her limbs are shivering, With death's gasp the lips are quivering, Fast her soul away is flying.
O'er the mountain-top it fleeteth, And the skyey wonders greeteth, Singing loud as stars it meeteth On its way.
Hark! the sullen Soul-bell tolling, Hollowly in echoes rolling, Seems to say—
"She will ope her eyes—oh, never! Quenched their dark light—gone for ever! She is dead."
The marriage group yet lingered near the altar, awaiting, it would seem, permission from the gipsy queen to quit the cell. Luke stirred not. Clasped in his own, the cold hand of his bride detained him; and when he would have moved, her tightened grasp prevented his departure.
Mrs. Mowbray's patience was exhausted by the delay. She was not altogether free from apprehension. "Why do we linger here?" she whispered to the priest. "Do you, father, lead the way."
"The crowd is dense," replied Checkley. "They resist my effort."
"Are we prisoners here?" asked Mrs. Mowbray, in alarm.
"Let me make the attempt," cried Luke, with fiery impatience. "I will force a passage out."
"Quit not your bride," whispered Peter, "as you value her safety. Heed not aught else. She alone is in danger. Suffer her not to be withdrawn from your hand, if you would not lose her. Remain here. I will bring the matter to a speedy issue."
"Enough," replied Luke; "I stir not hence." And he drew his bride closer towards him. He stooped to imprint a kiss upon her lips. A cold shudder ran through her frame as he touched them, but she resisted not his embrace.
Peter's attempt to effect an egress was as unsuccessful as that of the priest. Presenting Excalibur at his bosom, the knight of Malta challenged him to stand.
"You cannot pass," exclaimed the knight; "our orders are peremptory."
"What am I to understand by this?" said Peter, angrily. "Why are we detained?"
"You will learn all anon," returned Barbara. "In the meantime you are my prisoners—or, if you like not the phrase, my wedding guests."
"The wedding is complete," returned the sexton; "the bride and bridegroom are impatient to depart, and we, the guests—albeit some of us may be no foes to darkness—desire not to hold our nuptial revels here."
"Sybil's wedding has not taken place," said Barbara; "you must tarry for that."
"Ha! now it comes," thought Peter. "And who, may I ask," said he, aloud, "amongst this goodly company, is to be her bridegroom?"
"The best amongst them," returned Barbara—"Sir Luke Rookwood."
"He has a bride already," replied Peter.
"She may be removed," said Barbara, with bitter and peculiar emphasis. "Dost understand my meaning now?"
"I will not understand it," said Peter. "You cannot mean to destroy her who now stands at the altar?"
"She who now stands at the altar must make way for a successor. She who grasps the bridegroom's hand shall die. I swear it by the oath of my tribe."
"And think you, you will be allowed to execute your murderous intention with impunity?" shrieked Mrs. Mowbray, in an agony of terror. "Think you that I will stand by and see my child slaughtered before my face; that my friends will suffer it? Think you that even your own tribe will dare to execute your horrible purpose? They will not. They will side with us. Even now they murmur. What can you hope to gain by an act so wild and dreadful? What object can you have?"
"The same as your own," reiterated Barbara—"the advancement of my child. Sybil is as dear to me as Eleanor is to you. She is my child's child, the daughter of my best beloved daughter. I have sworn to marry her to Sir Luke Rookwood. The means are in my power. I will keep my vow; I will wed her to him. You did not hesitate to tear your daughter from the man she loved, to give her to the man she hated; and for what? For gold—for power—for rank. I have the same motive. I love my child, and she loves Sir Luke—has loved him long and truly; therefore shall she have him. What to me is your child, or your feelings, except they are subservient to my wishes? She stands in my way. I remove her."
"Who placed her in your path?" asked the sexton. "Did you not lend a helping hand to create that obstacle yourself?"
"I did," replied Barbara. "Would you know wherefore? I will tell you. I had a double motive for it. There is a curse upon the house of Rookwood, that kills the first fair bride each generation leads to the altar. Have you never heard of it?"
"I have! And did that idle legend sway you?"
"And do you call it idle? You! Well—I had another motive—a prophecy."
"By yourself uttered," replied Peter.
"Even so," replied Barbara. "The prophecy is fulfilled. The stray rook is found. The rook hath with rook mated. Luke hath wedded Eleanor. He will hold possession of his lands. The prophecy is fulfilled."
"But how?" asked Peter; "will your art tell you how and why he shall now hold possession? Can you tell me that?"
"My art goes not so far. I have predicted the event. It has come to pass. I am satisfied. He has wedded her. Be it mine to free him from that yoke." And Barbara laughed exultingly.
The sexton approached the old crone, and laid his hand with violence upon her shoulder.
"Hear me," cried he, "and I will tell you that which your juggling art refuses to reveal. Eleanor Mowbray is heir to the lands of Rookwood! The estates are hers! They were bequeathed to her by her grandsire, Sir Reginald."
"She was unborn when he died," cried Mrs. Mowbray.
"True," replied Peter; "but the lands were left to your issue female, should such issue be born."
"And did Sir Piers, my brother, know of this? did he see this will," asked Mrs. Mowbray, with trembling impatience.
"He did; and withheld the knowledge of it from you and yours."
"Ah! why knew I not this before? Why did you not tell me ere that was done which cannot be undone? I have sacrificed my child."
"Because it did not chime with my purposes to tell you," replied Peter, coldly.
"It is false—it is false," cried Mrs. Mowbray, her anger and vexation getting the better of her fears. "I will not believe it. Who are you, that pretend to know the secrets of our house?"
"One of that house," replied the sexton.
"Would you know my name?" answered Peter, sternly. "The time is come when I will no longer conceal it. I am Alan Rookwood."
"My father's brother!" exclaimed Mrs. Mowbray.
"Ay, Alan Rookwood. The sworn enemy of your father—of you—of all of ye: your fate—your destiny—your curse. I am that Alan Rookwood whose name you breathed in the vault. I am he, the avenger—the avenged. I saw your father die. I heard his groans—his groans!—ha, ha! I saw his sons die: one fell in battle—I was with him there. The other expired in his bed. I was with Sir Piers when he breathed his last, and listened to his death agonies. 'Twas I who counselled him to keep the lands from you and from your child, and he withheld them. One only amongst the race, whose name I have cast off, have I loved; and him—because," added he, with something like emotion—"because he was my daughter's child—Luke Rookwood. And even he shall minister to my vengeance. He will be your curse—your daughter's curse—for he loves her not. Yet he is her husband, and hath her land;—ha, ha!" And he laughed till he became convulsed with the paroxysm of fiendish exultation.
"Mine ears are stunned," cried Mrs. Mowbray.
"The bride is mine; relinquish her to me," said Barbara. "Advance and seize her, my children."
Alan Rookwood—for so we shall henceforth denominate the sexton—suddenly grew calm: he raised the whistle to his lips, and blew a call so loud and shrill, that those who were advancing hung back irresolute.
There was a rush at the door of the vault. The sentinels were struck down; and with pistols in each hand, and followed by two assistants, Dick Turpin sprang into the thick of the crew.
"Here we are," cried he, "ready for action. Where is Sir Luke Rookwood? where my churchyard pal, Peter?"
"Here," cried the sexton and Luke simultaneously.
"Then stand aside," cried Dick, pushing in the direction of the sounds, and bearing down all opposition. "Have a care there—these triggers are ticklish. Friend or foe, he who touches me shall have a bullet in his gizzard. Here I am, pal Peter; and here are my two chums, Rust and Wilder. Cut the whid."
"Have we license to pass scathless now?" asked the sexton; "or shall we make good our way?"
"You shall not pass," cried Barbara, furiously. "Think you to rob me of my prey? What, cowards! do you hesitate? Ha!"
"Kindle the torches," cried several voices. "We fight not in the dark."
A pistol was flashed. The torch again blazed. Its light fell upon a tumultuous group.
"Seize the bride," cried Barbara.
"Hold!" exclaimed a voice from the altar. The voice was that of Sybil.
Her hand was clasped in that of Luke. Eleanor had fainted in the arms of the gipsy girl Handassah.
"Are you my bride?" ejaculated Luke, in dismay.
"Behold the ring upon my finger! Your own hand placed it there."
"Betrayed!" screamed Alan, in a voice of anguish. "My schemes annihilated—myself undone—my enemies triumphant—lost! lost! All is destroyed—all!"
"Joy! joy!" exclaimed Mrs. Mowbray: "my child is saved."
"And mine destroyed," groaned Barbara. "I have sworn by the cross to slay the bride—and Sybil is that bride."
The wolf shall find her grave, and scrape it up; Not to devour the corse, but to discover The horrid murther.
"Bravo! capital!" cried Turpin, laughing loud and long as an Olympian deity; "has this simple wench outwitted you all; turned the tables upon the whole gang of plotters, eh? Excellent! ha, ha, ha! The next time you wed, Sir Luke, let me advise you not to choose a wife in the dark. A man should have all his senses about him on these occasions. Make love when the liquor's in; marry when it's out, and, above all, with your eyes open. This beats cock-fighting—ha, ha, ha!—you must excuse me; but, upon my soul, I can't help it." And his laughter seemed inextinguishable.
"Take your men without," whispered Alan Rookwood; "keep watch as before, and let the discharge of a pistol bespeak the approach of danger as agreed upon; much yet remains to be done here."
"How so?" asked Dick; "it seems to me the job's entirely settled—if not to your satisfaction. I'm always ready to oblige my friend, Sir Luke; but curse me if I'd lend my help to any underhand work. Steer clear of foul play, or Dick Turpin holds no hand with you. As to that poor wench, if you mean her any harm, curse me if I will——"
"No harm is intended her," replied Alan. "I applaud your magnanimity," added he, sarcastically; "such sentiments are, it must be owned, in excellent keeping with your conduct."
"In keeping or not," replied Turpin, gravely, "cold-blooded murder is altogether out of my line, and I wash my hands of it. A shot or two in self defence is another matter; and when——"
"A truce to this," interrupted Alan; "the girl is safe. Will you mount guard again?"
"If that be the case, certainly," replied Dick. "I shall be glad to get back to Bess. I couldn't bring her with me into this black hole. A couple of shots will tell you 'tis Ranulph Rookwood. But mind, no harm to the gipsy girl—to Lady Rookwood, I should say. She's a jewel, take my word for it, which Sir Luke must be mad to throw away." And calling his companions, he departed.
Alan Rookwood bent his steps towards the gipsy queen. Dark thoughts gathered quickly o'er his brow. He smiled as he drew nigh to Barbara—a smile it was
That wrinkled up his skin even to the hair.
Barbara looked at him at first with distrust; but as he developed his secret purposes, that smile became reflected upon her own features. Their conference took place apart. We willingly leave them to return to the altar.
Mrs. Mowbray and the priest were still there. Both were occupied in ineffectual endeavors to restore Eleanor to consciousness. She recovered from her swoon; but it was evident her senses still wandered; and vainly did Mrs. Mowbray lavish her tenderest caresses upon her child. Eleanor returned them not.
Luke, meanwhile, had given vent to the wildest fury. He shook away Sybil's grasp; he dashed her from him; he regarded her with withering glances; he loaded her with reproaches. She bore his violence with meekest submission; she looked imploringly—but she replied not to his taunts. Again she clung to the hem of his garment when cast aside. Luke appeared unmoved; what passed within we pause not to examine. He grew calmer; his calmness was more terrible to Sybil than his previous wrath had been.
"You are my wife," said he; "what then? By fraud, by stratagem, you have obtained that title, and, perforce, must keep it. But the title only shall you retain. No rights of wife shall ever be yours. It will be in your power to call yourself Lady Rookwood—you will be so in name—in nothing else."
"I shall not bear it long," murmured Sybil.
Luke laughed scornfully, "So you said before," replied he; "and yet I see not why you are likely to abandon it. The event will show. Thus far you have deceived me, and I place no further faith in your assertions. My hand was yours; you refused it. When I would give it to another, you grasp it clandestinely. Am I to believe you now? The wind will change—the vane veer with it."
"It will not veer from you," she meekly answered.
"Why did you step between me and my bride?"
"To save her life; to lay down mine for hers."
"An idle subterfuge. You know well that you run no risk of being called upon to do so. Your life is in no danger. The sacrifice was unnecessary. I could have dispensed with your assistance; my own arm would have sufficed to protect Eleanor."
"Your single arm would not have prevailed against numbers: they would have killed you likewise."
"Tush!" said Luke, fiercely. "Not only have you snatched from me my bride, you have robbed me of my fair estates, of all, save of my barren title, and that, even that, you have tarnished."
"True, true," sighed Sybil. "I knew not that the lands were hers, else had I never done it."
"False, false," cried Luke; "false as the rest. They will be Ranulph's. She will be Ranulph's. I shall still be an outcast, while Ranulph will riot in my halls—will press her to his bosom. Cling not to me. Hence! or I will spurn you from me. I am undone, undone by you, accursed one."
"Oh, curse me not! your words cut deep enough."
"Would they could kill you," cried Luke, with savage bitterness. "You have placed a bar between me and my prospects, which nothing can now remove—nothing but—ha!" and his countenance assumed a deadly hue and fearful expression. "By Heaven, you almost rouse the fell spirit which it is said dwells within the breast of my devoted race. I feel as if I could stab thee."
"No, no!" shrieked Sybil; "for mercy's sake, for your own sake, do not stab me. It is not too late. I will repair my wrong!"
"Ever deceiving! you would again delude me. You cannot repair it. One way alone remains, and that——"
"I will pursue," responded Sybil, sadly, but firmly.
"Never!" cried Luke; "you shall not. Ha!" exclaimed he, as he found his arms suddenly pinioned behind him. "What new treachery is this? By whose orders am I thus fettered?"
"By mine," said Alan Rookwood, stepping forward.
"By yours?" echoed Luke. "And wherefore? Release me."
"Be patient," replied Alan. "You will hear all anon. In the meantime you must be content to remain my prisoner. Quit not your hold," added he, addressing the gipsies, who kept charge of Luke.
"Their lives shall answer for their obedience," said Barbara.
Upon a further signal from Alan, Eleanor was torn from her mother's arms, and a bandage passed so suddenly over Mrs. Mowbray's face, that, before she could raise a cry of alarm, all possibility of utterance was effectually prevented. The priest alone was left at liberty.
Barbara snatched the hand of Eleanor. She dragged her to Sybil.
"You are Lady Rookwood," whispered she; "but she has your domains. I give her to you."
"She is the only bar between thy husband and his rights," whispered Alan Rookwood, in a tone of horrible irony; "it is not too late to repair your wrong."
"Away, tempter!" cried Sybil, horror-stricken. "I know you well. Yet," continued she, in an altered tone, "I will risk all for him. I have done him wrong. One mode of atonement remains; and, horrible though it be, I will embrace it. Let me not pause. Give her to me." And she seized upon the unresisting hand of Eleanor.
"Do you need my aid?" asked Barbara.
"No," replied Sybil; "let none approach us. A clapping of hands will let you know when all is over." And she dragged her passive victim deeper into the vault.
"Sybil, Sybil!" cried Luke, struggling with frantic violence to liberate himself; "hurt her not. I was rash. I was mad. I am calmer now. She hears me not—she will not turn. God of heaven! she will murder her. It will be done while I speak. I am the cause of all. Release me, villains! Would that I had died ere I had seen this day."
At a signal from the sexton, Luke also was blindfolded. He ceased to struggle. But his laboring breast told of the strife within.
"Miscreants!" exclaimed the priest, who had hitherto witnessed the proceedings in horror. "Why do not these rocks fall in, and crush you and your iniquities? Save her! oh, save her! Have you no pity for the innocent?"
"Such pity have we," replied Alan Rookwood, "as you showed my daughter. She was as innocent as Eleanor Mowbray, and yet you did not pity her."
"Heaven is my witness," exclaimed the priest, "that I never injured her."
"Take not Heaven's name in vain," cried Alan. "Who stood by while it was doing? Whose firmer hand lent aid to the murderer's trembling efforts? Whose pressure stifled her thrilling screams, and choked her cries for mercy? Yours—yours; and now you prate to me of pity—you, the slayer of the sleeping and the innocent!"
"'Tis false!" exclaimed the priest, in extremity of terror.
"False!" echoed Alan. "I had Sir Piers's own confession. He told me all. You had designs upon Sir Piers, which his wife opposed; you hated her; you were in the confidence of both—how did you keep that confidence? He told me how, by awakening a spirit of jealousy and pride, that o'ermastered all his better feelings. False! He told me of your hellish machinations; your Jesuitical plots; your schemes. He was too weak, too feeble an instrument to serve you. You left him, but not before she had left him. False! ha, I have that shall instantly convict you. The corpse is here, within this cell. Who brought it hither?"
The priest was silent: he seemed confounded by Alan's violence.
"I will answer that question," said Barbara. "It was brought hither by that false priest. His agent, Balthazar, has betrayed him. It was brought hither to prevent the discovery of Sir Luke Rookwood's legitimacy. He meant to make his own terms about it. It has come hither to proclaim his guilt—to be a fearful witness against him." Then, turning to Checkley, she added, "You have called Heaven to witness your innocence: you shall attest it by oath upon that body; and should aught indicate your guilt, I will hang you as I would a dog, and clear off one long score with justice. Do you shrink from this?"
"No," replied the priest, in a voice hollow and broken. "Bring me to the body."
"Seize each an arm," said Barbara, addressing Zoroaster and the knight of Malta, "and lead him to the corse."
"I will administer the oath," said Alan Rookwood, sternly.
"No, not you," stammered the priest.
"And wherefore not?" asked Alan. "If you are innocent, you need fear nothing from her."
"I fear nothing from the dead," replied Checkley; "lead on."
We will now return to Sybil. She was alone with her victim. They were near the mouth of the cell which had been Prior Cyprian's flinty dormitory, and were almost involved in darkness. A broken stream of light glanced through the pillars. Eleanor had not spoken. She suffered herself to be dragged thither without resistance, scarcely conscious, it would seem, of her danger. Sybil gazed upon her for some minutes with sorrow and surprise. "She comprehends not her perilous situation," murmured Sybil. "She knows not that she stands upon the brink of the grave. Oh! would that she could pray. Shall I, her murderess, pray for her? My prayers would not be heard. And yet, to kill her unshriven will be a twofold crime. Let me not look on her. My hand trembles. I can scarce grasp the dagger. Let me think on all he has said. I have wronged him. I am his bane, his curse! I have robbed him of all: there is but one remedy—'tis this!—Oh, God! she recovers. I cannot do it now."
It was a fearful moment for Eleanor's revival, when the bright steel flashed before her eyes. Terror at once restored her. She cast herself at Sybil's feet.
"Spare, spare me!" cried she. "Oh! what a dream I have had. And to waken thus, with the dagger's point at my breast. You will not kill me—you, gentle maid, who promised to preserve me. Ah, no, I am sure you will not."
"Appeal no more to me," said Sybil, fiercely. "Make your peace with Heaven. Your minutes are numbered."
"I cannot pray," said Eleanor, "while you are near me."
"Will you pray if I retire and leave you?"
"No, no. I dare not—cannot," shrieked Eleanor, in extremity of terror. "Oh! do not leave me, or let me go."
"If you stir," said Sybil, "I stab you to the heart."
"I will not stir. I will kneel here forever. Stab me as I kneel—as I pray to you. You cannot kill me while I cling to you thus—while I kiss your hands—while I bedew them with my tears. Those tears will not sully them like my blood."
"Maiden," said Sybil, endeavoring to withdraw her hand, "let go your hold—your sand is run."
"It is in vain. Close your eyes."
"No, I will fix them on you thus—you cannot strike then. I will cling to you—embrace you. Your nature is not cruel—your soul is full of pity. It melts—those tears—you will be merciful. You cannot deliberately kill me."
"I cannot—I cannot!" said Sybil, with a passionate outburst of grief. "Take your life on one condition."
"That you wed Sir Luke Rookwood."
"Ah!" exclaimed Eleanor, "all rushes back upon me at that name; the whole of that fearful scene passes in review before me."
"Do you reject my proposal?"
"I dare not."
"I must have your oath. Swear by every hope of eternity that you will wed none other than him."
"By every hope, I swear it."
"Handassah, you will bear this maiden's oath in mind, and witness its fulfilment."
"I will," replied the gipsy girl, stepping forward from a recess, in which she had hitherto remained unnoticed.
"Enough. I am satisfied. Tarry with me. Stir not—scream not, whatever you may see or hear. Your life depends upon your firmness. When I am no more——"
"No more?" echoed Eleanor, in horror.
"Be calm," said Sybil. "When I am dead, clap your hands together. They will come to seek you—they will find me in your stead. Then rush to him—to Sir Luke Rookwood. He will protect you. Say to him hereafter that I died for the wrong I did him—that I died, and blessed him."
"Can you not live, and save me?" sobbed Eleanor.
"Ask it not. While I live, your life is in danger. When I am gone, none will seek to harm you. Fare you well! Remember your oath, and you, too, remember it, Handassah. Remember also—ha! that groan!"
All started, as a deep groan knelled in their ears.
"Whence comes that sound?" cried Sybil. "Hist!—a voice?"
"It is that of the priest," cried Eleanor. "Hark! he groans. They have murdered him! Kind Heaven, receive his soul!"
"Pray for me," cried Sybil: "pray fervently; avert your face; down on your knees—down—down! Farewell, Handassah!" And breaking from them, she rushed into the darkest recesses of the vault.
We must now quit this painful scene for another scarcely less painful, and return to the unfortunate priest.
Checkley had been brought before the body of Susan Rookwood. Even in the gloom, the shimmer of the white cereclothes, and the pallid features of the corpse, were ghastly enough. The torchlight made them terrible.
"Kneel!" said Alan Rookwood. The priest complied. Alan knelt beside him.
"Do you know these features?" demanded he. "Regard them well. Fix your eyes full upon them. Do you know them?"
"Place your hand upon her breast. Does not the flesh creep and shrink beneath your touch? Now raise your hand—make the cross of your faith upon her bosom. By that faith you swear you are innocent."
"I do," returned the priest; "are you now satisfied?"
"No," replied Alan. "Let the torch be removed. Your innocence must be more deeply attested," continued he, as the light was withdrawn. "This proof will not fail. Entwine your fingers round her throat."
"Have I not done enough?"
"Your hesitation proves your guilt," said Alan.
"That proof is wanting, then?" returned the priest; "my hand is upon her throat—what more?"
"As you hope for mercy in your hour of need, swear that you never conspired against her life, or refused her mercy."
"I swear it."
"May the dead convict you of perjury if you have forsworn yourself," said Alan; "you are free. Take away your hand!"
"Ha! what is this?" exclaimed the priest. "You have put some jugglery upon me. I cannot withdraw my hand. It sticks to her throat, as though 'twere glued by blood. Tear me away. I have not force enough to liberate myself. Why do you grin at me? The corpse grins likewise. It is jugglery. I am innocent. You would take away my life. Tear me away, I say: the veins rise; they blacken; they are filling with new blood. I feel them swell; they coil like living things around my fingers. She is alive."
"And you are innocent?"
"I am—I am. Let not my ravings convict me. For Jesu's sake, release me."
"Blaspheme not, but arise. I hold you not."
"You do," groaned the priest. "Your grasp tightens round my throat; your hard and skinny fingers are there—I strangle—help!"
"Your own fears strangle you. My hand is at my side," returned Alan calmly.
"Villain, you lie. Your grasp is like a vice. The strength of a thousand devils is in your hand. Will none lend help? I never pressed so hard. Your daughter never suffered this torture—never—never. I choke—choke—oh!" And the priest rolled heavily backwards.
There was a deep groan; a convulsive rattle in the throat; and all was still.
"He is dead—strangled," cried several voices, holding down the torch. The face of the priest was blackened and contorted; his eyeballs protruded from their sockets; his tongue was nearly bitten through in the desperate efforts he had made to release himself from Alan's gripe; his hair was erect with horror. It was a ghastly sight.
A murmur arose amongst the gipsies. Barbara deemed it prudent to appease them.
"He was guilty," cried she. "He was the murderer of Susan Rookwood."
"And I, her father, have avenged her," said Alan, sternly.
The dreadful silence that followed this speech was broken by the report of a pistol. The sound, though startling, was felt almost as a relief.
"We are beset," cried Alan. "Some of you fly to reconnoitre."
"To your posts," cried Barbara.
Several of the crew flocked to the entrance.
"Unbind the prisoners," shouted Alan.
Mrs. Mowbray and Luke were accordingly set free.
Two almost simultaneous reports of a pistol were now heard.
"'Tis Ranulph Rookwood," said Alan; "that was the preconcerted signal."
"Ranulph Rookwood," echoed Eleanor, who caught the exclamation: "he comes to save me."
"Remember your oath," gasped a dying voice. "He is no longer yours."
"Alas! alas!" sobbed Eleanor, tremblingly.
A moment afterwards a faint clapping of hands reached the ears of Barbara.
"All is over," muttered she.
"Ha!" exclaimed Alan Rookwood, with a frightful look. "Is it done?"
Barbara motioned him towards the further end of the vault.
Grimm. Look, captain, here comes one of the bloodhounds of justice.
Schw. Down with him. Don't let him utter a word.
Moor. Silence, I will hear him.
SCHILLER: The Robbers.
Gladly do we now exchange the dank atmosphere of Saint Cyprian's cell, and the horrors which have detained us there so long, for balmy air, genial sunshine, and the boon companionship of Dick Turpin. Upon regaining the verdant ruins of the ancient priory, all appeared pretty much as our highwayman had left it. Dick wended towards his mare. Black Bess uttered an affectionate whinnying sound as he approached her, and yielded her sleek neck to his caresses. No Bedouin Arab ever loved his horse more tenderly than Turpin.
"'Twill be a hard day when thou and I part!" murmured he, affectionately patting her soft and silky cheeks. Bess thrust her nose into his hand, biting him playfully, as much as to say, "That day will never arrive." Turpin, at least, understood the appeal in that sense; he was skilled in the language of the Houyhnhnms. "I would rather lose my right hand than that should happen," sighed he; "but there's no saying: the best of friends must part; and thou and I may be one day separated: thy destination is the knacker—mine, perhaps, the gibbet.—We are neither of us cut out for old age, that's certain. Curse me if I can tell how it is; since I've been in that vault, I've got some queer crotchet into my head. I can't help likening thee to that poor gipsy wench, Sybil; but may I be scragged if I'd use thee as her lover has used her. Ha!" exclaimed he, drawing a pistol with a suddenness that made his companions, Rust and Wilder, start, "we are watched. See you not how yon shadow falls from behind the wall?"
"I do," replied Rust.
"The varmint shall be speedily unearthed," said Wilder, rushing to the spot.
In another instant the shadow manifested itself in a substantial little personage, booted, spurred, and mud-bespattered. He was brought before our highwayman, who had, meanwhile, vaulted into his saddle.
"Mr. Coates!" cried Dick, bursting into a loud laugh at the ridiculous figure presented to his view, "or the mud deceives me."
"It does not deceive you, Captain Turpin," replied the attorney; "you do, indeed, behold that twice unfortunate person."
"What brings you here?" asked Dick. "Ah! I see, you are come to pay me my wager."
"I thought you gave me a discharge for that," rejoined Coates, unable, even in his distress, to resist the too-tempting quibble.
"True, but it was in blank," replied Turpin readily; "and that don't hold good in law, you know. You have thrown away a second chance. Play or pay, all the world over. I shan't let you off so easily this time, depend upon it. Come, post the pony, or take your measure on that sod. No more replications or rejoinders, sir, down with the dust. Fake his clies, pals. Let us see what he has about him."
"In the twinkling of a bed-post," replied Rust. "We'll turn him inside out. What's here?" cried he, searching the attorney's pockets. "A brace of barkers," handing a pair of pistols to Turpin, "a haddock, stuffed with nothing, I'm thinking; one quid, two coach-wheels, half a bull, three hogs, and a kick; a d—d dicky concern, captain."
"Three hogs and a kick," muttered Coates; "the knave says true enough."
"Is there nothing else?" demanded Dick.
"Only an old snuffy fogle and a pewter sneezer."
"No reader? Try his hoxter."
"Here's a pit-man, captain."
"Give it me. Ah! this will do," cried Dick, examining the contents of the pocket-book. "This is a glorious windfall indeed; a bill of exchange for 500l., payable on demand, eh, Mr. Coates? Quick! indorse it, sir. Here's pen and ink. Rascal! if you attempt to tear the bill, I'll blow your brains out. Steady, sir, sign. Good!" added he, as Coates most reluctantly indorsed the bill. "Good! good! I'll be off with this bill to London to-night, before you can stop it. No courier can beat Bess—ha, ha! Eh! what's this?" continued Dick, as, unfolding another leaf of the pocket-book, he chanced upon a letter; "My Lady Rookwood's superscription! Excuse me, Mr. Coates, I must have a peep at her ladyship's billet-doux. All's safe with me—man of honor. I must detain your reader a moment longer."
"You should take charge of yourself, then," replied Coates, sulkily. "You appear to be my reader."
"Bravo!" cried Turpin. "You may jest now with impunity, Mr. Coates. You have paid dear enough for your jokes; and when should a man be allowed to be pleasant, if not at his own expense?—ha, ha! What's this?" exclaimed he, opening the letter. "A ring, as I'm awake! and from her ladyship's own fair finger, I'll be sworn, for it bears her cipher, ineffaceably impressed as your image upon her heart—eh, Coates? Egad! you are a lucky dog, after all, to receive such a favor from such a lady—ha, ha! Meantime, I'll take care of it for you," continued Dick, slipping the ring on his little finger.
Turpin, we have before remarked, had a turn for mimicry; and it was with an irresistible feeling of deferential awe creeping over him that Coates heard the contents of Lady Rookwood's epistle delivered with an enunciation as peremptory and imperious as that of her ladyship's self. The letter was hastily indited, in a clear, firm hand, and partook of its writer's decision of character. Dick found no difficulty in deciphering it. Thus ran the missive:
"Assured of your devotion and secrecy, I commit my own honor, and that of my son, to your charge. Time will not permit me to see you, or I would not write. But I place myself entirely in your hands. You will not dare to betray my confidence. To the point:—A Major Mowbray has just arrived here with intelligence that the body of Susan Bradley—you will know to whom I allude—has been removed from our family vault by a Romish priest and his assistants. How it came there, or why it has been removed, I know not; it is not my present purpose to inquire. Suffice it, that it now lies in a vault beneath the ruins of Davenham Priory. My son, Sir Ranulph, who has lent a credulous ear to the artful tales of the impostor who calls this woman mother, is at present engaged in arming certain of the household, and of the tenantry, to seize upon and bring away this body, as resistance is apprehended from a horde of gipsies who infest the ruins. Now, mark me. THAT BODY MUST NOT BE FOUND! Be it your business to prevent its discovery. Take the fleetest horse you can procure; spare neither whip nor spur. Haste to the priory; procure by any means, and at any expense, the assistance of the gipsies. Find out the body; conceal it, destroy it—do what you will, so my son find it not. Fear not his resentment; I will bear you harmless of the consequences with him. You will act upon my responsibility. I pledge my honor for your safety. Use all despatch, and calculate upon due requital from
"Haste, and God speed you!"
"God speed you!" echoed Dick, in his own voice, contemptuously. "The devil drive you! would have been a fitter postscript. And it was upon this precious errand you came, Mr. Coates?"
"Precisely," replied the attorney; "but I find the premises preoccupied. Fast as I have ridden, you are here before me."
"And what do you now propose to do?" asked Turpin.
"Bargain with you for the body," replied Coates, in an insinuating tone.
"With me!" said Dick; "do you take me for a resurrection cove; for a dealer in dead stock, eh! sirrah?"
"I take you for one sufficiently alive, in a general way, to his own interests," returned Coates. "These gentlemen may not, perhaps, be quite so scrupulous, when they hear my proposals."
"Be silent, sir," interrupted Turpin. "Hist! I hear the tramp of horses' hoofs without. Hark! that shout."
"Make your own terms before they come," said Coates. "Leave all to me. I'll put 'em on a wrong scent."
"To the devil with your terms," cried Turpin; "the signal!" And he pulled the trigger of one of Coates's pistols, the shot of which rang in the ears of the astounded attorney as it whizzed past him. "Drag him into the mouth of the vault," thundered Turpin: "he will be a capital cover in case of attack. Look to your sticks, and be on the alert;—away!"
Vainly did the unfortunate attorney kick and struggle, swear and scream; his hat was pushed over his eyes; his bob-wig thrust into his mouth; and his legs tripped from under him. Thus blind, dumb, and half-suffocated, he was hurried into the entrance of the cell.
Dick, meanwhile, dashed to the arched outlet of the ruin. He there drew in the rein, and Black Bess stood motionless as a statue.
Many a fine fellow with a genius extensive enough to have effected universal reformation has been doomed to perish by the halter. But does not such a man's renown extend through centuries and tens of centuries, while many a prince would be overlooked in history were it not the historian's interest to increase the number of his pages? Nay, when the traveller sees a gibbet, does he not exclaim, "That fellow was no fool!" and lament the hardship of the times?—SCHILLER: The Robbers.
Turpin's quick eye ranged over the spreading sward in front of the ancient priory, and his brow became contracted. The feeling, however, was transient. The next instant saw him the same easy, reckless being he had been before. There was a little more paleness in his cheek than usual; but his look was keener, and his knees involuntarily clasped the saddle more firmly. No other symptom of anxiety was perceptible. It would be no impeachment to Dick's valor were it necessary to admit that a slight tremor crossed him as he scanned the formidable array of his opponents. The admission is needless. Dick himself would have been the last man to own it; nor shall we do the memory of our undaunted highwayman any such injustice. Turpin was intrepid to a fault. He was rash; apt to run into risks for the mere pleasure of getting out of them: danger was his delight, and the degree of excitement was always in proportion to the peril incurred. After the first glance, he became, to use his own expressive phrase, "as cool as a cucumber;" and continued, as long as they permitted him, like a skilful commander, calmly to calculate the numerical strength of his adversaries, and to arrange his own plan of resistance.
This troop of horsemen, for such it was, might probably amount in the aggregate to twenty men, and presented an appearance like that of a strong muster at a rustic fox-chase, due allowance being made for the various weapons of offence; to-wit: naked sabers, firelocks, and a world of huge horse-pistols, which the present field carried along with them. This resemblance was heightened by the presence of an old huntsman and a gamekeeper or two, in scarlet and green jackets, and a few yelping hounds that had followed after them. The majority of the crew consisted of sturdy yeomen; some of whom, mounted upon wild, unbroken colts, had pretty lives of it to maintain their seats, and curvetted about in "most admired disorder;" others were seated upon more docile, but quite as provoking specimens of the cart-horse breed, whose sluggish sides, reckless alike of hobnailed heel or ash sapling, refused to obey their riders' intimations to move; while others again, brought stiff, wrong-headed ponies to the charge—obstinate, impracticable little brutes, who seemed to prefer revolving on their own axis, and describing absurd rotatory motions, to proceeding in the direct and proper course pointed out to them. Dick could scarcely forbear laughing at these ridiculous man[oe]uvres; but his attention was chiefly attracted towards three individuals, who were evidently the leaders of this warlike expedition. In the thin, tall figure of the first of these he recognized Ranulph Rookwood. With the features and person of the second of the group he was not entirely unacquainted, and fancied—nor incorrectly fancied—that his military bearing, or, as he would have expressed it, "the soldier-like cut of his jib," could belong to no other than Major Mowbray, whom he had once eased of a purse on Finchley Common. In the round, rosy countenance and robustious person of the last of the trio he discovered his ancient ally, Titus Tyrconnel.
"Ah, Titus, my jewel, are you there?" exclaimed Dick, as he distinguished the Irishman. "Come, I have one friend among them whom I may welcome. So, they see me now. Off they come, pell-mell. Back, Bess, back!—slowly, wench, slowly—there—stand!" And Bess again remained motionless.
The report of Turpin's pistol reached the ears of the troop; and as all were upon the alert, he had scarcely presented himself at the gateway, when a loud shout was raised, and the whole cavalcade galloped towards him, creating, as may be imagined, the wildest disorder; each horseman yelling, as he neared the arch, and got involved in the press occasioned by the unexpected concentration of forces at that point, while oaths and blows, kicks and cuffs, were reciprocated with such hearty good-will, that, had Turpin ever read Ariosto or Cervantes, or heard of the discord of King Agramante's camp, this melee must have struck him as its realization. As it was, entertaining little apprehension of the result, he shouted encouragement to them. Scarcely, however, had the foremost horseman disentangled himself from the crowd, and, struggling to the door, was in the act of levelling his pistol at Turpin's head, when a well-directed ball pierced the brain of his charger, and horse and man rolled to the ground. Vowing vengeance, a second succeeded, and was in like manner compelled to bite the dust.
"That will let Old Peter know that Ranulph Rookwood is at hand," exclaimed Dick. "I shan't throw away another shot."
The scene at the archway was now one of complete confusion. Terrified by the shots, some of the boors would have drawn back, while others, in mid career, advanced, and propelled them forwards. It was like the meeting of two tides. Here and there, regardless of the bit, and scared by the firing, a wild colt broke all bounds, and, hurling his rider in the air, darted off into the green; or, in another case, rushed forward, and encountering the prostrate cattle cumbering the entrance to the priory hall, stumbled, and precipitated his master neck-over-heels at the very feet of his enemy. During all this tumult, a few shots were fired at the highwayman, which, without doing him a jot of mischief, tended materially to increase their own confusion.
The voice of Turpin was now heard above the din and turmoil to sound a parley; and as he appeared disposed to offer no opposition, some of his antagonists ventured to raise themselves from the ground, and to approach him.
"I demand to be led to Sir Ranulph Rookwood," said Turpin.
"He is here," said Ranulph, riding up. "Villain, you are my prisoner."
"As you list, Sir Ranulph," returned Dick, coolly; "but let me have a word in private with you ere you do aught you may repent hereafter."
"No words, sir—deliver up your arms, or——"
"My pistols are at your service," replied Dick. "I have just discharged them."
"You may have others. We must search you."
"Hold!" cried Dick; "if you will not listen to me, read that paper." And he handed Ranulph his mother's letter to Mr. Coates. It was without the superscription, which he had thrown aside.
"My mother's hand!" exclaimed Ranulph, reddening with anger, as he hastily perused its contents. "And she sent this to you? You lie, villain—'tis a forgery."
"Let this speak for me," returned Dick, holding out the finger upon which Lady Rookwood's ring was placed. "Know you that cipher?"
"You have stolen it," retorted Ranulph. "My mother," added he, in a deep, stern whisper, articulated only for Turpin's hearing, "would never have entrusted her honor to a highwayman's keeping."
"She has entrusted more—her life," replied Dick, in a careless tone. "She would have bribed me to do murder."
"Murder!" echoed Ranulph, aghast.
"Ay, to murder your brother," returned Dick; "but let that pass. You have read that note. I have acted solely upon your mother's responsibility. Lady Rookwood's honor is pledged for my safety. Of course her son will set me free."
"Well, as you please. Your mother is in my power. Betray me, and you betray her."
"No more!" returned Ranulph, sternly. "Go your ways. You are free."
"Pledge me your word of honor I am safe." Ranulph had scarcely given his pledge, when Major Mowbray rode furiously up. A deep flush of anger burnt upon his cheeks; his sword was drawn in his hand. He glanced at Turpin, as if he would have felled him from his saddle.
"This is the ruffian," cried the major, fiercely, "by whom I was attacked some months ago, and for whose apprehension the reward of three hundred pounds is offered by his majesty's proclamation, with a free pardon to his accomplices. This is Richard Turpin. He has just added another crime to his many offences. He has robbed my mother and sister. The postboy knew him the moment he came up. Where are they, villain? Whither are they gone?—answer!"
"I know not," replied Turpin, calmly. "Did not the lad tell you they were rescued?"
"Rescued!—by whom?" asked Ranulph, with great emotion.
"By one who calls himself Sir Luke Rookwood," answered Turpin, with a meaning smile.
"By him!" ejaculated Ranulph. "Where are they now?"
"I have already answered that question," said Dick. "I repeat, I know not."
"You are my prisoner," cried the major, seizing Turpin's bridle.
"I have Sir Ranulph's word for my safety," rejoined Turpin. "Let go my rein."
"How is this?" asked Major Mowbray, incredulously.
"Ask me not. Release him," replied Ranulph.
"Ranulph," said the major, "you ask an impossibility. My honor—my duty—is implicated in this man's capture."
"The honor of all of us is involved in his deliverance," returned Ranulph, in a whisper. "Let him go. I will explain all hereafter. Let us search for them—for Eleanor. Surely, after this, you will help us to find them," added he, addressing Turpin.
"I wish, with all my soul, I could do so," replied the highwayman.
"I see'd the ladies cross the brook, and enter these old ruins," interposed the postboy, who had now joined the party. "I see'd 'em from where I stood on the hill-side; and as I kept a pretty sharp look-out, and have a tolerably bright eye of my own, I don't think as how they ever comed out again."
"Some one is hidden within yon fissure in the wall," exclaimed Ranulph; "I see a figure move."
And he flung himself from his horse, rushing towards the mouth of the cell. Imitating his example, Major Mowbray followed his friend, sword in hand.
"The game begins now in right earnest," said Dick to himself; "the old fox will be soon unearthed. I must look to my snappers." And he thrust his hand quietly into his pocket in search of a pistol.
Just as Ranulph and the major reached the recess they were startled by the sudden apparition of the ill-fated attorney.
"Mr. Coates!" exclaimed Ranulph, in surprise. "What do you here, sir?"
"I—I—that is—Sir Ranulph—you must excuse me, sir—particular business—can't say," returned the trembling attorney; for at this instant his eye caught that of Turpin, and the ominous reflexion of a polished-steel barrel, held carelessly towards him. He was aware, also, that on the other hand he was, in like manner, the mark of Rust and Wilder; those polite gentlemen having threatened him with a brace of slugs in his brain if he dared to betray their hiding-place. "It is necessary that I should be guarded in my answers," murmured he.
"Is there any one within that place besides yourself?" said the major, making a movement thither.
"No, sir, nobody at all," answered Coates, hastily, fancying at the same time that he heard the click of the pistol that was to be his death-warrant.
"How came you here, sir?" demanded Ranulph.
"Do you mean in this identical spot?" replied Coates, evasively.
"You can have no difficulty in answering that question," said the major, sternly.
"Pardon me, sir. I find considerable difficulty in answering any question, situated as I am."
"Have you seen Miss Mowbray?" asked Ranulph, eagerly.
"Or my mother?" said the major, in the same breath.
"Neither," replied Coates, rather relieved by these questions.
"I suspect you are deceiving us, sir," said the major. "Your manner is confused. I am convinced you know more of this matter than you choose to explain; and if you do not satisfy me at once, fully and explicitly, I vow to Heaven——" and the major's sword described a glittering circle round his head.
"Are you privy to their concealment?" asked Ranulph. "Have you seen aught of them, or of Luke Bradley?"
"Speak, or this moment is your last," said the major.
"If it is my last, I cannot speak," returned Coates. "I can make neither head nor tail of your questions, gentlemen."
"And you positively assure me you have not seen Mrs. Mowbray and her daughter?" said Ranulph.
Turpin here winked at Coates. The attorney understood him.
"I don't positively assert that," faltered he.
"How!—you have seen them?" shouted Ranulph.
"Where are they?—in safety—speak!" added the major.
Another expressive gesture from the highwayman communicated to the attorney the nature of his reply.
"Without, sir—without—yonder," he replied. "I will show you myself. Follow, gentlemen, follow." And away scampered Coates, without once venturing to look behind him.
In an instant the ruined hall was deserted, and Turpin alone left behind. In the excitement of the moment his presence had been forgotten. In an instant afterwards the arena was again occupied by a company equally numerous. Rust and Wilder issued from their hiding-places, followed by a throng of the gipsy crew.
"Where is Sir Luke Rookwood?" asked Turpin.
"He remains below," was the answer returned.
"And Peter Bradley?"
"Stays there likewise."
"No matter. Now make ready, pals. Give 'em one shout—Hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" replied the crowd, at the top of their voices.
Ranulph Rookwood and his companions heard this shout. Mr. Coates had already explained the stratagem practised upon them by the wily highwayman, as well as the perilous situation in which he himself had been placed; and they were in the act of returning to make good his capture, when the loud shouts of the crew arrested them. From the clamor, it was evident that considerable reinforcement must have arrived from some unlooked-for quarter; and, although burning to be avenged upon the audacious highwayman, the major felt it would be a task of difficulty, and that extreme caution could alone ensure success. With difficulty restraining the impatience of Ranulph, who could scarcely brook these few minutes of needful delay, Major Mowbray gave particular instructions to each of the men in detail, and caused several of them to dismount. By this arrangement Mr. Coates found himself accommodated with a steed and a pair of pistols, with which latter he vowed to wreak his vengeance upon some of his recent tormentors. After a short space of time occupied in this manner, the troop slowly advanced towards the postern, in much better order than upon the previous occasion; but the stoutest of them quailed as they caught sight of the numerous gipsy-gang drawn out in battle array within the abbey walls. Each party scanned the other's movements in silence and wonder, anxiously awaiting, yet in a measure dreading, their leader's signal to begin. That signal was not long delayed. A shot from the ranks of Rookwood did instant and bitter execution. Rob Rust was stretched lifeless upon the ground. Nothing more was needed. The action now became general. Fire arms were discharged on both sides, without much damage to either party. But a rush being made by a detachment of horse, headed by Major Mowbray, the conflict soon became more serious. The gipsies, after the first fire, threw aside their pistols, and fought with long knives, with which they inflicted desperate gashes, both on men and horses. Major Mowbray was slightly wounded in the thigh, and his steed receiving the blow intended for himself, stumbled and threw his rider. Luckily for the major, Ranulph Rookwood was at hand, and with the butt-end of a heavy-handled pistol felled the ruffian to the earth, just as he was upon the point of repeating the thrust.
Turpin, meanwhile, had taken comparatively a small share in the conflict. He seemed to content himself with acting upon the defensive, and except in the case of Titus Tyrconnel, whom, espying amidst the crowd, he had considerably alarmed by sending a bullet through his wig, he did not fire a single shot. He also succeeded in unhorsing Coates, by hurling, with great dexterity, the empty pistol at his head. Though apparently unconcerned in the skirmish, he did not flinch from it, but kept his ground unyieldingly. "A charmed life" he seemed to bear; for amid the shower of bullets, many of which were especially aimed at himself, he came off unhurt.
"He that's born to be hanged will never be drowned, that's certain," said Titus. "It's no use trying to bring him down. But, by Jasus! he's spoiled my best hat and wig, anyhow. There's a hole in my beaver as big as a crown piece."
"Your own crown's safe, and that's some satisfaction," said Coates; "whereas mine has a bump on it as large as a swan's egg. Ah! if we could only get behind him."
The strife continued to rage without intermission; and though there were now several ghastly evidences of its fury, in the shape of wounded men and slaughtered or disabled horses, whose gaping wounds flooded the turf with gore, it was still difficult to see upon which side victory would eventually declare herself. The gipsies, though by far the greater sufferers of the two, firmly maintained their ground. Drenched in the blood of the horses they had wounded, and brandishing their long knives, they presented a formidable and terrific appearance, the effect of which was not at all diminished by their wild yells and savage gesticulations. On the other hand, headed by Major Mowbray and Ranulph, the troop of yeomen pressed on undauntedly; and where the sturdy farmers could get a firm gripe of their lithe antagonists, or deliver a blow with their ox-like fists, they seldom failed to make good the advantages which superior weight and strength gave them. It will thus be seen that as yet they were pretty well matched. Numbers were in favor of the gipsies, but courage was equally distributed, and, perhaps, what is emphatically called "bottom," was in favor of the rustics. Be this as it may, from what had already occurred, there was every prospect of a very serious termination to the fray.
From time to time Turpin glanced to the entrance of the cell, in the expectation of seeing Sir Luke Rookwood make his appearance; and, as he was constantly disappointed in his expectation, he could not conceal his chagrin. At length he resolved to despatch a messenger to him, and one of the crew accordingly departed upon this errand. He returned presently with a look of blank dismay.
In our hasty narrative of the fight we have not paused to particularize, neither have we enumerated, the list of the combatants. Amongst them, however, were Jerry Juniper, the knight of Malta, and Zoroaster. Excalibur, as may be conceived, had not been idle; but that trenchant blade had been shivered by Ranulph Rookwood in the early stage of the business, and the knight left weaponless. Zoroaster, who was not merely a worshipper of fire, but a thorough milling-cove, had engaged to some purpose in a pugilistic encounter with the rustics; and, having fought several rounds, now "bore his blushing honors thick upon him." Jerry, like Turpin, had remained tolerably quiescent. "The proper moment," he said, "had not arrived." A fatality seemed to attend Turpin's immediate companions. Rust was the first who fell; Wilder also was now among the slain. Things were precisely in this condition when the messenger returned. A marked change was instantly perceptible in Turpin's manner. He no longer looked on with indifference. He seemed angry and distrustful. He gnawed his lip, ever a sign with him of vexation. Addressing a few words to those about him, he then spoke more loudly to the rest of the crew. Being in the jargon of the tawny tribe, his words were not intelligible to the opposite party; but their import was soon made known by the almost instant and total relinquishment of the field by the gipsies. They took to their heels at once, to a man, leaving only a few desperately wounded behind them; and, flying along the intricate ruins of the priory, baffled all pursuit, wherever it was attempted. Jerry Juniper was the last in the retreat; but, upon receiving a hint from Dick, he vaulted like a roe over the heads of his adversaries, and made good his escape. Turpin alone remained. He stood like a lion at bay, quietly regarding the huntsmen hurtling around him. Ranulph Rookwood rode up and bade him surrender.
"Detain me not," cried he, in a voice of thunder. "If you would save her who is dear to you, descend into that vault. Off, I say."
And Turpin shook away, with ease, the grasp that Ranulph had laid upon him.
"Villain! you do not escape me this time," said Major Mowbray, interposing himself between Turpin and the outlet.
"Major Mowbray, I would not have your blood upon my head," said Dick. "Let me pass," and he levelled a pistol.
"Fire, if you dare!" said the major, raising his sword. "You pass not. I will die rather than allow you to escape. Barricade the door. Strike him down if he attempts to pass. Richard Turpin, I arrest you in the king's name. You hear, my lads, in his majesty's name. I command you to assist me in this highwayman's capture. Two hundred pounds for his head."
"Two hundred devils!" exclaimed Dick, with a laugh of disdain. "Go, seek your mother and sister within yon vault, Major Mowbray; you will find employment enough there."
Saying which, he suddenly forced Bess to back a few yards; then, striking his heels sharply into her sides, ere his purpose could be divined by the spectators, charged, and cleared the lower part of the mouldering priory walls. This feat was apparently accomplished with no great effort by his admirable and unequalled mare.
"By the powers!" cried Titus, "and he's given us the slip after all. And just when we thought to make sure of him, too. Why, Mr. Coates, that wall must be higher than a five-barred gate, or any stone wall in my own country. It's just the most extraordinary lepp I ever set eyes on!"
"The devil's in the fellow, certainly, or in his mare," returned Coates; "but if he escapes me, I'll forgive him. I know whither he's bound. He's off to London with my bill of exchange. I'll be up with him. I'll track him like a bloodhound, slowly and surely, as my father, the thief-taker, used to follow up a scent. Recollect the hare and the tortoise. The race is not always to the swift. What say you? 'Tis a match for five hundred pounds; nay, for five thousand: for there is a certain marriage certificate in the way—a glorious golden venture! You shall go halves, if we win. We'll have him, dead or alive. What say you for London, Mr. Tyrconnel? Shall we start at once?"
"With all my sowl," replied Titus. "I'm with you." And away this par nobile scoured.
Ranulph, meantime, plunged into the vault. The floor was slippery, and he had nigh stumbled. Loud and deep lamentations, and a wailing sound, like that of a lament for the dead, resounded in his ears. A light at the further extremity of the vault attracted his attention. He was filled with terrible forebodings; but the worst reality was not so terrible as suspense. He rushed towards the light. He passed the massive pillars, and there, by the ruddy torch flame, discovered two female figures. One was an old woman, fantastically attired, wringing her hands, and moaning, or gibbering wild strains in broken, discordant, yet pathetic tones. The other was Mrs. Mowbray. Both were images of despair. Before them lay some motionless object. He noticed not that old woman; he scarcely saw Mrs. Mowbray; he beheld only that object of horror. It was the lifeless body of a female. The light fell imperfectly upon the face; he could not discern the features, but the veil in which it was swathed: that veil was Eleanor's! He asked no more.
With a wild cry he rushed forward. "Eleanor, my beloved!" shrieked he.
Mrs. Mowbray started at his voice, but appeared stunned and helpless.
"She is dead," said Ranulph, stooping towards the body. "Dead—dead!"
"Ay," echoed the old woman, in accents of equal anguish—"dead—dead!"
"But this is not Eleanor," exclaimed he, as he viewed the features more closely. "This face, though beautiful, is not hers. This dishevelled hair is black. The long lashes that shade her cheek are of the same hue. She is scarce dead. The hand I clasp is yet warm—the fingers are pliant."
"Yet she is dead," said the old woman, in a broken voice, "she is slain."
"Who hath slain her?" asked Ranulph.
"I—I—her mother, slew her."
"You!" exclaimed Ranulph, horror-stricken. "And where is Eleanor?" asked he. "Was she not here?"
"Better she were here now, even though she were as that poor maid," groaned Mrs. Mowbray, "than where she is."
"Where is she, then?" asked Ranulph, with frantic eagerness.
"Fled. Whither I know not."
"With Sir Luke Rookwood—with Alan Rookwood. They have borne her hence. Ranulph, you are too late."
"Gone!" cried Ranulph, fiercely springing to his feet. "How escaped they? There appears to be but one entrance to this vault. I will search each nook and cranny."
"'Tis vain," replied Mrs. Mowbray. "There is another outlet through yon cell. By that passage they escaped."
"Too true, too true," shouted Ranulph, who flew to examine the cell. "And wherefore followed you not?"
"The stone rolled to its mouth, and resisted my efforts. I could not follow."
"Torture and death! She is lost to me for ever!" cried Ranulph, bitterly.
"No!" exclaimed Barbara, clutching his arm. "Place your trust in me, and I will find her for you."
"You!" ejaculated Ranulph.
"Even I," replied Barbara. "Your wrongs shall be righted—my Sybil be avenged."
THE RIDE TO YORK
Then one halloo, boys! one loud cheering halloo! To the swiftest of coursers, the gallant, the true, For the sportsman unborn shall the memory bless Of the horse of the highwayman, bonny Black Bess.
THE RENDEZVOUS AT KILBURN
Hind. Drink deep, my brave boys, of the bastinado; Of stramazons, tinctures, and slie passatas; Of the carricado, and rare embrocado; Of blades, and rapier-hilts of surest guard; Of the Vincentio and Burgundian ward. Have we not bravely tossed this bombast foil-button? Win gold and wear gold, boys, 'tis we that merit it.
Prince of Prigs' Revels.
An excellent Comedy, replete with various conceits and Tarltonian mirth.
The present straggling suburb at the north-west of the metropolis, known as Kilburn, had scarcely been called into existence a century ago, and an ancient hostel, with a few detached farmhouses, were the sole habitations to be found in the present populous vicinage. The place of refreshment for the ruralizing cockney of 1737 was a substantial-looking tenement of the good old stamp, with great bay windows, and a balcony in front, bearing as its ensign the jovial visage of the lusty knight, Jack Falstaff. Shaded by a spreading elm, a circular bench embraced the aged trunk of the tree, sufficiently tempting, no doubt, to incline the wanderer on those dusty ways to "rest and be thankful," and to cry encore to a frothing tankard of the best ale to be obtained within the chimes of Bow bells.
Upon a table, green as the privet and holly that formed the walls of the bower in which it was placed, stood a great china bowl, one of those leviathan memorials of bygone wassailry which we may sometimes espy—reversed in token of its desuetude—perched on the top of an old japanned closet, but seldom, if ever, encountered in its proper position at the genial board. All the appliances of festivity were at hand. Pipes and rummers strewed the board. Perfume, subtle, yet mellow, as of pine and lime, exhaled from out the bowl, and, mingling with the scent of a neighboring bed of mignonette and the subdued odor of the Indian weed, formed altogether as delectable an atmosphere of sweets as one could wish to inhale on a melting August afternoon. So, at least, thought the inmates of the arbor; nor did they by any means confine themselves to the gratification of a single sense. The ambrosial contents of the china bowl proved as delicious to the taste as its bouquet was grateful to the smell; while the eyesight was soothed by reposing on the smooth sward of a bowling-green spread out immediately before it, or in dwelling upon gently undulating meads, terminating, at about a mile's distance, in the woody, spire-crowned heights of Hampstead.
At the left of the table was seated, or rather lounged, a slender, elegant-looking young man, with dark, languid eyes, sallow complexion, and features wearing that peculiarly pensive expression often communicated by dissipation; an expression which, we regret to say, is sometimes found more pleasing than it ought to be in the eyes of the gentle sex. Habited in a light summer riding-dress, fashioned according to the taste of the time, of plain and unpretending material, and rather under than overdressed, he had, perhaps, on that very account, perfectly the air of a gentleman. There was, altogether, an absence of pretension about him, which, combined with great apparent self-possession, contrasted very forcibly with the vulgar assurance of his showy companions. The figure of the youth was slight, even to fragility, giving little outward manifestation of the vigor of frame he in reality possessed. This spark was a no less distinguished personage than Tom King, a noted high-tobygloak of his time, who obtained, from his appearance and address, the sobriquet of the "Gentleman Highwayman."
Tom was indeed a pleasant fellow in his day. His career was brief, but brilliant: your meteors are ever momentary. He was a younger son of a good family; had good blood in his veins, though not a groat in his pockets. According to the old song—
When he arrived at man's estate, It was all the estate he had;
and all the estate he was ever likely to have. Nevertheless, if he had no income, he contrived, as he said, to live as if he had the mines of Peru at his control—a miracle not solely confined to himself. For a moneyless man, he had rather expensive habits. He kept his three nags; and, if fame does not belie him, a like number of mistresses; nay, if we are to place any faith in certain scandalous chronicles to which we have had access, he was for some time the favored lover of a celebrated actress, who, for the time, supplied him with the means of keeping up his showy establishment. But things could not long hold thus. Tom was a model of infidelity, and that was the only failing his mistress could not overlook. She dismissed him at a moment's notice. Unluckily, too, he had other propensities which contributed to involve him. He had a taste for the turf—a taste for play—was well known in the hundreds of Drury, and cut no mean figure at Howell's, and the faro tables there-anent. He was the glory of the Smyrna, D'Osyndar's, and other chocolate houses of the day; and it was at this time he fell into the hands of certain dexterous sharpers, by whom he was at first plucked and subsequently patronized. Under their tuition he improved wonderfully. He turned his wit and talent to some account. He began to open his eyes. His nine days' blindness was over. The dog saw. But, in spite of his quickness, he was at length discovered, and ejected from Howell's in a manner that left him no alternative. He must either have called out his adversary, or have gone out himself. He preferred the latter, and took to the road; and in his new line he was eminently successful. Fortunately, he had no scruples to get over. Tom had what Sir Walter Scott happily denominates "an indistinct notion of meum and tuum," and became confirmed in the opinion that everything he could lay hands upon constituted lawful spoil. And then, even those he robbed, admitted that he was the most gentlemanlike highwayman they had ever the fortune to meet with, and trusted they might always be so lucky. So popular did he become upon the road, that it was accounted a distinction to be stopped by him; he made a point of robbing none but gentlemen, and—Tom's shade would quarrel with us were we to omit them—ladies. His acquaintance with Turpin was singular, and originated in a rencontre. Struck with his appearance, Dick presented a pistol, and bade King deliver. The latter burst into a laugh, and an explanation immediately ensued. Thenceforward they became sworn brothers—the Pylades and Orestes of the road; and though seldom seen together in public, had many a merry moonlight ride in company.
Tom still maintained three mistresses, his valet, his groom—tiger, we should have called him,—"and many a change of clothes besides," says his biographer, "with which he appeared more like a lord than a highwayman." And what more, we should like to know, would a lord wish to have? Few younger sons, we believe, can boast so much; and it is chiefly on their account, with some remote view to the benefit of the unemployed youth of all professions, that we have enlarged so much upon Tom King's history. The road, we must beg to repeat, is still open; the chances are greater than they ever were; we fully believe it is their only road to preferment, and we are sadly in want of highwaymen!
Fancy Tom lounging at D'Osyndar's, carelessly tapping his boots on the steps; there he stands! Is he not a devilish good-looking, gentlemanlike sort of fellow? You could never have taken him for a highwayman but for our information. A waiter appears—supper is ordered at twelve—a broiled chicken and a bottle of Burgundy—his groom brings his nags to the door—he mounts. It is his custom to ride out on an evening—he is less liable to interruption. At Marylebone Fields—now the Regent's Park,—his groom leaves him. He has a mistress in the neighborhood. He is absent for a couple of hours, and returns gay or dispirited, as his luck may have turned out. At twelve he is at supper, and has the night before him. How very easy all this seems. Can it be possible we have no Tom Kings?
To return to Tom as he was in the arbor. Judging from his manner, he appeared to be almost insensible to the presence of his companions, and to be scarcely a partaker in their revelry. His back was towards his immediate neighbor; his glass sparkled untouched at his elbow; and one hand, beautifully white and small, a mark of his birth and breeding—crede Byron—rested upon the edge of the table, while his thin, delicate digits, palpably demonstrative of his faculty of adaptation—crede James Hardy Vaux—were employed with a silver toothpick. In other respects, he seemed to be lost in reverie, and was, in all probability, meditating new exploits.
Next to King sat our old friend Jerry Juniper; not, however, the Jerry of the gipsies, but a much more showy-looking personage. Jerry was no longer a gentleman of "three outs"—the difficulty would now have been to say what he was "without." Snakelike he had cast his slough, and rejoiced in new and brilliant investiture. His were "speaking garments, speaking pockets too." His linen was of the finest, his hose of the smartest. Gay rings glittered on his fingers; a crystal snuff-box underwent graceful manipulation; a handsome gold repeater was sometimes drawn from its location with a monstrous bunch of onions—anglice, seals—depending from its massive chain. Lace adorned his wrists, and shoes—of which they had been long unconscious,—with buckles nearly as large as themselves, confined his feet. A rich-powdered peruke and silver-hilted sword completed the gear of the transmogrified Jerry, or, as he now chose to be designated, Count Albert Conyers. The fact was, that Jerry, after the fracas, apprehensive that the country would be too hot for him, had, in company with Zoroaster, quitted the ranks of the Canting Crew, and made the best of his way to town. A lucky spice on the road set them up; and having some acquaintance with Tom King, the party, on their arrival, sought him out at his customary haunt, D'Osyndar's, and enlisted under his banners.
Tom received them with open arms, gave them unlimited use of his wardrobe, and only required a little trifling assistance in return. He had a grand scheme in petto, in the execution of which they could mainly assist him. Jerry was a Greek by nature, and could land a flat as well as the best of them. Zoroaster was just the man to lose a fight; or, in the language of the Fancy, to play a cross. No two legs could serve Tom's purposes better. He welcomed them with fraternal affection.
We will now proceed to reconnoitre Jerry's opposite neighbor, who was, however, no other than that Upright Man,
The Magus Zoroaster, that great name.
Changed as was Juniper, the Magus was yet more whimsically metamorphosed. Some traces of Jerry still remained, but not a vestige was left of the original Dimber Damber. His tawny mother had not known her son. This alteration, however, was not owing to change of dress; it was the result of the punishment he had received at the "set-to" at the priory. Not a feature was in its place; his swollen lip trespassed upon the precincts of his nose; his nose trod hard upon his cheek; while his cheek again, not to be behind the rest, rose up like an apple-dumpling under his single eye,—single, we say—for, alas! there was no speculation in the other. His dexter daylight was utterly darkened, and, indeed, the orb that remained was as sanguinary a luminary as ever struggled through a London fog at noonday. To borrow a couplet or so from the laureate of the Fancy:
————One of his peepers was put On the bankruptcy list, with his shop windows shut, While the other made nearly as tag-rag a show, All rimmed round with black like the Courier in woe.
One black patch decorated his rainbow-colored cheek; another adorned his chin; a grinder having been dislodged, his pipe took possession of the aperture. His toggery was that of a member of the prize-ring; what we now call a "belcher" bound his throat; a spotted fogle bandaged his jobbernowl, and shaded his right peeper, while a white beaver crowned the occiput of the Magus. And though, at first sight, there would appear to be some incongruity in the association of such a battered character as the Upright Man with his smart companions, the reader's wonder will rapidly diminish, when he reflects that any distinguished P. C. man can ever find a ready passport to the most exclusive society. Viewed in this light, Zoroaster's familiarity with his swell acquaintance occasioned no surprise to old Simon Carr, the bottle-nosed landlord of the Falstaff, who was a man of discernment in his way, and knew a thing or two. Despite such striking evidences to the contrary, the Magus was perfectly at his ease, and sacrificing as usual to the god of flame. His mithra, or pipe, the symbol of his faith, was zealously placed between his lips, and never did his Chaldean, Bactrian, Persian, Pamphylian, Proconnesian, or Babylonian namesake, whichever of the six was the true Zoroaster—vide Bayle,—respire more fervently at the altar of fire, than our Magus at the end of his enkindled tube. In his creed we believe Zoroaster was a dualist, and believed in the co-existence and mystical relation of the principles of good and ill; his pipe being his Yezdan, or benign influence; his empty pouch his Ahreman, or the devil. We shall not pause to examine his tenets; we meddle with no man's religious opinions, and shall leave the Magus to the enjoyment of his own sentiments, be they what they may.
One guest alone remains, and him we shall briefly dismiss. The reader, we imagine, will scarcely need to be told who was the owner of those keen gray eyes; those exuberant red whiskers; that airy azure frock. It was
Our brave co-partner of the roads. Skilful surveyor of highways and hedges;
in a word—Dick Turpin!
Dick had been called upon to act as president of the board, and an excellent president he made, sedulously devoting himself to the due administration of the punch-bowl. Not a rummer was allowed to stand empty for an instant. Toast, sentiment, and anacreontic song, succeeded each other at speedy intervals; but there was no speechifying—no politics. He left church and state to take care of themselves. Whatever his politics might be, Dick never allowed them to interfere with his pleasures. His maxim was to make the most of the passing moment; the dum vivimus vivamus was never out of his mind; a precautionary measure which we recommend to the adoption of all gentlemen of the like, or any other precarious profession.
Notwithstanding all Dick's efforts to promote conviviality, seconded by the excellence of the beverage itself, conversation, somehow or other, began to flag; from being general it became particular. Tom King, who was no punch-bibber, especially at that time of day, fell into a deep reverie; your gamesters often do so; while the Magus, who had smoked himself drowsy, was composing himself to a doze. Turpin seized this opportunity of addressing a few words on matters of business to Jerry Juniper, or, as he now chose to be called, Count Conyers.
"My dear count," said Dick, in a low and confidential tone, "you are aware that my errand to town is accomplished. I have smashed Lawyer Coates's screen, pocketed the dimmock—here 'tis," continued he, parenthetically, slapping his pockets,—"and done t'other trick in prime twig for Tom King. With a cool thousand in hand, I might, if I chose, rest awhile on my oars. But a quiet life don't suit me. I must be moving. So I shall start to Yorkshire to-night."
"Indeed!" said the soi-disant count, in a languid tone—"so soon?"
"I have nothing to detain me," replied Dick. "And, to tell you the truth, I want to see how matters stand with Sir Luke Rookwood. I should be sorry if he went to the wall for want of any assistance I can render him."
"True," returned the count; "one would regret such an occurrence, certainly. But I fear your assistance may arrive a little too late. He is pretty well done up, I should imagine, by this time."
"That remains to be seen," said Turpin. "His case is a bad one, to be sure, but I trust not utterly hopeless. With all his impetuosity and pride, I like the fellow, and will help him, if I can. It will be a difficult game to set him on his legs, but I think it may be done. That underground marriage was sheer madness, and turned out as ill as such a scheme might have been expected to do. Poor Sybil! if I could pipe an eye for anything, it should be for her. I can't get her out of my head. Give me a pinch of snuff. Such thoughts unman one. As to the priest, that's a totally different affair. If he strangled his daughter, old Alan did right to take the law into his own hands, and throttle him in return. I'd have done the same thing myself; and, being a proscribed Jesuit, returned, as I understand, without the king's license for so doing, why Father Checkley's murder—if it must be so called, I can't abide hard terms—won't lie very heavy at Alan's door. That, however, has nothing to do with Sir Luke. He was neither accessory nor principal. Still he will be in danger, at least from Lady Rookwood. The whole county of York, I make no doubt, is up in arms by this time."
"Then why go thither?" asked the count, somewhat ironically; "for my part, I've a strange fancy for keeping out of harm's way as long as possible."
"Every man to his taste," returned Turpin; "I love to confront danger. Run away! pshaw! always meet your foe."
"True," replied the count, "half-way! but you go the whole distance. What prudent man would beard the lion in his den?"
"I never was a prudent man," rejoined Dick, smiling; "I have no superfluous caution about me. Come what will, I shall try to find out this Luke Rookwood, and offer him my purse, such as it is, and it is now better lined than usual; a hand free to act as he lists; and a head which, imprudent though it be, can often think better for others than for its own master."
"Vastly fine!" exclaimed the count, with an ill-disguised sneer. "I hope you don't forget that the marriage certificate which you hold is perfectly valueless now. The estates, you are aware——"
"Are no longer Sir Luke's. I see what you are driving at, count," returned Dick, coldly. "But he will need it to establish his claim to the title, and he shall have it. While he was Sir Luke, with ten thousand a year, I drove a hard bargain, and would have stood out for the last stiver. Now that he is one of 'us', a mere Knight of the Road, he shall have it and welcome."
"Perhaps Lady Rookwood, or Mrs. Mowbray, might be inclined to treat," maliciously insinuated the count; "the title may be worth something to Ranulph."
"It is worth more to Luke; and if it were not, he gets it. Are you satisfied?"
"Perfectly," replied the count, with affected bonhomie; "and I will now let you into a secret respecting Miss Mowbray, from which you may gather something for your guidance in this matter; and if the word of a woman is at all to be trusted, though individually I cannot say I have much faith in it, Sir Luke's planetary hour is not yet completely overcast."
"That's exactly what I wish to know, my dear fellow," said Turpin, eagerly. "You have already told me you were witness to a singular interview between Miss Mowbray and Sir Luke after my departure from the priory. If I mistook you not, the whole business will hinge upon that. What occurred? Let me have every particular. The whole history and mystery."
"You shall have it with pleasure," said the count; "and I hope it may tend to your benefit. After I had quitted the scene of action at the priory, and at your desire left the Rookwood party masters of the field, I fled with the rest of the crew towards the rocks. There we held a council of war for a short time. Some were for returning to the fight; but this was negatived entirely, and in the end it was agreed that those who had wives, daughters, and sisters, should join them as speedily as possible at their retreat in the Grange. As I happened to have none of these attractive ties, and had only a troublesome mistress, who I thought could take care of herself, I did not care to follow them, but struck deeper into the wood, and made my way, guided by destiny, I suppose, towards the cave."
"The cave!" cried Dick, rubbing his hands; "I delight in a cave. Tom King and I once had a cave of our own at Epping, and I'll have another one of these fine days. A cave is as proper to a high-tobyman as a castle to a baron. Pray go on."
"The cave I speak of," continued the count, "was seldom used, except upon great emergencies, by any of the Stop Hole Abbey crew. It was a sort of retiring den of our old lioness Barbara, and, like all belonging to her, respected by her dupes. However, the cave is a good cave for all that; is well concealed by brushwood, and comfortably lighted from a crevice in the rock above; it lies near the brink of the stream, amongst the woods just above the waterfall, and is somewhat difficult of approach."
"I know something of the situation," said Turpin.
"Well," returned the count, "not to lose time, into this den I crept, and, expecting to find it vacant, you may imagine my surprise on discovering that it was already occupied, and that Sir Luke Rookwood, his granddad, old Alan, Miss Mowbray, and, worst of all, the very person I wished most to avoid, my old flame Handassah, constituted the party. Fortunately, they did not perceive my entrance, and I took especial care not to introduce myself. Retreat, however, was for the moment impracticable, and I was compelled to be a listener. I cannot tell what had passed between the parties before my arrival, but I heard Miss Mowbray implore Sir Luke to conduct her to her mother. He seemed half inclined to comply with her entreaties; but old Alan shook his head. It was then Handassah put in a word; the minx was ever ready at that. 'Fear not,' said she, 'that she will wed Sir Ranulph. Deliver her to her friends, I beseech you, Sir Luke, and woo her honorably. She will accept you.' Sir Luke stared incredulously, and grim old Alan smiled. 'She has sworn to be yours,' continued Handassah; 'sworn it by every hope of heaven, and the oath has been sealed by blood—by Sybil's blood.'—'Does she speak the truth?' asked Sir Luke, trembling with agitation. Miss Mowbray answered not. 'You will not deny it, lady,' said Handassah. 'I heard that oath proposed. I saw it registered. You cannot deny it.'—'I do not,' replied Miss Mowbray, with much anguish of manner; 'if he claim me, I am his.'—'And he will claim you,' said Alan Rookwood, triumphantly. 'He has your oath, no matter how extorted—you must fulfil your vow.'—'I am prepared to do so,' said Eleanor. 'But if you would not utterly destroy me, let this maid conduct me to my mother, to my friends.'—'To Ranulph?' asked Sir Luke, bitterly.—'No, no,' returned Miss Mowbray, in accents of deepest despair, 'to my mother—I wish not to behold him again.'—'Be it so,' cried Sir Luke; 'but remember, in love or hate, you are mine; I shall claim the fulfilment of your oath. Farewell. Handassah will lead you to your mother.' Miss Mowbray bowed her head, but returned no answer, while, followed by old Alan, Sir Luke departed from the cavern."