Varney, the Vampyre: Or, The Feast Of Blood (Teil 1)
OR, THE FEAST OF BLOOD.
(Chapter I - X)
VARNEY, THE VAMPYRE:
THE FEAST OF BLOOD.
(Chapter I - X)
"How graves give up their dead.
And how the night air hideous grows
MIDNIGHT.THE HAIL-STORM.THE DREADFUL VISITOR.THE VAMPYRE.
The solemn tones of an old cathedral clock have announced midnightthe air is thick and heavya strange, death like stillness pervades all nature. Like the ominous calm which precedes some more than usually terrific outbreak of the elements, they seem to have paused even in their ordinary fluctuations, to gather a terrific strength for the great effort. A faint peal of thunder now comes from far off. Like a signal gun for the battle of the winds to begin, it appeared to awaken them from their lethargy, and one awful, warring hurricane swept over a whole city, producing more devastation in the four or five minutes it lasted, than would a half century of ordinary phenomena.
It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.
Sleepers awakened, and thought that what they had heard must be the confused chimera of a dream. They trembled and turned to sleep again.
All is stillstill as the very grave. Not a sound breaks the magic of repose. What is thata strange, pattering noise, as of a million of fairy feet? It is hailyes, a hail-storm has burst over the city. Leaves are dashed from the trees, mingled with small boughs; windows that lie most opposed to the direct fury of the pelting particles of ice are broken, and the rapt repose that before was so remarkable in its intensity, is exchanged for a noise which, in its accumulation, drowns every cry of surprise or consternation which here and there arose from persons who found their houses invaded by the storm.
Now and then, too, there would come a sudden gust of wind that in its strength, as it blew laterally, would, for a moment, hold millions of the hailstones suspended in mid air, but it was only to dash them with redoubled force in some new direction, where more mischief was to be done.
Oh, how the storm raged! Hailrainwind. It was, in very truth, an awful night.
There is an antique chamber in an ancient house. Curious and quaint carvings adorn the walls, and the large chimney-piece is a curiosity of itself. The ceiling is low, and a large bay window, from roof to floor, looks to the west. The window is latticed, and filled with curiously painted glass and rich stained pieces, which send in a strange, yet beautiful light, when sun or moon shines into the apartment. There is but one portrait in that room, although the walls seem panelled for the express purpose of containing a series of pictures. That portrait is of a young man, with a pale face, a stately brow, and a strange expression about the eyes, which no one cared to look on twice.
There is a stately bed in that chamber, of carved walnut-wood is it made, rich in design and elaborate in execution; one of those works of art which owe their existence to the Elizabethan era. It is hung with heavy silken and damask furnishing; nodding feathers are at its cornerscovered with dust are they, and they lend a funereal aspect to the room. The floor is of polished oak.
God! how the hail dashes on the old bay window! Like an occasional discharge of mimic musketry, it comes clashing, beating, and cracking upon the small panes; but they resist ittheir small size saves them; the wind, the hail, the rain, expend their fury in vain.
The bed in that old chamber is occupied. A creature formed in all fashions of loveliness lies in a half sleep upon that ancient coucha girl young and beautiful as a spring morning. Her long hair has escaped from its confinement and streams over the blackened coverings of the bedstead; she has been restless in her sleep, for the clothing of the bed is in much confusion. One arm is over her head, the other hangs nearly off the side of the bed near to which she lies. A neck and bosom that would have formed a study for the rarest sculptor that ever Providence gave genius to, were half disclosed. She moaned slightly in her sleep, and once or twice the lips moved as if in prayerat least one might judge so, for the name of Him who suffered for all came once faintly from them.
She has endured much fatigue, and the storm does not awaken her; but it can disturb the slumbers it does not possess the power to destroy entirely. The turmoil of the elements wakes the senses, although it cannot entirely break the repose they have lapsed into.
Oh, what a world of witchery was in that mouth, slightly parted, and exhibiting within the pearly teeth that glistened even in the faint light that came from that bay window. How sweetly the long silken eyelashes lay upon the cheek. Now she moves, and one shoulder is entirely visiblewhiter, fairer than the spotless clothing of the bed on which she lies, is the smooth skin of that fair creature, just budding into womanhood, and in that transition state which presents to us all the charms of the girlalmost of the child, with the more matured beauty and gentleness of advancing years.
Was that lightning? Yesan awful, vivid, terrifying flashthen a roaring peal of thunder, as if a thousand mountains were rolling one over the other in the blue vault of Heaven! Who sleeps now in that ancient city? Not one living soul. The dread trumpet of eternity could not more effectually have awakened any one.
The hail continues. The wind continues. The uproar of the elements seems at its height. Now she awakensthat beautiful girl on the antique bed; she opens those eyes of celestial blue, and a faint cry of alarm bursts from her lips. At least it is a cry which, amid the noise and turmoil without, sounds but faint and weak. She sits upon the bed and presses her hands upon her eyes. Heavens! what a wild torrent of wind, and rain, and hail! The thunder likewise seems intent upon awakening sufficient echoes to last until the next flash of forked lightning should again produce the wild concussion of the air. She murmurs a prayera prayer for those she loves best; the names of those dear to her gentle heart come from her lips; she weeps and prays; she thinks then of what devastation the storm must surely produce, and to the great God of Heaven she prays for all living things. Another flasha wild, blue, bewildering flash of lightning streams across that bay window, for an instant bringing out every colour in it with terrible distinctness. A shriek bursts from the lips of the young girl, and then, with eyes fixed upon that window, which, in another moment, is all darkness, and with such an expression of terror upon her face as it had never before known, she trembled, and the perspiration of intense fear stood upon her brow.
"Whatwhat was it?" she gasped; "real, or a delusion? Oh, God, what was it? A figure tall and gaunt, endeavouring from the outside to unclasp the window. I saw it. That flash of lightning revealed it to me. It stood the whole length of the window."
There was a lull of the wind. The hail was not falling so thicklymoreover, it now fell, what there was of it, straight, and yet a strange clattering sound came upon the glass of that long window. It could not be a delusionshe is awake, and she hears it. What can produce it? Another flash of lightninganother shriekthere could be now no delusion.
A tall figure is standing on the ledge immediately outside the long window. It is its finger-nails upon the glass that produces the sound so like the hail, now that the hail has ceased. Intense fear paralysed the limbs of that beautiful girl. That one shriek is all she can utterwith hands clasped, a face of marble, a heart beating so wildly in her bosom, that each moment it seems as if it would break its confines, eyes distended and fixed upon the window, she waits, froze with horror. The pattering and clattering of the nails continue. No word is spoken, and now she fancies she can trace the darker form of that figure against the window, and she can see the long arms moving to and fro, feeling for some mode of entrance. What strange light is that which now gradually creeps up into the air? red and terriblebrighter and brighter it grows. The lightning has set fire to a mill, and the reflection of the rapidly consuming building falls upon that long window. There can be no mistake. The figure is there, still feeling for an entrance, and clattering against the glass with its long nails, that appear as if the growth of many years had been untouched. She tries to scream again but a choking sensation comes over her, and she cannot. It is too dreadfulshe tries to moveeach limb seems weighed down by tons of leadshe can but in a hoarse faint whisper cry,
And that one word she repeats like a person in a dream. The red glare of the fire continues. It throws up the tall gaunt figure in hideous relief against the long window. It shows, too, upon the one portrait that is in the chamber, and that portrait appears to fix its eyes upon the attempting intruder, while the flickering light from the fire makes it look fearfully lifelike. A small pane of glass is broken, and the form from without introduces a long gaunt hand, which seems utterly destitute of flesh. The fastening is removed, and one-half of the window, which opens like folding doors, is swung wide open upon its hinges.
And yet now she could not screamshe could not move. "Help!help!help!" was all she could say. But, oh, that look of terror that sat upon her face, it was dreadfula look to haunt the memory for a lifetimea look to obtrude itself upon the happiest moments, and turn them to bitterness.
The figure turns half round, and the light falls upon the face. It is perfectly whiteperfectly bloodless. The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principal feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeththe fearful looking teethprojecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends. No sound comes from its lips. Is she going madthat young and beautiful girl exposed to so much terror? she has drawn up all her limbs; she cannot even now say help. The power of articulation is gone, but the power of movement has returned to her; she can draw herself slowly along to the other side of the bed from that towards which the hideous appearance is coming.
But her eyes are fascinated. The glance of a serpent could not have produced a greater effect upon her than did the fixed gaze of those awful, metallic-looking eyes that were bent on her face. Crouching down so that the gigantic height was lost, and the horrible, protruding, white face was the most prominent object, came on the figure. What was it?what did it want there?what made it look so hideousso unlike an inhabitant of the earth, and yet to be on it?
Now she has got to the verge of the bed, and the figure pauses. It seemed as if when it paused she lost the power to proceed. The clothing of the bed was now clutched in her hands with unconscious power. She drew her breath short and thick. Her bosom heaves, and her limbs tremble, yet she cannot withdraw her eyes from that marble-looking face. He holds her with his glittering eye.
The storm has ceasedall is still. The winds are hushed; the church clock proclaims the hour of one: a hissing sound comes from the throat of the hideous being, and he raises his long, gaunt armsthe lips move. He advances. The girl places one small foot from the bed on to the floor. She is unconsciously dragging the clothing with her. The door of the room is in that directioncan she reach it? Has she power to walk?can she withdraw her eyes from the face of the intruder, and so break the hideous charm? God of Heaven! is it real, or some dream so like reality as to nearly overturn the judgment for ever?
The figure has paused again, and half on the bed and half out of it that young girl lies trembling. Her long hair streams across the entire width of the bed. As she has slowly moved along she has left it streaming across the pillows. The pause lasted about a minuteoh, what an age of agony. That minute was, indeed, enough for madness to do its full work in.
With a sudden rush that could not be foreseenwith a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken terror in every breast, the figure seized the long tresses of her hair, and twining them round his bony hands he held her to the bed. Then she screamedHeaven granted her then power to scream. Shriek followed shriek in rapid succession. The bed-clothes fell in a heap by the side of the bedshe was dragged by her long silken hair completely on to it again. Her beautifully rounded limbs quivered with the agony of her soul. The glassy, horrible eyes of the figure ran over that angelic form with a hideous satisfactionhorrible profanation. He drags her head to the bed's edge. He forces it back by the long hair still entwined in his grasp. With a plunge he seizes her neck in his fang-like teetha gush of blood, and a hideous sucking noise follows. The girl has swooned, and the vampyre is at his hideous repast!
THE ALARM.THE PISTOL SHOT.THE PURSUIT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Lights flashed about the building, and various room doors opened; voices called one to the other. There was an universal stir and commotion among the inhabitants.
"Did you hear a scream, Harry?" asked a young man, half-dressed, as he walked into the chamber of another about his own age.
"I didwhere was it?"
"God knows. I dressed myself directly."
"All is still now."
"Yes; but unless I was dreaming there was a scream."
"We could not both dream there was. Where did you think it came from?"
"It burst so suddenly upon my ears that I cannot say."
There was a tap now at the door of the room where these young men were, and a female voice said,
"For God's sake, get up!"
"We are up," said both the young men, appearing.
"Did you hear anything?"
"Yes, a scream."
"Oh, search the housesearch the house; where did it come fromcan you tell?"
"Indeed we cannot, mother."
Another person now joined the party. He was a man of middle age, and, as he came up to them, he said,
"Good God! what is the matter?"
Scarcely had the words passed his lips, than such a rapid succession of shrieks came upon their ears, that they felt absolutely stunned by them. The elderly lady, whom one of the young men had called mother, fainted, and would have fallen to the floor of the corridor in which they all stood, had she not been promptly supported by the last comer, who himself staggered, as those piercing cries came upon the night air. He, however, was the first to recover, for the young men seemed paralysed.
"Henry," he cried, "for God's sake support your mother. Can you doubt that these cries come from Flora's room?"
The young man mechanically supported his mother, and then the man who had just spoken darted back to his own bed-room, from whence he returned in a moment with a pair of pistols, and shouting,
"Follow me, who can!" he bounded across the corridor in the direction of the antique apartment, from whence the cries proceeded, but which were now hushed.
That house was built for strength, and the doors were all of oak, and of considerable thickness. Unhappily, they had fastenings within, so that when the man reached the chamber of her who so much required help, he was helpless, for the door was fast.
"Flora! Flora!" he cried; "Flora, speak!"
All was still.
"Good God!" he added; "we must force the door."
"I hear a strange noise within," said the young man, who trembled violently.
"And so do I. What does it sound like?"
"I scarcely know; but it nearest resembles some animal eating, or sucking some liquid."
"What on earth can it be? Have you no weapon that will force the door? I shall go mad if I am kept here."
"I have," said the young man. "Wait here a moment."
He ran down the staircase, and presently returned with a small, but powerful, iron crow-bar.
"This will do," he said.
"It will, it will.Give it to me."
"Has she not spoken?"
"Not a word. My mind misgives me that something very dreadful must have happened to her."
"And that odd noise!"
"Still goes on. Somehow, it curdles the very blood in my veins to hear it."
The man took the crow-bar, and with some difficulty succeeded in introducing it between the door and the side of the wallstill it required great strength to move it, but it did move, with a harsh, crackling sound.
"Push it!" cried he who was using the bar, "push the door at the same time."
The younger man did so. For a few moments the massive door resisted. Then, suddenly, something gave way with a loud snapit was a part of the lock,and the door at once swung wide open.
How true it is that we measure time by the events which happen within a given space of it, rather than by its actual duration.
To those who were engaged in forcing open the door of the antique chamber, where slept the young girl whom they named Flora, each moment was swelled into an hour of agony; but, in reality, from the first moment of the alarm to that when the loud cracking noise heralded the destruction of the fastenings of the door, there had elapsed but very few minutes indeed.
"It opensit opens," cried the young man.
"Another moment," said the stranger, as he still plied the crowbar"another moment, and we shall have free ingress to the chamber. Be patient."
This stranger's name was Marchdale; and even as he spoke, he succeeded in throwing the massive door wide open, and clearing the passage to the chamber.
To rush in with a light in his hand was the work of a moment to the young man named Henry; but the very rapid progress he made into the apartment prevented him from observing accurately what it contained, for the wind that came in from the open window caught the flame of the candle, and although it did not actually extinguish it, it blew it so much on one side, that it was comparatively useless as a light.
"FloraFlora!" he cried.
Then with a sudden bound something dashed from off the bed. The concussion against him was so sudden and so utterly unexpected, as well as so tremendously violent, that he was thrown down, and, in his fall, the light was fairly extinguished.
All was darkness, save a dull, reddish kind of light that now and then, from the nearly consumed mill in the immediate vicinity, came into the room. But by that light, dim, uncertain, and flickering as it was, some one was seen to make for the window.
Henry, although nearly stunned by his fall, saw a figure, gigantic in height, which nearly reached from the floor to the ceiling. The other young man, George, saw it, and Mr. Marchdale likewise saw it, as did the lady who had spoken to the two young men in the corridor when first the screams of the young girl awakened alarm in the breasts of all the inhabitants of that house.
The figure was about to pass out at the window which led to a kind of balcony, from whence there was an easy descent to a garden.
Before it passed out they each and all caught a glance of the side-face, and they saw that the lower part of it and the lips were dabbled in blood. They saw, too, one of those fearful-looking, shining, metallic eyes which presented so terrible an appearance of unearthly ferocity.
No wonder that for a moment a panic seized them all, which paralysed any exertions they might otherwise have made to detain that hideous form.
But Mr. Marchdale was a man of mature years; he had seen much of life, both in this and in foreign lands; and he, although astonished to the extent of being frightened, was much more likely to recover sooner than his younger companions, which, indeed, he did, and acted promptly enough.
"Don't rise, Henry," he cried. "Lie still."
Almost at the moment he uttered these words, he fired at the figure, which then occupied the window, as if it were a gigantic figure set in a frame.
The report was tremendous in that chamber, for the pistol was no toy weapon, but one made for actual service, and of sufficient length and bore of barrel to carry destruction along with the bullets that came from it.
"If that has missed its aim," said Mr. Marchdale, "I'll never pull a trigger again."
As he spoke he dashed forward, and made a clutch at the figure he felt convinced he had shot.
The tall form turned upon him, and when he got a full view of the face, which he did at that moment, from the opportune circumstance of the lady returning at the instant with a light she had been to her own chamber to procure, even he, Marchdale, with all his courage, and that was great, and all his nervous energy, recoiled a step or two, and uttered the exclamation of, "Great God!"
That face was one never to be forgotten. It was hideously flushed with colourthe colour of fresh blood; the eyes had a savage and remarkable lustre; whereas, before, they had looked like polished tinthey now wore a ten times brighter aspect, and flashes of light seemed to dart from them. The mouth was open, as if, from the natural formation of the countenance, the lips receded much from the large canine looking teeth.
A strange howling noise came from the throat of this monstrous figure, and it seemed upon the point of rushing upon Mr. Marchdale. Suddenly, then, as if some impulse had seized upon it, it uttered a wild and terrible shrieking kind of laugh; and then turning, dashed through the window, and in one instant disappeared from before the eyes of those who felt nearly annihilated by its fearful presence.
"God help us!" ejaculated Henry.
Mr. Marchdale drew a long breath, and then, giving a stamp on the floor, as if to recover himself from the state of agitation into which even he was thrown, he cried,
"Be it what or who it may, I'll follow it"
"Nonodo not," cried the lady.
"I must, I will. Let who will come with meI follow that dreadful form."
As he spoke, he took the road it took, and dashed through the window into the balcony.
"And we, too, George," exclaimed Henry; "we will follow Mr. Marchdale. This dreadful affair concerns us more nearly than it does him."
The lady who was the mother of these young men, and of the beautiful girl who had been so awfully visited, screamed aloud, and implored of them to stay. But the voice of Mr. Marchdale was heard exclaiming aloud,
"I see itI see it; it makes for the wall."
They hesitated no longer, but at once rushed into the balcony, and from thence dropped into the garden.
The mother approached the bed-side of the insensible, perhaps the murdered girl; she saw her, to all appearance, weltering in blood, and, overcome by her emotions, she fainted on the floor of the room.
When the two young men reached the garden, they found it much lighter than might have been fairly expected; for not only was the morning rapidly approaching, but the mill was still burning, and those mingled lights made almost every object plainly visible, except when deep shadows were thrown from some gigantic trees that had stood for centuries in that sweetly wooded spot. They heard the voice of Mr. Marchdale, as he cried,
"Theretheretowards the wall. TherethereGod! how it bounds along."
The young men hastily dashed through a thicket in the direction from whence his voice sounded, and then they found him looking wild and terrified, and with something in his hand which looked like a portion of clothing.
"Which way, which way?" they both cried in a breath.
He leant heavily on the arm of George, as he pointed along a vista of trees, and said in a low voice,
"God help us all. It is not human. Look therelook theredo you not see it?"
They looked in the direction he indicated. At the end of this vista was the wall of the garden. At that point it was full twelve feet in height, and as they looked, they saw the hideous, monstrous form they had traced from the chamber of their sister, making frantic efforts to clear the obstacle.
Then they saw it bound from the ground to the top of the wall, which it very nearly reached, and then each time it fell back again into the garden with such a dull, heavy sound, that the earth seemed to shake again with the concussion. They trembledwell indeed they might, and for some minutes they watched the figure making its fruitless efforts to leave the place.
"Whatwhat is it?" whispered Henry, in hoarse accents. "God, what can it possibly be?"
"I know not," replied Mr. Marchdale. "I did seize it. It was cold and clammy like a corpse. It cannot be human."
"Look at it now. It will surely escape now."
"No, nowe will not be terrified thusthere is Heaven above us. Come on, and, for dear Flora's sake, let us make an effort yet to seize this bold intruder."
"Take this pistol," said Marchdale. "It is the fellow of the one I fired. Try its efficacy."
"He will be gone," exclaimed Henry, as at this moment, after many repeated attempts and fearful falls, the figure reached the top of the wall, and then hung by its long arms a moment or two, previous to dragging itself completely up.
The idea of the appearance, be it what it might, entirely escaping, seemed to nerve again Mr. Marchdale, and he, as well as the two young men, ran forward towards the wall. They got so close to the figure before it sprang down on the outer side of the wall, that to miss killing it with the bullet from the pistol was a matter of utter impossibility, unless wilfully.
Henry had the weapon, and he pointed it full at the tall form with a steady aim. He pulled the triggerthe explosion followed, and that the bullet did its office there could be no manner of doubt, for the figure gave a howling shriek, and fell headlong from the wall on the outside.
"I have shot him," cried Henry, "I have shot him."
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BODY.FLORA'S RECOVERY AND MADNESS.THE OFFER OF ASSISTANCE FROM SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.
"He is human!" cried Henry; "I have surely killed him."
"It would seem so," said Mr. Marchdale. "Let us now hurry round to the outside of the wall, and see where he lies."
This was at once agreed to, and the whole three of them made what expedition they could towards a gate which led into a paddock, across which they hurried, and soon found themselves clear of the garden wall, so that they could make way towards where they fully expected to find the body of him who had worn so unearthly an aspect, but who it would be an excessive relief to find was human.
So hurried was the progress they made, that it was scarcely possible to exchange many words as they went; a kind of breathless anxiety was upon them, and in the speed they disregarded every obstacle, which would, at any other time, have probably prevented them from taking the direct road they sought.
It was difficult on the outside of the wall to say exactly which was the precise spot which it might be supposed the body had fallen on; but, by following the wall in its entire length, surely they would come upon it.
They did so; but, to their surprise, they got from its commencement to its further extremity without finding any dead body, or even any symptoms of one having lain there.
At some parts close to the wall there grew a kind of heath, and, consequently, the traces of blood would be lost among it, if it so happened that at the precise spot at which the strange being had seemed to topple over, such vegetation had existed. This was to be ascertained; but now, after traversing the whole length of the wall twice, they came to a halt, and looked wonderingly in each other's faces.
"There is nothing here," said Harry.
"Nothing," added his brother.
"It could not have been a delusion," at length said Mr. Marchdale, with a shudder.
"A delusion?" exclaimed the brother! "That is not possible; we all saw it."
"Then what terrible explanation can we give?"
"By heavens! I know not," exclaimed Henry. "This adventure surpasses all belief, and but for the great interest we have in it, I should regard it with a world of curiosity."
"It is too dreadful," said George; "for God's sake, Henry, let us return to ascertain if poor Flora is killed."
"My senses," said Henry, "were all so much absorbed in gazing at that horrible form, that I never once looked towards her further than to see that she was, to appearance, dead. God help her! poorpoor, beautiful Flora. This is, indeed, a sad, sad fate for you to come to. FloraFlora"
"Do not weep, Henry," said George. "Rather let us now hasten home, where we may find that tears are premature. She may yet be living and restored to us."
"And," said Mr. Marchdale, "she may be able to give us some account of this dreadful visitation."
"Truetrue," exclaimed Henry; "we will hasten home."
They now turned their steps homeward, and as they went they much blamed themselves for all leaving home together, and with terror pictured what might occur in their absence to those who were now totally unprotected.
"It was a rash impulse of us all to come in pursuit of this dreadful figure," remarked Mr. Marchdale; "but do not torment yourself, Henry. There may be no reason for your fears."
At the pace they went, they very soon reached the ancient house, and when they came in sight of it, they saw lights flashing from the windows, and the shadows of faces moving to and fro, indicating that the whole household was up, and in a state of alarm.
Henry, after some trouble, got the hall door opened by a terrified servant, who was trembling so much that she could scarcely hold the light she had with her.
"Speak at once, Martha," said Henry. "Is Flora living?"
"Enoughenough! Thank God she lives; where is she now?"
"In her own room, Master Henry. Oh, dearoh, dear, what will become of us all?"
Henry rushed up the staircase, followed by George and Mr. Marchdale, nor paused he once until he reached the room of his sister.
"Mother," he said, before he crossed the threshold, "are you here?"
"I am, my dearI am. Come in, pray come in, and speak to poor Flora."
"Come in, Mr. Marchdale," said Henry"come in; we make no stranger of you."
They all then entered the room.
Several lights had been now brought into that antique chamber, and, in addition to the mother of the beautiful girl who had been so fearfully visited, there were two female domestics, who appeared to be in the greatest possible fright, for they could render no assistance whatever to anybody.
The tears were streaming down the mother's face, and the moment she saw Mr. Marchdale, she clung to his arm, evidently unconscious of what she was about, and exclaimed,
"Oh, what is this that has happenedwhat is this? Tell me, Marchdale! Robert Marchdale, you whom I have known even from my childhood, you will not deceive me. Tell me the meaning of all this?"
"I cannot," he said, in a tone of much emotion. "As God is my judge, I am as much puzzled and amazed at the scene that has taken place here to-night as you can be."
The mother wrung her hands and wept.
"It was the storm that first awakened me," added Marchdale; "and then I heard a scream."
The brothers tremblingly approached the bed. Flora was placed in a sitting, half-reclining posture, propped up by pillows. She was quite insensible, and her face was fearfully pale; while that she breathed at all could be but very faintly seen. On some of her clothing, about the neck, were spots of blood, and she looked more like one who had suffered some long and grievous illness, than a young girl in the prime of life and in the most robust health, as she had been on the day previous to the strange scene we have recorded.
"Does she sleep?" said Henry, as a tear fell from his eyes upon her pallid cheek.
"No," replied Mr. Marchdale. "This is a swoon, from which we must recover her."
Active measures were now adopted to restore the languid circulation, and, after persevering in them for some time, they had the satisfaction of seeing her open her eyes.
Her first act upon consciousness returning, however, was to utter a loud shriek, and it was not until Henry implored her to look around her, and see that she was surrounded by none but friendly faces, that she would venture again to open her eyes, and look timidly from one to the other. Then she shuddered, and burst into tears as she said,
"Oh, Heaven, have mercy upon meHeaven, have mercy upon me, and save me from that dreadful form."
"There is no one here, Flora," said Mr. Marchdale, "but those who love you, and who, in defence of you, if needs were would lay down their lives."
"Oh, God! Oh, God!"
"You have been terrified. But tell us distinctly what has happened? You are quite safe now."
She trembled so violently that Mr. Marchdale recommended that some stimulant should be given to her, and she was persuaded, although not without considerable difficulty, to swallow a small portion of some wine from a cup. There could be no doubt but that the stimulating effect of the wine was beneficial, for a slight accession of colour visited her cheeks, and she spoke in a firmer tone as she said,
"Do not leave me. Oh, do not leave me, any of you. I shall die if left alone now. Oh, save mesave me. That horrible form! That fearful face!"
"Tell us how it happened, dear Flora?" said Henry.
"Or would you rather endeavour to get some sleep first?" suggested Mr. Marchdale.
"Nonono," she said, "I do not think I shall ever sleep again."
"Say not so; you will be more composed in a few hours, and then you can tell us what has occurred."
"I will tell you now. I will tell you now."
She placed her hands over her face for a moment, as if to collect her scattered, thoughts, and then she added,
"I was awakened by the storm, and I saw that terrible apparition at the window. I think I screamed, but I could not fly. Oh, God! I could not fly. It cameit seized me by the hair. I know no more. I know no more."
She passed her hand across her neck several times, and Mr. Marchdale said, in an anxious voice,
"You seem, Flora, to have hurt your neckthere is a wound."
"A wound!" said the mother, and she brought a light close to the bed, where all saw on the side of Flora's neck a small punctured wound; or, rather two, for there was one a little distance from the other.
It was from these wounds the blood had come which was observable upon her night clothing.
"How came these wounds?" said Henry.
"I do not know," she replied. "I feel very faint and weak, as if I had almost bled to death."
"You cannot have done so, dear Flora, for there are not above half-a-dozen spots of blood to be seen at all."
Mr. Marchdale leaned against the carved head of the bed for support, and he uttered a deep groan. All eyes were turned upon him, and Henry said, in a voice of the most anxious inquiry,
"You have something to say, Mr. Marchdale, which will throw some light upon this affair."
"No, no, no, nothing!" cried Mr. Marchdale, rousing himself at once from the appearance of depression that had come over him. "I have nothing to say, but that I think Flora had better get some sleep if she can."
"No sleep-no sleep for me," again screamed Flora. "Dare I be alone to sleep?"
"But you shall not be alone, dear Flora," said Henry. "I will sit by your bedside and watch you."
She took his hand in both hers, and while the tears chased each other down her cheeks, she said,
"Promise me, Henry, by all your hopes of Heaven, you will not leave me."
She gently laid herself down, with a deep sigh, and closed her eyes.
"She is weak, and will sleep long," said Mr. Marchdale.
"You sigh," said Henry. "Some fearful thoughts, I feel certain, oppress your heart."
"Hush-hush!" said Mr. Marchdale, as he pointed to Flora. "Hush! not herenot here."
"I understand," said Henry.
"Let her sleep."
There was a silence of some few minutes duration. Flora had dropped into a deep slumber. That silence was first broken by George, who said,
"Mr. Marchdale, look at that portrait."
He pointed to the portrait in the frame to which we have alluded, and the moment Marchdale looked at it he sunk into a chair as he exclaimed,
"Gracious Heaven, how like!"
"It isit is," said Henry. "Those eyes"
"And see the contour of the countenance, and the strange shape of the mouth."
"That picture shall be moved from here. The sight of it is at once sufficient to awaken all her former terrors in poor Flora's brain if she should chance to awaken and cast her eyes suddenly upon it."
"And is it so like him who came here?" said the mother.
"It is the very man himself," said Mr. Marchdale. "I have not been in this house long enough to ask any of you whose portrait that may be?"
"It is," said Henry, "the portrait of Sir Runnagate Bannerworth, an ancestor of ours, who first, by his vices, gave the great blow to the family prosperity."
"Indeed. How long ago?"
"About ninety years."
"Ninety years. 'Tis a long whileninety years."
"You muse upon it."
"No, no. I do wish, and yet I dread"
"To say something to you all. But not herenot here. We will hold a consultation on this matter to-morrow. Not nownot now."
"The daylight is coming quickly on," said Henry; "I shall keep my sacred promise of not moving from this room until Flora awakens; but there can be no occasion for the detention of any of you. One is sufficient here. Go all of you, and endeavour to procure what rest you can."
"I will fetch you my powder-flask and bullets," said Mr. Marchdale; "and you can, if you please, reload the pistols. In about two hours more it will be broad daylight."
This arrangement was adopted. Henry did reload the pistols, and placed them on a table by the side of the bed, ready for immediate action, and then, as Flora was sleeping soundly, all left the room but himself.
Mrs. Bannerworth was the last to do so. She would have remained, but for the earnest solicitation of Henry, that she would endeavour to get some sleep to make up for her broken night's repose, and she was indeed so broken down by her alarm on Flora's account, that she had not power to resist, but with tears flowing from her eyes, she sought her own chamber.
And now the calmness of the night resumed its sway in that evil-fated mansion; and although no one really slept but Flora, all were still. Busy thought kept every one else wakeful. It was a mockery to lie down at all, and Henry, full of strange and painful feelings as he was, preferred his present position to the anxiety and apprehension on Flora's account which he knew he should feel if she were not within the sphere of his own observation, and she slept as soundly as some gentle infant tired of its playmates and its sports.
THE MORNING.THE CONSULTATION.THE FEARFUL SUGGESTION.
What wonderfully different impressions and feelings, with regard to the same circumstances, come across the mind in the broad, clear, and beautiful light of day to what haunt the imagination, and often render the judgment almost incapable of action, when the heavy shadow of night is upon all things.
There must be a downright physical reason for this effectit is so remarkable and so universal. It seems that the sun's rays so completely alter and modify the constitution of the atmosphere, that it produces, as we inhale it, a wonderfully different effect upon the nerves of the human subject.
We can account for this phenomenon in no other way. Perhaps never in his life had he, Henry Bannerworth, felt so strongly this transition of feeling as he now felt it, when the beautiful daylight gradually dawned upon him, as he kept his lonely watch by the bedside of his slumbering sister.
That watch had been a perfectly undisturbed one. Not the least sight or sound of any intrusion had reached his senses. All had been as still as the very grave.
And yet while the night lasted, and he was more indebted to the rays of the candle, which he had placed upon a shelf, for the power to distinguish objects than to the light of the morning, a thousand uneasy and strange sensations had found a home in his agitated bosom.
He looked so many times at the portrait which was in the panel that at length he felt an undefined sensation of terror creep over him whenever he took his eyes off it.
He tried to keep himself from looking at it, but he found it vain, so he adopted what, perhaps, was certainly the wisest, best plan, namely, to look at it continually.
He shifted his chair so that he could gaze upon it without any effort, and he placed the candle so that a faint light was thrown upon it, and there he sat, a prey to many conflicting and uncomfortable feelings, until the daylight began to make the candle flame look dull and sickly.
Solution for the events of the night he could find none. He racked his imagination in vain to find some means, however vague, of endeavouring to account for what occurred, and still he was at fault. All was to him wrapped in the gloom of the most profound mystery.
And how strangely, too, the eyes of that portrait appeared to look upon himas if instinct with life, and as if the head to which they belonged was busy in endeavouring to find out the secret communings of his soul. It was wonderfully well executed that portrait; so life-like, that the very features seemed to move as you gazed upon them.
"It shall be removed," said Henry. "I would remove it now, but that it seems absolutely painted on the panel, and I should awake Flora in any attempt to do so."
He arose and ascertained that such was the case, and that it would require a workman, with proper tools adapted to the job, to remove the portrait.
"True," he said, "I might now destroy it, but it is a pity to obscure a work of such rare art as this is; I should blame myself if I were. It shall be removed to some other room of the house, however."
Then, all of a sudden, it struck Henry how foolish it would be to remove the portrait from the wall of a room which, in all likelihood, after that night, would be uninhabited; for it was not probable that Flora would choose again to inhabit a chamber in which she had gone through so much terror.
"It can be left where it is," he said, "and we can fasten up, if we please, even the very door of this room, so that no one need trouble themselves any further about it."
The morning was now coming fast, and just as Henry thought he would partially draw a blind across the window, in order to shield from the direct rays of the sun the eyes of Flora, she awoke.
"Helphelp!" she cried, and Henry was by her side in a moment.
"You are safe, Florayou are safe," he said.
"Where is it now?" she said.
"Whatwhat, dear Flora?"
"The dreadful apparition. Oh, what have I done to be made thus perpetually miserable?"
"Think no more of it, Flora."
"I must think. My brain is on fire! A million of strange eyes seem gazing on me."
"Great Heaven! she raves," said Henry.
"Harkharkhark! He comes on the wings of the storm. Oh, it is most horriblehorrible!"
Henry rang the bell, but not sufficiently loudly to create any alarm. The sound reached the waking ear of the mother, who in a few moments was in the room.
"She has awakened," said Henry, "and has spoken, but she seems to me to wander in her discourse. For God's sake, soothe her, and try to bring her mind round to its usual state."
"I will, HenryI will."
"And I think, mother, if you were to get her out of this room, and into some other chamber as far removed from this one as possible, it would tend to withdraw her mind from what has occurred."
"Yes; it shall be done. Oh, Henry, what was itwhat do you think it was?"
"I am lost in a sea of wild conjecture. I can form no conclusion; where is Mr. Marchdale?"
"I believe in his chamber."
"Then I will go and consult with him."
Henry proceeded at once to the chamber, which was, as he knew, occupied by Mr. Marchdale; and as he crossed the corridor, he could not but pause a moment to glance from a window at the face of nature.
As is often the case, the terrific storm of the preceding evening had cleared the air, and rendered it deliciously invigorating and lifelike. The weather had been dull, and there had been for some days a certain heaviness in the atmosphere, which was now entirely removed.
The morning sun was shining with uncommon brilliancy, birds were singing in every tree and on every bush; so pleasant, so spirit-stirring, health-giving a morning, seldom had he seen. And the effect upon his spirits was great, although not altogether what it might have been, had all gone on as it usually was in the habit of doing at that house. The ordinary little casualties of evil fortune had certainly from time to time, in the shape of illness, and one thing or another, attacked the family of the Bannerworths in common with every other family, but here suddenly had arisen a something at once terrible and inexplicable.
He found Mr. Marchdale up and dressed, and apparently in deep and anxious thought. The moment he saw Henry, he said,
"Flora is awake, I presume."
"Yes, but her mind appears to be much disturbed."
"From bodily weakness, I dare say."
"But why should she be bodily weak? she was strong and well, ay, as well as she could ever be in all her life. The glow of youth and health was on her cheeks. Is it possible that, in the course of one night, she should become bodily weak to such an extent?"
"Henry," said Mr. Marchdale, sadly, "sit down. I am not, as you know, a superstitious man."
"You certainly are not."
"And yet, I never in all my life was so absolutely staggered as I have been by the occurrences of to-night."
"There is a frightful, a hideous solution of them; one which every consideration will tend to add strength to, one which I tremble to name now, although, yesterday, at this hour, I should have laughed it to scorn."
"Yes, it is so. Tell no one that which I am about to say to you. Let the dreadful suggestion remain with ourselves alone, Henry Bannerworth."
"II am lost in wonder."
"You promise me?"
"That you will not repeat my opinion to any one."
"On your honour."
"On my honour, I promise."
Mr. Marchdale rose, and proceeding to the door, he looked out to see that there were no listeners near. Having ascertained then that they were quite alone, he returned, and drawing a chair close to that on which Henry sat, he said,
"Henry, have you never heard of a strange and dreadful superstition which, in some countries, is extremely rife, by which it is supposed that there are beings who never die."
"Never. In a word, Henry, have you never heard ofofI dread to pronounce the word."
"Speak it. God of Heaven! let me hear it."
Henry sprung to his feet. His whole frame quivered with emotion; the drops of perspiration stood upon his brow, as, in, a strange, hoarse voice, he repeated the words,
"Even so; one who has to renew a dreadful existence by human bloodone who lives on for ever, and must keep up such a fearful existence upon human goreone who eats not and drinks not as other mena vampyre."
Henry dropped into his scat, and uttered a deep groan of the most exquisite anguish.
"I could echo that groan," said Marchdale, "but that I am so thoroughly bewildered I know not what to think."
"Good Godgood God!"
"Do not too readily yield belief in so dreadful a supposition, I pray you."
"Yield belief!" exclaimed Henry, as he rose, and lifted up one of his hands above his head. "No; by Heaven, and the great God of all, who there rules, I will not easily believe aught so awful and so monstrous."
"I applaud your sentiment, Henry; not willingly would I deliver up myself to so frightful a beliefit is too horrible. I merely have told you of that which you saw was on my mind. You have surely before heard of such things."
"I haveI have."
"I much marvel, then, that the supposition did not occur to you, Henry."
"It did notit did not, Marchdale. Itit was too dreadful, I suppose, to find a home in my heart. Oh! Flora, Flora, if this horrible idea should once occur to you, reason cannot, I am quite sure, uphold you against it."
"Let no one presume to insinuate it to her, Henry. I would not have it mentioned to her for worlds."
"Nor Inor I. Good God! I shudder at the very thoughtthe mere possibility; but there is no possibility, there can be none. I will not believe it."
"No; by Heaven's justice, goodness, grace, and mercy, I will not believe it."
"Tis well sworn, Henry; and now, discarding the supposition that Flora has been visited by a vampyre, let us seriously set about endeavouring, if we can, to account for what has happened in this house."
"II cannot now."
"Nay, let us examine the matter; if we can find any natural explanation, let us cling to it, Henry, as the sheet-anchor of our very souls."
"Do you think. You are fertile in expedients. Do you think, Marchdale; and, for Heaven's sake, and for the sake of our own peace, find out some other way of accounting for what has happened, than the hideous one you have suggested."
"And yet my pistol bullets hurt him not; he has left the tokens of his presence on the neck of Flora."
"Peace, oh! peace. Do not, I pray you, accumulate reasons why I should receive such a dismal, awful superstition. Oh, do not, Marchdale, as you love me!"
"You know that my attachment to you," said Marchdale, "is sincere; and yet, Heaven help us!"
His voice was broken by grief as he spoke, and he turned aside his head to hide the bursting tears that would, despite all his efforts, show themselves in his eyes.
"Marchdale," added Henry, after a pause of some moments' duration, "I will sit up to-night with my sister."
"Think you there is a chance it may come again?"
"I cannotI dare not speculate upon the coming of so dreadful a visitor, Henry; but I will hold watch with you most willingly."
"You will, Marchdale?"
"My hand upon it. Come what dangers may, I will share them with you, Henry."
"A thousand thanks. Say nothing, then, to George of what we have been talking about. He is of a highly susceptible nature, and the very idea of such a thing would kill him."
"I will; be mute. Remove your sister to some other chamber, let me beg of you, Henry; the one she now inhabits will always be suggestive of horrible thoughts."
"I will; and that dreadful-looking portrait, with its perfect likeness to him who came last night."
"Perfect indeed. Do you intend to remove it?"
"I do not. I thought of doing so; but it is actually on the panel in the wall, and I would not willingly destroy it, and it may as well remain where it is in that chamber, which I can readily now believe will become henceforward a deserted one in this house."
"It may well become such."
"Who comes here? I hear a step."
There was a tip at the door at this moment, and George made his appearance in answer to the summons to come in. He looked pale and ill; his face betrayed how much he had mentally suffered during that night, and almost directly he got into the bed-chamber he said,
I shall, I am sure, be censured by you both for what I am going to say; but I cannot help saying it, nevertheless, for to keep it to myself would destroy me."
"Good God, George! what is it?" said Mr. Marchdale.
"Speak it out!" said Henry.
"I have been thinking of what has occurred here, and the result of that thought has been one of the wildest suppositions that ever I thought I should have to entertain. Have you never heard of a vampyre?"
Henry sighed deeply, and Marchdale was silent.
"I say a vampyre," added George, with much excitement in his manner. "It is a fearful, a horrible supposition; but our poor, dear Flora has been visited by a vampyre, and I shall go completely mad!"
He sat down, and covering his face with his hands, he wept bitterly and abundantly.
"George," said Henry, when he saw that the frantic grief had in some measure abated"be calm, George, and endeavour to listen to me."
"I hear, Henry."
"Well, then, do not suppose that you are the only one in this house to whom so dreadful a superstition has occurred."
"Not the only one?"
"No; it has occurred to Mr. Marchdale also."
"He mentioned it to me; but we have both agreed to repudiate it with horror."
"And yetand yet"
"Hush, hush! I know what you would say. You would tell us that our repudiation of it cannot affect the fact. Of that we are aware; but yet will we disbelieve that which a belief in would be enough to drive us mad."
"What do you intend to do?"
"To keep this supposition to ourselves, in the first place; to guard it most zealously from the ears of Flora."
"Do you think she has ever heard of vampyres?"
"I never heard her mention that in all her reading she had gathered even a hint of such a fearful superstition. If she has, we must be guided by circumstances, and do the best we can."
"Pray Heaven she may not!"
"Amen to that prayer, George," said Henry. "Mr. Marchdale and I intend to keep watch over Flora to-night."
"May not I join you?"
"Your health, dear George, will not permit you to engage in such matters. Do you seek your natural repose, and leave it to us to do the best we can in this most fearful and terrible emergency."
"As you please, brother, and as you please, Mr. Marchdale. I know I am a frail reed, and my belief is that this affair will kill me quite. The truth is, I am horrifiedutterly and frightfully horrified. Like my poor, dear sister, I do not believe I shall ever sleep again."
"Do not fancy that, George," said Marchdale. "You very much add to the uneasiness which must be your poor mother's portion, by allowing this circumstance to so much affect you. You well know her affection for you all, and let me therefore, as a very old friend of hers, entreat you to wear as cheerful an aspect as you can in her presence."
"For once in my life," said George, sadly, "I will; to my dear mother, endeavour to play the hypocrite."
"Do so," said Henry. "The motive will sanction any such deceit as that, George, be assured."
The day wore on, and Poor Flora remained in a very precarious situation. It was not until mid-day that Henry made up his mind he would call in a medical gentleman to her, and then he rode to the neighbouring market-town, where he knew an extremely intelligent practitioner resided. This gentleman Henry resolved upon, under a promise of secrecy, makings confidant of; but, long before he reached him, he found he might well dispense with the promise of secrecy.
He had never thought, so engaged had he been with other matters, that the servants were cognizant of the whole affair, and that from them he had no expectation of being able to keep the whole story in all its details. Of course such an opportunity for tale-bearing and gossiping was not likely to be lost; and while Henry was thinking over how he had better act in the matter, the news that Flora Bannerworth had been visited in the night by a vampyrefor the servants named the visitation such at oncewas spreading all over the county.
As he rode along, Henry met a gentleman on horseback who belonged to the county, and who, reining in his steed, said to him,
"Good morning, Mr. Bannerworth."
"Good morning," responded Henry, and he would have ridden on, but the gentleman added,
"Excuse me for interrupting you, sir; but what is the strange story that is in everybody's mouth about a vampyre?"
Henry nearly fell off his horse, he was so much astonished, and, wheeling the animal around, he said,
"In everybody's mouth!"
"Yes; I have heard it from at least a dozen persons."
"You surprise me."
"It is untrue? Of course I am not so absurd as really to believe about the vampyre; but is there no foundation at all for it? We generally find that at the bottom of these common reports there is a something around which, as a nucleus, the whole has formed."
"My sister is unwell."
"Ah, and that's all. It really is too bad, now."
"We had a visitor last night."
"A thief, I suppose?"
"Yes, yesI believe a thief. I do believe it was a thief, and she was terrified."
"Of course, and upon such a thing is grafted a story of a vampyre, and the marks of his teeth being in her neck, and all the circumstantial particulars."
"Good morning, Mr. Bannerworth."
Henry bade the gentleman good morning, and much vexed at the publicity which the affair had already obtained, he set spurs to his horse, determined that he would speak to no one else upon so uncomfortable a theme. Several attempts were made to stop him, but he only waved his hand and trotted on, nor did he pause in his speed till he reached the door of Mr. Chillingworth, the medical man whom he intended to consult.
Henry knew that at such a time he would be at home, which was the case, and he was soon closeted with the man of drugs. Henry begged his patient hearing, which being accorded, he related to him at full length what had happened, not omitting, to the best of his remembrance, any one particular. When he had concluded his narration, the doctor shifted his position several times, and then said,
"Yesand enough too."
"More than enough, I should say, my young friend. You astonish me."
"Can you form any supposition, sir, on the subject?"
"Not just now. What is your own idea?"
"I cannot be said to have one about it. It is too absurd to tell you that my brother George is impressed with a belief a vampyre has visited the house."
"I never in all my life heard a more circumstantial narrative in favour of so hideous a superstition."
"Well, but you cannot believe"
"That the dead can come to life again, and by such a process keep up vitality."
"Do you take me for a fool?"
"Then why do you ask me such questions?"
"But the glaring facts of the case."
"I don't care if they were ten times more glaring, I won't believe it. I would rather believe you were all mad, the whole family of youthat at the full of the moon you all were a little cracked."
"And so would I."
"You go home now, and I will call and see your sister in the course of two hours. Something may turn up yet, to throw some new light upon this strange subject."
With this understanding Henry went home, and he took care to ride as fast as before, in order to avoid questions, so that he got back to his old ancestral home without going through the disagreeable ordeal of having to explain to any one what had disturbed the peace of it.
When Henry reached his home, he found that the evening was rapidly coming on, and before he could permit himself to think upon any other subject, he inquired how his terrified sister had passed the hours during his absence.
He found that but little improvement had taken place in her, and that she had occasionally slept, but to awaken and speak incoherently, as if the shock she had received had had some serious affect upon her nerves. He repaired at once to her room, and, finding that she was awake, he leaned over her, and spoke tenderly to her.
"Flora," he said, "dear Flora, you are better now?"
"Harry, is that you?"
"Oh, tell me what has happened?"
"Have you not a recollection, Flora?"
"Yes, yes, Henry; but what was it? They none of them will tell me what it was, Henry."
"Be calm, dear. No doubt some attempt to rob the house."
"Think you so?"
"Yes; the bay window was peculiarly adapted for such a purpose; but now that you are removed here to this room, you will be able to rest in peace."
"I shall die of terror, Henry. Even now those eyes are glaring on me so hidiously. Oh, it is fearfulit is very fearful, Henry. Do you not pity me, and no one will promise to remain with me at night."
"Indeed, Flora, you are mistaken, for I intend to sit by your bedside armed, and so preserve you from all harm."
She clutched his hand eagerly, as she said,
"You will, Henry. You will, and not think it too much trouble, dear Henry."
"It can be no trouble, Flora."
"Then I shall rest in peace, for I know that the dreadful vampyre cannot come to me when you are by-"
"The what, Flora!"
"The vampyre, Henry. It was a vampyre."
"Good God, who told you so?"
"No one. I have read of them in the book of travels in Norway, which Mr. Marchdale lent us all."
"Alas, alas!" groaned Henry. "Discard, I pray you, such a thought from your mind."
"Can we discard thoughts. What power have we but from that mind, which is ourselves?"
"Hark, what noise is that? I thought I heard a noise. Henry, when you go, ring for some one first. Was there not a noise?"
"The accidental shutting of some door, dear."
"Was it that?"
"Then I am relieved. Henry, I sometimes fancy I am in the tomb, and that some one is feasting on my flesh. They do say, too, that those who in life have been bled by a vampyre, become themselves vampyres, and have the same horrible taste for blood as those before them. Is it not horrible?"
"You only vex yourself by such thoughts, Flora. Mr. Chillingworth is coming to see you."
"Can he minister to a mind diseased?"
"But yours is not, Flora. Your mind is healthful, and so, although his power extends not so far, we will thank Heaven, dear Flora, that you need it not."
She sighed deeply, as she said,
"Heaven help me! I know not, Henry. The dreadful being held on by my hair. I must have it all taken off. I tried to get away, but it dragged me backa brutal thing it was. Oh, then at that moment, Henry, I felt as if something strange took place in my brain, and that I was going mad! I saw those glazed eyes close to, mineI felt a hot, pestiferous breath upon my facehelphelp!"
"Hush! my Flora, hush! Look at me."
"I am calm again. It fixed its teeth in my throat. Did I faint away?"
"You did, dear; but let me pray you to refer all this to imagination; or at least the greater part of it."
"But you saw it."
"All saw it."
"We all saw some mana housebreakerIt must have been some housebreaker. What more easy, you know, dear Flora, than to assume some such disguise?"
"Was anything stolen?"
"Not that I know of; but there was an alarm, you know."
Flora shook her head, as she said, in a low voice,
"That which came here was more than mortal. Oh, Henry, if it had but killed me, now I had been happy; but I cannot liveI hear it breathing now."
"Talk of something else, dear Flora," said the much distressed Henry; "you will make yourself much worse, if you indulge yourself in these strange fancies."
"Oh, that they were but fancies!"
"They are, believe me."
"There is a strange confusion in my brain, and sleep comes over me suddenly, when I least expect it. Henry, Henry, what I was, I shall never, never be again."
"Say not so. All this will pass away like a dream, and leave so faint a trace upon your memory, that the time will come when you will wonder it ever made so deep an impression on your mind."
"You utter these words, Henry," she said, "but they do not come from your heart. Ah, no, no, no! Who comes?"
The door was opened by Mrs. Bannerworth, who said,
"It is only me, my dear. Henry, here is Dr. Chillingworth in the dining-room."
Henry turned to Flora, saying,
"You will see him, dear Flora? You know Mr. Chillingworth well."
"Yes, Henry, yes, I will see him, or whoever you please."
"Shew Mr. Chillingworth up," said Henry to the servant.
In a few moments the medical man was in the room, and he at once approached the bedside to speak to Flora, upon whose pale countenance he looked with evident interest, while at the same time it seemed mingled with a painful feelingat least so his own face indicated.
"Well, Miss Bannerworth," he said, "what is all this I hear about an ugly dream you have had?"
"A dream?" said Flora, as she fixed her beautiful eyes on his face.
"Yes, as I understand."
She shuddered, and was silent.
"Was it not a dream, then?" added Mr. Chillingworth.
She wrung her hands, and in a voice of extreme anguish and pathos, said,
"Would it were a dreamwould it were a dream! Oh, if any one could but convince me it was a dream!"
"Well, will you tell me what it was?"
"Yes, sir, it was a vampyre."
Mr. Chillingworth glanced at Henry, as he said, in reply to Flora's words,
"I suppose that is, after all, another name, Flora, for the nightmare?"
"Do you really, then, persist in believing anything so absurd, Miss Bannerworth?"
"What can I say to the evidence of my own senses?" she replied. "I saw it, Henry saw it, George saw, Mr. Marchdale, my motherall saw it. We could not all be at the same time the victims of the same delusion."
"How faintly you speak."
"I am very faint and ill."
"Indeed. What wound is that on your neck?"
A wild expression came over the face of Flora; a spasmodic action of the muscles, accompanied with a shuddering, as if a sudden chill had come over the whole mass of blood took place, and she said,
"It is the mark left by the teeth of the vampyre."
The smile was a forced one upon the face of Mr. Chillingworth.
"Draw up the blind of the window, Mr. Henry," he said, "and let me examine this puncture to which your sister attaches so extraordinary a meaning."
The blind was drawn up, and a strong light was thrown into the room. For full two minutes Mr. Chillingworth attentively examined the two small wounds in the neck of Flora. He took a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket, and looked at them through it, and after his examination was concluded, he said,
"They are very trifling wounds, indeed."
"But how inflicted?" said Henry.
"By some insect, I should say, which probablyit being the season for many insectshas flown in at the window"
"I know the motive," said Flora "which prompts all these suggestions it is a kind one, and I ought to be the last to quarrel with it; but what I have seen, nothing can make me believe I saw not, unless I am, as once or twice I have thought myself, really mad."
"How do you now feel in general health?"
"Far from well; and a strange drowsiness at times creeps over me. Even now I feel it."
She sunk back on the pillows as she spoke and closed her eyes with a deep sigh.
Mr. Chillingworth beckoned Henry to come with him from the room, but the latter had promised that he would remain with Flora; and as Mrs. Bannerworth had left the chamber because she was unable to control her feelings, he rang the bell, and requested that his mother would come.
She did so, and then Henry went down stairs along with the medical man, whose opinion he was certainly eager to be now made acquainted with.
As soon as they were alone in an old-fashioned room which was called the oak closet, Henry turned to Mr. Chillingworth, and said,
"What, now, is your candid opinion, sir? You have seen my sister, and those strange indubitable evidences of something wrong."
"I have; and to tell you candidly the truth, Mr. Henry, I am sorely perplexed."
"I thought you would be."
"It is not often that a medical man likes to say so much, nor is it, indeed, often prudent that he should do so, but in this case I own I am much puzzled. It is contrary to all my notions upon all such subjects."
"Those wounds, what do you think of them?"
"I know not what to think. I am completely puzzled as regards them."
"But, but do they not really bear the appearance of being bites?"
"They really do."
"And so far, then, they are actually in favour of the dreadful supposition which poor Flora entertains."
"So far they certainly are. I have no doubt in the world of their being bites; but we not must jump to a conclusion that the teeth which inflicted them were human. It is a strange case, and one which I feel assured must give you all much uneasiness, as, indeed, it gave me; but, as I said before, I will not let my judgment give in to the fearful and degrading superstition which all the circumstances connected with this strange story would seem to justify."
"It is a degrading superstition."
"To my mind your sister seems to be labouring under the effect of some narcotic."
"Yes; unless she really has lost a quantity of blood, which loss has decreased the heart's action sufficiently to produce the languor under which she now evidently labours."
"Oh, that I could believe the former supposition, but I am confident she has taken no narcotic; she could not even do so by mistake, for there is no drug of the sort in the house. Besides, she is not heedless by any means. I am quite convinced she has not done so."
"Then I am fairly puzzled, my young friend, and I can only say that I would freely have given half of what I am worth to see that figure you saw last night."
"What would you have done?"
"I would not have lost sight of it for the world's wealth."
"You would have felt your blood freeze with horror. The face was terrible."
"And yet let it lead me where it liked I would have followed it."
"I wish you had been here."
"I wish to Heaven I had. If I though there was the least chance of another visit I would come and wait with patience every night for a month."
"I cannot say," replied Henry. "I am going to sit up to-night with my sister, and I believe, our friend Mr. Marchdale will share my watch with me."
Mr. Chillingworth appeared to be for a few moments lost in thought, and then suddenly rousing himself, as if he found it either impossible to come to any rational conclusion upon the subject, or had arrived at one which he chose to keep to himself, he said,
"Well, well, we must leave the matter at present as it stands. Time may accomplish something towards its development, but at present so palpable a mystery I never came across, or a matter in which human calculation was so completely foiled."
"Nor Inor I."
"I will send you some medicines, such as I think will be of service to Flora, and depend upon seeing me by ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
"You have, of course, heard something," said Henry to the doctor, as he was pulling on his gloves, "about vampyres."
"I certainly have, and I understand that in some countries, particularly Norway and Sweden, the superstition is a very common one."
"And in the Levant."
"Yes. The ghouls of the Mahometans are of the same description of beings. All that I have heard of the European vampyre has made it a being which can be killed, but is restored to life again by the rays of a full moon falling on the body."
"Yes, yes, I have heard as much."
"And that the hideous repast of blood has to be taken very frequently, and that if the vampyre gets it not he wastes away, presenting the appearance of one in the last stage of a consumption, and visibly, so to speak, dying."
"That is what I have understood."
"To-night, do you know, Mr. Bannerworth, is the full of the moon."
"If now you had succeeded in killing. Pshaw, what am I saying. I believe I am getting foolish, and that the horrible superstition is beginning to fasten itself upon me as well as upon all of you. How strangely the fancy will wage war with the judgment in such a way as this."
"The full of the moon," repeated Henry, as he glanced towards the window, "and the night is near at hand."
"Banish these thoughts from your mind," said the doctor, "or else, my young friend, you will make yourself decidedly ill. Good evening to you, for it is evening. I shall see you to-morrow morning."
Mr. Chillingworth appeared now to be anxious to go, and Henry no longer opposed his departure; but when he was gone a sense of great loneliness came over him.
"To-night," he repeated, "is the full of the moon. How strange that this dreadful adventure should have taken place just the night before. 'Tis very strange. Let me seelet me see."
He took from the shelves of a book case the work which Flora had mentioned, entitled, "Travels in Norway," in which work he found some account of the popular belief in vampyres.
He opened the work at random, and then some of the leaves turned over of themselves to a particular place, as the leaves of a book will frequently do when it has been kept open a length of time at that part, and the binding stretched there more than anywhere else. There was a note at the bottom of one of the pages at this part of the book, and Henry read as follows:
"With regard to these vampyres, it is believed by those who are inclined to give credence to so dreadful a superstition, that they always endeavour to make their feast of blood, for the revival of their bodily powers, on some evening immediately preceding a full moon, because if any accident befal them, such as being shot, or otherwise killed or wounded, they can recover by lying down somewhere where the full moon's rays will fall upon them."
Henry let the book drop from his hands with a groan and a shudder.
THE NIGHT WATCH.THE PROPOSAL.THE MOONLIGHT.THE FEARFUL ADVENTURE.
A kind of stupefaction came over Henry Bannerworth, and he sat for about a quarter of an hour scarcely conscious of where he was, and almost incapable of anything in the shape of rational thought. It was his brother, George, who roused him by saying, as he laid his hand upon his shoulder,
"Henry, are you asleep?"
Henry had not been aware of his presence, and he started up as if he had been shot.
"Oh, George, is it you?" he said.
"Yes, Henry, are you unwell?"
"No, no; I was in a deep reverie."
"Alas! I need not ask upon what subject," said George, sadly. "I sought you to bring you this letter."
"A letter to me?"
"Yes, you see it is addressed to you, and the seal looks as if it came from someone of consequence."
"Yes, Henry. Read it, and see from whence it comes."
There was just sufficient light by going to the window to enable Henry to read the letter, which he did aloud.
It ran thus:
"Sir Francis Varney presents his compliments to Mr. Beaumont, and is much concerned to hear that some domestic affliction has fallen upon him. Sir Francis hopes that the genuine and loving sympathy of a neighbour will not be regarded as an intrusion, and begs to proffer any assistance or counsel that may be within the compass of his means.
"Sir Francis Varney!" said Henry, "who is he?"
"Do you not remember, Henry," said George, "we were told a few days ago, that a gentleman of that name had become the purchaser of the estate of Ratford Abbey."
"Oh, yes, yes. Have you seen him?"
"I have not."
"I do not wish to make any new acquaintance, George. We are very poormuch poorer indeed than the general appearance of this place, which, I fear, we shall soon have to part with, would warrant any one believing. I must, of course, return a civil answer to this gentleman, but it must be such as one as shall repress familiarity."
"That will be difficult to do while we remain here, when we come to consider the very close proximity of the two properties, Henry."
"Oh, no, not at all. He will easily perceive that we do not want to make acquaintance with him, and then, as a gentleman, which doubtless he is, he will give up the attempt."
"Let it be so, Henry. Heaven knows I have no desire to form any new acquaintance with any one, and more particularly under our present circumstances of depression. And now, Henry, you must permit me, as I have had some repose, to share with you your night watch in Flora's room."
"I would advise you not, George; your health, you know, is very far from good."
"Nay, allow me. If not, then the anxiety I shall suffer will do me more harm than the watchfulness I shall keep up in her chamber."
This was an argument which Henry felt himself the force of too strongly not to admit it in the case of George, and he therefore made no further opposition to his wish to make one in the night watch.
"There will be an advantage," said George, "you see, in three of us being engaged in this matter, because, should anything occur, two can act together, and yet Flora may not be left alone."
"True, true, that is a great advantage."
Now a soft gentle silvery light began to spread itself over the heavens. The moon was rising, and as the beneficial effects of the storm of the preceding evening were still felt in the clearness of the air, the rays appeared to be more lustrous and full of beauty than they commonly were.
Each moment the night grew lighter, and by the time the brothers were ready to take their places in the chamber of Flora, the moon had risen considerably.
Although neither Henry nor George had any objection to the company of Mr. Marchdale, yet they gave him the option, and rather in fact urged him not to destroy his night's repose by sitting up with them; but he said,
"Allow me to do so; I am older, and have calmer judgment than you can have. Should anything again appear, I am quite resolved that it shall not escape me."
"What would you do?"
"With the name of God upon my lips," said Mr. Marchdale, solemnly, "I would grapple with it."
"You laid hands upon it last night."
"I did, and have forgotten to show you what I tore from it. Look here,what should you say this was?"
He produced a piece of cloth, on which was an old-fashioned piece of lace, and two buttons. Upon a close inspection, this appeared to be a portion of the lapel of a coat of ancient times, and suddenly, Henry, with a look of intense anxiety, said,
"This reminds me of the fashion of garments very many years ago, Mr. Marchdale."
"It came away in my grasp as if rotten and incapable of standing any rough usage."
"What a strange unearthly smell it has!"
"Now you mention it yourself," added Mr. Marchdale, "I must confess it smells to me as if it had really come from the very grave."
"It doesit does. Say nothing of this relic of last night's work to any one."
"Be assured I shall not. I am far from wishing to keep up in any one's mind proofs of that which I would fain, very fain refute."
Mr. Marchdale replaced the portion of the coat which the figure had worn in his pocket, and then the whole three proceeded to the chamber of Flora.
It was within a very few minutes of midnight, the moon had climbed high in the heavens, and a night of such brightness and beauty had seldom shown itself for a long period of time.
Flora slept, and in her chamber sat the two brothers and Mr. Marchdale, silently, for she had shown symptoms of restlessness, and they much feared to break the light slumber into which she had fallen.
Occasionally they had conversed in whispers, which could not have the effect of rousing her, for the room, although smaller than the one she had before occupied, was still sufficiently spacious to enable them to get some distance from the bed.
Until the hour of midnight now actually struck, they were silent, and when the last echo of the sounds had died away, a feeling of uneasiness came over them, which prompted some conversation to get rid of it.
"How bright the moon is now," said Henry, in a low tone.
"I never saw it brighter," replied Marchdale. "I feel as if I were assured that we shall not to-night be interrupted."
"It was later than this," said Henry.
"It wasit was."
"Do not then yet congratulate us upon no visit."
"How still the house is!" remarked George; "it seems to me as if I had never found it so intensely quiet before."
"It is very still."
"Hush! she moves."
Flora moaned in her sleep, and made a slight movement. The curtains were all drawn closely round the bed to shield her eyes from the bright moonlight which streamed into the room so brilliantly. They might have closed the shutters of the window, but this they did not like to do, as it would render their watch there of no avail at all, inasmuch as they would not be able to see if any attempt was made by any one to obtain admittance.
A quarter of an hour longer might have thus passed when Mr. Marchdale said in a whisper,
"A thought has just struck me that the piece of coat I have, which I dragged from the figure last night, wonderfully resembles in colour and appearance the style of dress of the portrait in the room which Flora lately slept in."
"I thought of that," said Henry, "when first I saw it; but, to tell the honest truth, I dreaded to suggest any new proof connected with last night's visitation."
"Then I ought not to have drawn your attention to it," said Mr. Marchdale, "and regret I have done so."
"Nay, do not blame yourself on such an account," said Henry. "You are quite right, and it is I who am too foolishly sensitive. Now, however, since you have mentioned it, I must own I have a great desire to test the accuracy of the observation by a comparison with the portrait."
"That may easily be done."
"I will remain here," said George, "in case Flora awakens, while you two go if you like. It is but across the corridor."
Henry immediately rose, saying
"Come, Mr. Marchdale, come. Let us satisfy ourselves at all events upon this point at once. As George says it is only across the corridor, and we can return directly."
"I am willing," said Mr. Marchdale, with a tone of sadness.
There was no light needed, for the moon stood suspended in a cloudless sky, so that from the house being a detached one, and containing numerous windows, it was as light as day.
Although the distance from one chamber to the other was only across the corridor, it was a greater space than these words might occupy, for the corridor was wide, neither was it directly across, but considerably slanting. However, it was certainly sufficiently close at hand for any sound of alarm from one chamber to reach another without any difficulty.
A few moments sufficed to place Henry and Mr. Marchdale in that antique room, where, from the effect of the moonlight which was streaming over it, the portrait on the panel looked exceedingly life like.
And this effect was probably the greater because the rest of the room was not illuminated by the moon's rays, which came through a window in the corridor, and then at the open door of that chamber upon the portrait.
Mr. Marchdale held the piece of cloth he had close to the dress of the portrait, and one glance was sufficient to show the wonderful likeness between the two.
"Good God!" said Henry, "it is the same."
Mr. Marchdale dropped the piece of cloth and trembled.
"This fact shakes even your scepticism," said Henry.
"I know not what to make of it."
"I can tell you something which bears upon it. I do not know if you are sufficiently aware of my family history to know that this one of my ancestors, I wish I could say worthy ancestors, committed suicide, and was buried in his clothes."
"Youyou are sure of that?"
"I am more and more bewildered as each moment some strange corroborative fact of that dreadful supposition we so much shrink from seems to come to light and to force itself upon our attention."
There was a silence of a few moments duration, and Henry had turned towards Mr. Marchdale to say something, when the cautious tread of a footstep was heard in the garden, immediately beneath that balcony.
A sickening sensation came over Henry, and he was compelled to lean against the wall for support, as in scarcely articulate accents he said
"The vampyrethe vampyre! God of heaven, it has come once again!"
"Now, Heaven inspire us with more than mortal courage," cried Mr. Marchdale, and he dashed open the window at once, and sprang into the balcony.
Henry in a moment recovered himself sufficiently to follow him, and when he reached his side in the balcony, Marchdale said, as he pointed below,
"There is some one concealed there."
"Among the laurels. I will fire a random shot, and we may do some execution."
"Hold!" said a voice from below; "don't do any such thing, I beg of you."
"Why, that is Mr. Chillingworth's voice," cried Henry.
"Yes, and it's Mr. Chillingworth's person, too," said the doctor, as he emerged from among some laurel bushes.
"How is this?" said Marchdale.
"Simply that I made up my mind to keep watch and ward to-night outside here, in the hope of catching the vampyre. I got into here by climbing the gate."
"But why did you not let me know?" said Henry.
"Because I did not know myself, my young friend, till an hour and a half ago."
"Have you seen anything?"
"Nothing. But I fancied I heard something in the park outside the wall."
"What say you, Henry," said Mr. Marchdale, "to descending and taking a hasty examination of the garden and grounds?"
"I am willing; but first allow me to speak to George, who otherwise might be surprised at our long absence."
Henry walked rapidly to the bed chamber of Flora, and be said to George,
"Have you any objection to being left alone here for about half an hour, George, while we make an examination of the garden?"
"Let me have some weapon and I care not. Remain here while I fetch a sword from my own room."
Henry did so, and when George returned with a sword, which he always kept in his bed-room, he said,
"Now go, Henry. I prefer a weapon of this description to pistols much. Do not be longer gone than necessary."
"I will not, George, be assured."
George was then left alone, and Henry returned to the balcony, where Mr. Marchdale was waiting for him. It was a quicker mode of descending to the garden to do so by clambering over the balcony than any other, and the height was not considerable enough to make it very objectionable, so Henry and Mr. Marchdale chose that way of joining Mr. Chillingworth.
"You are, no doubt, much surprised at finding me here," said the doctor; "but the fact is, I half made up my mind to come while I was here; but I had not thoroughly done so, therefore I said nothing to you about it."
"We are much indebted to you," said Henry, "for making the attempt."
"I am prompted to it by a feeling of the strongest curiosity."
"Are you armed, sir?" said Marchdale.
"In this stick," said the doctor, "is a sword, the exquisite temper of which I know I can depend upon, and I fully intended to run through any one whom I saw that looked in the least of the vampyre order."
"You would have done quite right," replied Mr. Marchdale. "I have a brace of pistols here, loaded with ball; will you take one, Henry, if you please, and then we shall be all armed."
Thus, then, prepared for any exigency, they made the whole round of the house; but found all the fastenings secure, and everything as quiet as possible.
"Suppose, now, we take a survey of the park outside the garden wall," said Mr. Marchdale.
This was agreed to; but before they had proceeded far, Mr. Marchdale said,
"There is a ladder lying on the wall; would it not be a good plan to place it against the very spot the supposed vampyre jumped over last night, and so, from a more elevated position, take a view of the open meadows. We could easily drop down on the outer side, if we saw anything suspicious."
"Not a bad plan," said the doctor. "Shall we do it?"
"Certainly," said Henry; and they accordingly carried the ladder, which had been used for pruning the trees, towards the spot at the end of the long walk, at which the vampyre had made good, after so many fruitless efforts, his escape from the premises.
They made haste down the long vista of trees until they reached the exact spot, and then they placed the ladder as near as possible, exactly where Henry, in his bewilderment on the evening before, had seen the apparition from the grave spring to.
"We can ascend singly," said Marchdale; "but there is ample space for us all there to sit on the top of the wall and make our observations."
This was seen to be the case, and in about a couple of minutes they had taken up their positions on the wall, and, although the height was but trifling, they found that they had a much more extensive view than they could have obtained by any other means.
"To contemplate the beauty of such a night as this," said Mr. Chillingworth, "is amply sufficient compensation for coming the distance I have."
"And who knows," remarked Marchdale, "we may yet see something which may throw a light upon our present perplexities God knows that I would give all I can call mine in the world to relieve you and your sister, Henry Bannerworth, from the fearful effect which last night's proceedings cannot fail to have upon you."
"Of that I am well assured, Mr. Marchdale," said Henry. "If the happiness of myself and family depended upon you, we should be happy indeed."
"You are silent, Mr. Chillingworth," remarked Marchdale, after a slight pause.
"Hush!" said Mr. Chillingworth"hushhush!"
"Good God, what do you hear?" cried Henry.
The doctor laid his hand upon Henry's arm as he said,
"There is a young lime tree yonder to the right."
"Carry your eye from it in a horizontal line, as near as you can, towards the wood."
Henry did so, and then he uttered a sudden exclamation of surprise, and pointed to a rising spot of ground, which was yet, in consequence of the number of tall trees in its vicinity, partially enveloped in shadow.
"What is that?" he said.
"I see something," said Marchdale. "By Heaven! it is a human form lying stretched there."
"It isas if in death."
"What can it be?" said Chillingworth.
"I dread to say," replied Marchdale; "but to my eyes, even at this distance, it seems like the form of him we chased last night."
"Yesyes. Look, the moonbeams touch him. Now the shadows of the trees gradually recede. God of Heaven! the figure moves."
Henry's eyes were riveted to that fearful object, and now a scene presented itself which filled them all with wonder and astonishment, mingled with sensations of the greatest awe and alarm.
As the moonbeams, in consequence of the luminary rising higher and higher in the heavens, came to touch this figure that lay extended on the rising ground, a perceptible movement took place in it. The limbs appeared to tremble, and although it did not rise up, the whole body gave signs of vitality.
"The vampyrethe vampyre!" said Mr. Marchdale. "I cannot doubt it now. We must have hit him last night with the pistol bullets, and the moonbeams are now restoring him to a new life."
Henry shuddered, and even Mr. Chillingworth turned pale. But he was the first to recover himself sufficiently to propose some course of action, and he said,
"Let us descend and go up to this figure. It is a duty we owe to ourselves as much as to society."
"Hold a moment," said Mr. Marchdale, as he produced a pistol. "I am an unerring shot, as you well know, Henry. Before we move from this position we now occupy, allow me to try what virtue may be in a bullet to lay that figure low again."
"He is rising!" exclaimed Henry.
Mr. Marchdale levelled the pistolhe took a sure and deliberate aim, and then, just as the figure seemed to be struggling to its feet, he fired, and, with a sudden bound, it fell again.
"You have hit it," said Henry.
"You have indeed," exclaimed the doctor. "I think we can go now."
"Hush!" said Marchdale"Hush! Does it not seem to you that, hit it as often as you will, the moonbeams will recover it?"
"Yesyes," said Henry, "they willthey will."
"I can endure this no longer," said Mr. Chillingworth, as he sprung from the wall. "Follow me or not, as you please, I will seek the spot where this being lies."
"Oh, be not rash," cried Marchdale. "See, it rises again, and its form looks gigantic."
"I trust in Heaven and a righteous cause," said the doctor, as he drew the sword he had spoken of from the stick, and threw away the scabbard. "Come with me if you like, or I go alone."
Henry at once jumped down from the wall, and then Marchdale followed him, saying,
"Come on; I will not shrink."
They ran towards the piece of rising ground; but before they got to it, the form rose and made rapidly towards a little wood which was in the immediate neighbourhood of the hillock.
"It is conscious of being pursued," cried the doctor. "See how it glances back, and then increases its speed."
"Fire upon it, Henry," said Marchdale.
He did so; but either his shot did not take effect, or it was quite unheeded if it did, by the vampyre, which gained the wood before they could have a hope of getting sufficiently near it to effect, or endeavour to effect, a capture.
"I cannot follow it there," said Marchdale. "In open country I would have pursued it closely; but I cannot follow it into the intricacies of a wood."
"Pursuit is useless there," said Henry. "It is enveloped in the deepest gloom."
"I am not so unreasonable," remarked Mr. Chillingworth, "as to wish you to follow into such a place as that. I am confounded utterly by this affair."
"And I," said Marchdale. "What on earth is to be done?"
"Nothingnothing!" exclaimed Henry, vehemently; "and yet I have, beneath the canopy of Heaven, declared that I will, so help me God! spare neither time nor trouble in the unravelling of this most fearful piece of business. Did either of you remark the clothing which this spectral appearance wore?"
"They were antique clothes," said Mr. Chillingworth, "such as might have been fashionable a hundred years ago, but not now."
"Such was my impression," added Marchdale.
"And such my own," said Henry, excitedly. "Is it at all within the compass of the wildest belief that what we have seen is a vampyre, and no other than my ancestor who, a hundred years ago, committed suicide?"
There was so much intense excitement, and evidence of mental suffering, that Mr. Chillingworth took him by the arm, saying,
"Come homecome home; no more of this at present; you will but make yourself seriously unwell."
"Come home now, I pray you; you are by far too much excited about this matter to pursue it with the calmness which should be brought to bear upon it."
"Take advice, Henry," said Marchdale, "take advice, and come home at once."
"I will yield to you; I feel that I cannot control my own feelingsI will yield to you, who, as you say, are cooler on this subject than I can be. Oh, Flora, Flora, I have no comfort to bring to you now."
Poor Henry Bannerworth appeared to be in a complete state of mental prostration, on account of the distressing circumstances that had occurred so rapidly and so suddenly in his family, which had had quite enough to contend with without having superadded to every other evil the horror of believing that some preternatural agency was at work to destroy every hope of future happiness in this world, under any circumstances.
He suffered himself to be led home by Mr. Chillingworth and Marchdale; he no longer attempted to dispute the dreadful fact concerning the supposed vampyre; he could not contend now against all the corroborating circumstances that seemed to collect together for the purpose of proving that which, even when proved, was contrary to all his notions of Heaven, and at variance with all that was recorded and established is part and parcel of the system of nature.
"I cannot deny," he said, when they had reached home, "that such things are possible; but the probability will not bear a moment's investigation."
"There are more things," said Marchdale, solemnly, "in Heaven, and on earth, than are dreamed of in our philosophy."
"There are indeed, it appears," said Mr. Chillingworth.
"And are you a convert?" said Henry, turning to him.
"A convert to what?"
"To a belief ininthese vampyres?"
"I? No, indeed; if you were to shut me up in a room full of vampyres, I would tell them all to their teeth that I defied them."
"But after what we have seen to-night?"
"What have we seen?"
"You are yourself a witness."
"True; I saw a man lying down, and then I saw a man get up; he seemed then to be shot, but whether he was or not he only knows; and then I saw him walk off in a desperate hurry. Beyond that, I saw nothing."
"Yes; but, taking such circumstances into combination with others, have you not a terrible fear of the truth of the dreadful appearance?"
"Nono; on my soul, no. I will die in my disbelief of such an outrage upon Heaven as one of these creatures would most assuredly be."
"Oh! that I could think like you; but the circumstance strikes too nearly to my heart."
"Be of better cheer, Henrybe of better cheer," said Marchdale; "there is one circumstance which we ought to consider, it is that, from all we have seen, there seems to be some things which would favour an opinion, Henry, that your ancestor, whose portrait hangs in the chamber which was occupied by Flora, is the vampyre."
"The dress was the same," said Henry.
"I noted it was."
"Do you not, then, think it possible that something might be done to set that part of the question at rest?"
"Where is your ancestor buried?"
"Ah! I understand you now."
"And I," said Mr. Chillingworth; "you would propose a visit to his mansion?"
"I would," added Marchdale; "anything that may in any way tend to assist in making this affair clearer, and divesting it of its mysterious circumstances, will be most desirable."
Henry appeared to rouse for some moments and then he said,
"He, in common with many other members of the family, no doubt occupies place in the vault under the old church in the village."
"Would it be possible," asked Marchdale, "to get into that vault without exciting general attention?"
"It would," said Henry; "the entrance to the vault is in the flooring of the pew which belongs to the family in the old church."
"Then it could be done?" asked Mr. Chillingworth.
"Will you under take such an adventure?" said Mr. Chillingworth. "It may ease your mind."
"He was buried in the vault, and in his clothes," said Henry, musingly; "I will think of it. About such a proposition I would not decide hastily. Give me leave to think of it until to-morrow."
They now made their way to the chamber of Flora, and they heard from George that nothing of an alarming character had occurred to disturb him on his lonely watch. The morning was now again dawning, and Henry earnestly entreated Mr. Marchdale to go to bed, which he did, leaving the two brothers to continue as sentinels by Flora's bed side, until the morning light should banish all uneasy thoughts.
Henry related to George what had taken place outside the house, and the two brothers held a long and interesting conversation for some hours upon that subject, as well as upon others of great importance to their welfare. It was not until the sun's early rays came glaring in at the casement that they both rose, and thought of awakening Flora, who had now slept soundly for so many hours.
A GLANCE AT THE BANNERWORTH FAMILY.THE PROBABLE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MYSTERIOUS APPARITION'S APPEARANCE.
Having thus far, we hope, interested our readers in the fortunes of a family which had become subject to so dreadful a visitation, we trust that a few words concerning them, and the peculiar circumstances in which they are now placed, will not prove altogether out of place, or unacceptable. The Bannerworth family then were well known in the part of the country where they resided. Perhaps, if we were to say they were better known by name than they were liked, on account of that name, we should be near the truth, for it had unfortunately happened that for a very considerable time past the head of the family had been the very worst specimen of it that could be procured. While the junior branches were frequently amiable and most intelligent, and such in mind and manner as were calculated to inspire goodwill in all who knew them, he who held the family property, and who resided in the house now occupied by Flora and her brothers, was a very soso sort of character.
This state of things, by some strange fatality, had gone on for nearly a hundred years, and the consequence was what might have been fairly expected, namelythat, what with their vices and what with their extravagances, the successive heads of the Bannerworth family had succeeded in so far diminishing the family property that, when it came into the hands of Henry Bannerworth, it was of little value, on account of the numerous encumbrances with which it was saddled.
The father of Henry had not been a very brilliant exception to the general rule, as regarded the head of the family. If he were not quite so bad as many of his ancestors, that gratifying circumstance was to be accounted for by the supposition that he was not quite so bold, and that the change in habits, manners, and laws, which had taken place in a hundred years, made it not so easy for even a landed proprietor to play the petty tyrant.
He had, to get rid of those animal spirits which had prompted many of his predecessors to downright crimes, had recourse to the gaming-table, and, after raising whatever sums he could upon the property which remained, he naturally, and as might have been fully expected, lost them all.
He was found lying dead in the garden of the house one day, and by his side was his pocket-book, on one leaf of which, it was the impression of the family, he had endeavoured to write something previous to his decease, for he held a pencil firmly in his grasp.
The probability was that he had felt himself getting ill, and, being desirous of making some communication to his family which pressed heavily upon his mind, he had attempted to do so, but was stopped by the too rapid approach of the hand of death.
For some days previous to his decease, his conduct had been extremely mysterious. He had announced an intention of leaving England for everof selling the house and grounds for whatever they would fetch over and above the sums for which they were mortgaged, and so clearing himself of all encumbrances.
He had, but a few hours before he was found lying dead, made the following singular speech to Henry,
"Do not regret, Henry, that the old house which has been in our family so long is about to be parted with. Be assured that, if it is but for the first time in my life, I have good and substantial reasons now for what I am about to do. We shall be able to go some other country, and there live like princes of the land."
Where the means were to come from to live like a prince, unless Mr. Bannerworth had some of the German princes in his eye, no one knew but himself, and his sudden death buried with him that most important secret.
There were some words written on the leaf of his pocket-book, but they were of by far too indistinct and ambiguous a nature to lead to anything. They were these:
"The money is "
And then there was a long scrawl of the pencil, which seemed to have been occasioned by his sudden decease.
Of course nothing could be made of these words, except in the way of a contradiction as the family lawyer said, rather more facetiously than a man of law usually speaks, for if he had written "The money is not," he would have been somewhere remarkably near the truth.
However, with all his vices he was regretted by his children, who chose rather to remember him in his best aspect than to dwell upon his faults.
For the first time then, within the memory of man, the head of the family of the Bannerworths was a gentleman, in every sense of the word. Brave, generous, highly educated, and full of many excellent and noble qualitiesfor such was Henry, whom we have introduced to our readers under such distressing circumstances.
And now, people said, that the family property having been all dissipated and lost, there would take place a change, and that the Bannerworths would have to take to some course of honourable industry for a livelihood, and that then they would be as much respected as they had before been detested and disliked.
Indeed, the position which Henry held was now a most precarious onefor one of the amazingly clever acts of his father had been to encumber the property with overwhelming claims, so that when Henry administered to the estate, it was doubted almost by his attorney if it were at all desirable to do so.
An attachment, however, to the old house of his family, had induced the young man to hold possession of it as long as he could, despite any adverse circumstance which might eventually be connected with it.
Some weeks, however, only after the decease of his father, and when he fairly held possession, a sudden and a most unexpected offer came to him from a solicitor in London, of whom he knew nothing, to purchase the house and grounds, for a client of his, who had instructed him so to do, but whom he did not mention.
The offer made was a liberal one, and beyond the value of the place. The lawyer who had conducted Henry's affairs for him since his father's decease, advised him by all means to take it; but after a consultation with his mother and sister, and George, they all resolved to hold by their own house as long as they could, and, consequently, he refused the offer.
He was then asked to let the place, and to name his own price for the occupation of it; but that he would not do: so the negotiation went off altogether, leaving only, in the minds of the family, much surprise at the exceeding eagerness of some one, whom they knew not, to get possession of the place on any terms.
There was another circumstance perhaps which materially aided in producing a strong feeling on the minds of the Bannerworths, with regard to remaining where they were.
That circumstance occurred thus: a relation of the family, who was now dead, and with whom had died all his means, had been in the habit, for the last half dozen years of his life, of sending a hundred pounds to Henry, for the express purpose of enabling him and his brother George and his sifter Flora to take a little continental or home tour, in the autumn of the year.
A more acceptable present, or for a more delightful purpose, to young people, could not be found; and, with the quiet, prudent habits of all three of them, they contrived to go far and to see much for the sum which was thus handsomely placed at their disposal.
In one of those excursions, when among the mountains of Italy, an adventure occurred which placed the life of Flora in imminent hazard.
They were riding along a narrow mountain path, and, her horse slipping, she fell over the ledge of a precipice.
In an instant, a young man, a stranger to the whole party, who was travelling in the vicinity, rushed to the spot, and by his knowledge and exertions, they felt convinced her preservation was effected.
He told her to lie quiet; he encouraged her to hope for immediate succour; and then, with much personal exertion, and at immense risk to himself, he reached the ledge of rock on which she lay, and then he supported her until the brothers had gone to a neighbouring house, which, bye-the-bye, was two good English miles off, and got assistance.
There came on, while they were gone, a terrific storm, and Flora felt that but for him who was with her she must have been hurled from the rock, and perished in an abyss below, which was almost too deep for observation.
Suffice it to say that she was rescued; and he who had, by his intrepidity, done so much towards saving her, was loaded with the most sincere and heartfelt acknowledgments by the brothers as well as by herself.
He frankly told them that his name was Holland; that he was travelling for amusement and instruction, and was by profession an artist.
He travelled with them for some time; and it was not at all to be wondered at, under the circumstances, that an attachment of the tenderest nature should spring up between him and the beautiful girl, who felt that she owed to him her life.
Mutual glances of affection were exchanged between them, and it was arranged that when he returned to England, he should come at once as an honoured guest to the house of the family of the Bannerworths.
All this was settled satisfactorily with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the two brothers, who had taken a strange attachment to the young Charles Holland, who was indeed in every way likely to propitiate the good opinion of all who knew him.
Henry explained to him exactly how they were situated, and told him that when he came he would find a welcome from all, except possibly his father, whose wayward temper he could not answer for.
Young Holland stated that he was compelled to be away for a term of two years, from certain family arrangements he had entered into, and that then he would return and hope to meet Flora unchanged as he should be.
It happened that this was the last of the continental excursions of the Bannerworths, for, before another year rolled round, the generous relative who had supplied them with the means of making such delightful trips was no more; and, likewise, the death of the father had occurred in the manner we have related, so that there was no chance as had been anticipated and hoped for by Flora, of meeting Charles Holland on the continent again, before his two years of absence from England should be expired.
Such, however, being the state of things, Flora felt reluctant to give up the house, where he would be sure to come to look for her, and her happiness was too dear to Henry to induce him to make any sacrifice of it to expediency.
Therefore was it that Bannerworth Hall, as it was sometimes called, was retained, and fully intended to be retained at all events until after Charles Holland had made his appearance, and his advice (for he was, by the young people, considered as one of the family) taken, with regard to what was advisable to be done.
With one exception this was the state of affairs at the hall, and that exception relates to Mr. Marchdale.
He was a distant relation of Mrs. Bannerworth, and, in early life, had been sincerely and tenderly attached to her. She, however, with the want of steady reflection of a young girl, as she then was, had, as is generally the case among several admirers, chosen the very worst: that is, the man who treated her with the most indifference, and who paid her the least attention, was of course, thought the most of, and she gave her hand to him.
That man was Mr. Bannerworth. But future experience had made her thoroughly awake to her former error; and, but for the love she bore her children, who were certainly all that a mother's heart could wish, she would often have deeply regretted the infatuation which had induced her to bestow her hand in the quarter she had done so.
About a month after the decease of Mr. Bannerworth, there came one to the hall, who desired to see the widow. That one was Mr. Marchdale.
It might have been some slight tenderness towards him which had never left her, or it might be the pleasure merely of seeing one whom she had known intimately in early life, but, be that as it may, she certainly gave him a kindly welcome; and he, after consenting to remain for some time as a visitor at the hall, won the esteem of the whole family by his frank demeanour and cultivated intellect.
He had travelled much and seen much, and he had turned to good account all he had seen, so that not only was Mr. Marchdale a man of sterling sound sense, but he was a most entertaining companion.
His intimate knowledge of many things concerning which they knew little or nothing; his accurate modes of thought, and a quiet, gentlemanly demeanour, such as is rarely to be met with, combined to make him esteemed by the Bannerworths. He had a small independence of his own, and being completely alone in the world, for he had neither wife nor child, Marchdale owned that he felt a pleasure in residing with the Bannerworths.
Of course he could not, in decent terms, so far offend them as to offer to pay for his subsistence, but he took good care that they should really be no losers by having him as an inmate, a matter which he could easily arrange by little presents of one kind and another, all of which he managed should be such as were not only ornamental, but actually spared his kind entertainers some positive expense which otherwise they must have gone to.
Whether or not this amiable piece of manoeuvring was seen through by the Bannerworths it is not our purpose to inquire. If it was seen through, it could not lower him in their esteem, for it was probably just what they themselves would have felt a pleasure in doing under similar circumstances, and if they did not observe it, Mr. Marchdale would, probably, be all the better pleased.
Such then may be considered by our readers as a brief outline of the state of affairs among the Bannerworthsa state which was pregnant with changes, and which changes were now likely to be rapid and conclusive.
How far the feelings of the family towards the ancient house of their race would be altered by the appearance at it of so fearful a visitor as a vampyre, we will not stop to inquire, inasmuch as such feelings will develop themselves as we proceed.
That the visitation had produced a serious effect upon all the household was sufficiently evident, as well among the educated as among the ignorant. On the second morning, Henry received notice to quit his service from the three servants he with difficulty had contrived to keep at the hall. The reason why he received such notice he knew well enough, and therefore he did not trouble himself to argue about a superstition to which he felt now himself almost, compelled to give way; for how could he say there was no such thing as a vampyre, when he had, with his own eyes, had the most abundant evidence of the terrible fact?
He calmly paid the servants, and allowed them to leave him at once without at all entering into the matter, and, for the time being, some men were procured, who, however, came evidently with fear and trembling, and probably only took the place, on account of not being able, to procure any other. The comfort of the household was likely to be completely put an end to, and reasons now for leaving the hall appeared to be most rapidly accumulating.
THE VISIT TO THE VAULT OF THE BANNERWORTHS, AND ITS UNPLEASANT RESULT.THE MYSTERY.
Henry and his brother roused Flora, and after agreeing together that it would be highly imprudent to say anything to her of the proceedings of the night, they commenced a conversation with her in encouraging and kindly accents.
"Well, Flora," said Henry, "you see you have been quite undisturbed to-night."
"I have slept long, dear Henry."
"You have, and pleasantly too, I hope."
"I have not had any dreams, and I feel much refreshed, now, and quite well again."
"Thank Heaven!" said George.
"If you will tell dear mother that I am awake, I will get up with her assistance."
The brothers left the room, and they spoke to each other of it as a favourable sign, that Flora did not object to being left alone now, as she had done on the preceding morning.
"She is fast recovering, now, George," said Henry. "If we could now but persuade ourselves that all this alarm would pass away, and that we should hear no more of it, we might return to our old and comparatively happy condition."
"Let us believe, Henry, that we shall."
"And yet, George, I shall not be satisfied in my mind, until I have paid a visit."
"A visit? Where?"
"To the family vault."
"Indeed, Henry! I thought you had abandoned that idea."
"I had. I have several times abandoned it; but it comes across my mind again and again."
"I much regret it."
"Look you, George; as yet, everything that has happened has tended to confirm a belief in this most horrible of all superstitions concerning vampyres."
"Now, my great object, George, is to endeavour to disturb such a state of things, by getting something, however slight, or of a negative character, for the mind to rest upon on the other side of the question."
"I comprehend you, Henry."
"You know that at present we are not only led to believe, almost irresistibly that we have been visited here by a vampyre but that that vampyre is our ancestor, whose portrait is on the panel of the wall of the chamber into which he contrived to make his way."
"True, most true."
"Then let us, by an examination of the family vault, George, put an end to one of the evidences. If we find, as most surely we shall, the coffin of the ancestor of ours, who seems, in dress and appearance, so horribly mixed up in this affair, we shall be at rest on that head."
"But consider how many years have elapsed."
"Yes, a great number."
"What then, do you suppose, could remain of any corpse placed in a vault so long ago?"
"Decomposition must of course have done its work, but still there must be a something to show that a corpse has so undergone the process common to all nature. Double the lapse of time surely could not obliterate all traces of that which had been."
"There is reason in that, Henry."
"Besides, the coffins are all of lead, and some of stone, so that they cannot have all gone."
"True, most true."
"If in the one which, from the inscription and the date, we discover to be that of our ancestor whom we seek, we find the evident remains of a corpse, we shall be satisfied that he has rested in his tomb in peace."
"Brother, you seem bent on this adventure," said George; "if you go, I will accompany you."
"I will not engage rashly in it, George. Before I finally decide, I will again consult with Mr. Marchdale. His opinion will weigh much with me."
"And in good time, here he comes across the garden," said George, as he looked from the window of the room in which they sat.
It was Mr. Marchdale, and the brothers warmly welcomed him as he entered the apartment.
"You have been early afoot," said Henry.
"I have," he said. "The fact is, that although at your solicitation I went to bed, I could not sleep, and I went out once more to search about the spot where we had seen thethe I don't know what to call it, for I have a great dislike to naming it a vampyre."
"There is not much in a name," said George.
"In this instance there is," said Marchdale. "It is a name suggestive of horror."
"Made you any discovery?" said Henry.
"You saw no trace of any one?"
"Not the least."
"Well, Mr. Marchdale, George and I were talking over this projected visit to the family vault."
"And we agreed to suspend our judgments until we saw you, and learned your opinion."
"Which I will tell you frankly," said Mr. Marchdale, "because I know you desire it freely."
"It is, that you make the visit."
"Yes, and for this reason. You have now, as you cannot help having, a disagreeable feeling, that you may find that one coffin is untenanted. Now, if you do find it so, you scarcely make matters worse, by an additional confirmation of what already amounts to a strong supposition, and one which is likely to grow stronger by time."
"True, most true."
"On the contrary, if you find indubitable proofs that your ancestor has slept soundly in the tomb, and gone the way of all flesh, you will find yourselves much calmer, and that an attack is made upon the train of events which at present all run one way."
"That is precisely the argument I was using to George," said Henry, "a few moments since."
"Then let us go," said George, "by all means."
"It is so decided then," said Henry.
"Let it be done with caution," replied Mr. Marchdale.
"If any one can manage it, of course we can."
"Why should it not be done secretly and at night? Of course we lose nothing by making a night visit to a vault into which daylight, I presume, cannot penetrate."
"Then let it be at night."
"But we shall surely require the concurrence of some of the church authorities."
"Nay, I do not see that," interposed Mr. Marchdale. "It is the vault actually vested in and belonging to yourself you wish to visit, and, therefore, you have right to visit it in any manner or at any time that may be most suitable to yourself."
"But detection in a clandestine visit might produce unpleasant consequences."
"The church is old," said George, "and we could easily find means of getting into it. There is only one objection that I see, just now, and that is, that we leave Flora unprotected."
"We do, indeed," said Henry. "I did not think of that."
"It must be put to herself, as a matter for her own consideration," said Mr. Marchdale, "if she will consider herself sufficiently safe with the company and protection of your mother only."
"It would be a pity were we not all three present at the examination of the coffin," remarked Henry.
"It would, indeed. There is ample evidence," said Mr. Marchdale, "but we must not give Flora a night of sleeplessness and uneasiness on that account, and the more particularly as we cannot well explain to her where we are going, or upon what errand."
"Let us talk to her, then, about it," said Henry. "I confess I am much bent upon the plan, and fain would not forego it; neither should I like other than that we three should go together."
"If you determine, then, upon it," said Marchdale, "we will go to-night; and, from your acquaintance with the place, doubtless you will be able to decide what tools are necessary."
"There is a trap-door at the bottom of the pew," said Henry; "it is not only secured down, but it is locked likewise, and I have the key in my possession."
"Yes; immediately beneath is a short flight of stone steps, which conduct at once into the vault."
"Is it large?"
"No; about the size of a moderate chamber, and with no intricacies about it."
"There can be no difficulties, then."
"None whatever, unless we meet with actual personal interruption, which I am inclined to think is very far from likely. All we shall require will be a screwdriver, with which to remove the screws, and then something with which to wrench open the coffin."
"Those we can easily provide, along with lights," remarked Mr. Marchdale.
"I hope to Heaven that this visit to the tomb will have the effect of easing your minds, and enabling you to make a successful stand against the streaming torrent of evidence that has poured in upon us regarding this most fearful of apparitions."
"I do, indeed, hope so," added Henry; "and now I will go at once to Flora, and endeavour to convince her she is safe without us to-night."
"By-the-bye, I think," said Marchdale, "that if we can induce Mr. Chillingworth to come with us, it will be a great point gained in the investigation."
"He would," said Henry, "be able to come to an accurate decision with respect to the remainsif anyin the coffin, which we could not."
"Then have him, by all means," said George. "He did not seem averse last night to go on such an adventure."
"I will ask him when he makes his visit this morning upon Flora; and should he not feel disposed to join us, I am quite sure he will keep the secret of our visit."
All this being arranged, Henry proceeded to Flora, and told her that he and George, and Mr. Marchdale wished to go out for about a couple of hours in the evening after dark, if she felt sufficiently well to feel a sense of security without them.
Flora changed colour, and slightly trembled, and then, as if ashamed of her fears, she said,
"Go, go; I will not detain you. Surely no harm can come to me in presence of my mother."
"We shall not be gone longer than the time I mention to you," said Henry.
"Oh, I shall be quite content. Besides, am I to be kept thus in fear all my life? Surely, surely not. I ought, too, to learn to defend myself."
Henry caught at the idea, as he said,
"If fire-arms were left you, do you think you would have courage to use them?"
"I do, Henry."
"Then you shall have them; and let me beg of you to shoot any one without the least hesitation who shall come into your chamber."
"I will, Henry. If ever human being was justified in the use of deadly weapons, I am now. Heaven protect me from a repetition of the visit to which I have now been once subjected. Rather, oh, much rather would I die a hundred deaths than suffer what I have suffered."
"Do not allow it, dear Flora, to press too heavily upon your mind in dwelling upon it in conversation. I still entertain a sanguine expectation that something may arise to afford a far less dreadful explanation of what has occurred than what you have put upon it. Be of good cheer, Flora, we shall go one hour after sunset, and return in about two hours from the time at which we leave here, you may be assured."
Notwithstanding this ready and courageous acquiescence of Flora in the arrangement, Henry was not without his apprehension that when the night should come again, her fears would return with it; but he spoke to Mr. Chillingworth upon the subject, and got that gentleman's ready consent to accompany them.
He promised to meet them at the church porch exactly at nine o'clock, and matters were all arranged, and Henry waited with much eagerness and anxiety now for the coming night, which he hoped would dissipate one of the fearful deductions which his imagination had drawn from recent circumstances.
He gave to Flora a pair of pistols of his own, upon which he knew he could depend, and he took good care to load them well, so that there could be no likelihood whatever of their missing fire at a critical moment.
"Now, Flora," he said, "I have seen you use fire-arms when you were much younger than you are now, and therefore I need give you no instructions. If any intruder does come, and you do fire, be sure you take a good aim, and shoot low."
"I will, Henry, I will; and you will be back in two hours?"
"Most assuredly I will."
The day wore on, evening came, and then deepened into night. It turned out to be a cloudy night, and therefore the moon's brilliance was nothing near equal to what it had been on the preceding night Still, however, it had sufficient power over the vapours that frequently covered it for many minutes together, to produce a considerable light effect upon the face of nature, and the night was consequently very far, indeed, from what might be called a dark one.
George, Henry, and Marchdale, met in one of the lower rooms of the house, previous to starting upon their expedition; and after satisfying themselves that they had with them all the tools that were necessary, inclusive of the same small, but well-tempered iron crow-bar with which Marchdale had, on the night of the visit of the vampyre, forced open the door of Flora's chamber, they left the hall, and proceeded at a rapid pace towards the church.
"And Flora does not seem much alarmed," said Marchdale, "at being left alone?"
"No," replied Henry, "she has made up her mind with a strong natural courage which I knew was in her disposition to resist as much as possible the depressing effects of the awful visitation she has endured."
"It would have driven some really mad."
"It would, indeed; and her own reason tottered on its throne, but, thank Heaven, she has recovered."
"And I fervently hope that, through her life," added Marchdale, "she may never have such another trial."
"We will not for a moment believe that such a thing can occur twice."
"She is one among a thousand. Most young girls would never at all have recovered the fearful shock to the nerves."
"Not only has she recovered," said Henry, "but a spirit, which I am rejoiced to see, because it is one which will uphold her, of resistance now possesses her."
"Yes, she actuallyI forgot to tell you beforebut she actually asked me for arms to resist any second visitation."
"You much surprise me."
"Yes, I was surprised, as well as pleased, myself."
"I would have left her one of my pistols had I been aware of her having made such a request. Do you know if she can use fire-arms?"
"Oh, yes; well."
"What a pity. I have them both with me."
"Oh, she is provided."
"Yes; I found some pistols which I used to take with me on the continent, and she has them both well loaded, so that if the vampyre makes his appearance, he is likely to meet with rather a warm reception."
"Good God! was it not dangerous?"
"Not at all, I think."
"Well, you know best, certainly, of course. I hope the vampyre may come, and that we may have the pleasure, when we return, of finding him dead. By-the-bye, II. Bless me, I have forgot to get the materials for lights, which I pledged myself to do."
"Walk on slowly, while I run back and get them."
"Oh, we are too far"
"Hilloa!" cried a man at this moment, some distance in front of them.
"It is Mr. Chillingworth," said Henry.
"Hilloa," cried the worthy doctor again. "Is that you, my friend, Henry Bannerworth?"
"It is," cried Henry.
Mr. Chillingworth now came up to them and said,
"I was before my time, so rather than wait at the church porch, which would have exposed me to observation perhaps, I thought it better to walk on, and chance meeting with you."
"You guessed we should come this way?'
"Yes, and so it turns out, really. It is unquestionably your most direct route to the church."
"I think I will go back," said Mr Marchdale.
"Back!" exclaimed the doctor; "what for?"
"I forgot the means of getting lights. We have candles, but no means of lighting them."
"Make yourselves easy on that score," said Mr. Chillingworth. "I am never without some chemical matches of my own manufacture, so that as you have the candles, that can be no bar to our going on a once."
"That is fortunate," said Henry.
"Very," added Marchdale; "for it seems a mile's hard walking for me, or at least half a mile from the hall. Let us now push on."
They did push on, all four walking at a brisk pace. The church, although it belonged to the village, was not in it. On the contrary, it was situated at the end of a long lane, which was a mile nearly from the village, in the direction of the hall, therefore, in going to it from the hall, that amount of distance was saved, although it was always called and considered the village church.
It stood alone, with the exception of a glebe house and two cottages, that were occupied by persons who held situations about the sacred edifice, and who were supposed, being on the spot, to keep watch and ward over it.
It was an ancient building of the early English style of architecture, or rather Norman, with one of those antique, square, short towers, built of flint stones firmly embedded in cement, which, from time, had acquired almost the consistency of stone itself. There were numerous arched windows, partaking something of the more florid gothic style, although scarcely ornamental enough to be called such. The edifice stood in the centre of a grave-yard, which extended over a space of about half an acre, and altogether it was one of the prettiest and most rural old churches within many miles of the spot.
Many a lover of the antique and of the picturesque, for it was both, went out of his way while travelling in the neighbourhood to look at it, and it had an extensive and well-deserved reputation as a fine specimen of its class and style of building.
In Kent, to the present day, are some fine specimens of the old Roman style of church, building; and, although they are as rapidly pulled down as the abuse of modern architects, and the cupidity of speculators, and the vanity of clergymen can possibly encourage, in older to erect flimsy, Italianised structures in their stead, yet sufficient of them remain dotted over England to interest the traveller. At Walesden there is a church of this description which will well repay a visit. This, then, was the kind of building into which it was the intention of our four friends to penetrate, not on an unholy, or an unjustifiable errand, but on one which, proceeding from good and proper motives, it was highly desirable to conduct in as secret a manner as possible.
The moon was more densely covered by clouds than it had yet been that evening, when they reached the little wicket-gate which led into the churchyard, through which was a regularly used thoroughfare.
"We have a favourable night," remarked Henry, "for we are not so likely to be disturbed."
"And now, the question is, how are we to get in?" said Mr. Chillingworth, as he paused, and glanced up at the ancient building.
"The doors," said George, "would effectually resist us."
"How can it be done, then?"
"The only way I can think of," said Henry, "is to get out one of the small diamond-shaped panes of glass from one of the low windows, and then we can one of us put in our hands, and undo the fastening, which is very simple, when the window opens like a door, and it is but a step into the church."
"A good way," said Marchdale. "We will lose no time."
They walked round the church till they came to a very low window indeed, near to an angle of the wall, where a huge abutment struck far out into the burial-ground.
"Will you do it, Henry?" said George.
"Yes. I have often noticed the fastenings. Just give me a slight hoist up, and all will be right."
George did so, and Henry with his knife easily bent back some of the leadwork which held in one of the panes of glass, and then got it out whole. He handed it down to George, saying,
"Take this, George. We can easily replace it when we leave, so that there can be no signs left of any one having been here at all."
George took the piece of thick, dim-coloured glass, and in another moment Henry had succeeded in opening the window, and the mode of ingress to the old church was fair and easy before them all, had there been ever so many.
"I wonder," said Marchdale, "that a place so inefficiently protected has never been robbed."
"No wonder at all," remarked Mr. Chillingworth. "There is nothing to take that I am aware of that would repay anybody the trouble of taking."
"Not an article. The pulpit, to be sure, is covered with faded velvet; but beyond that, and an old box, in which I believe nothing is left but some books, I think there is no temptation."
"And that, Heaven knows, is little enough, then."
"Come on," said Henry. "Be careful; there is nothing beneath the window, and the depth is about two feet."
Thus guided, they all got fairly into the sacred edifice, and then Henry closed the window, and fastened it on the inside as he said,
"We have nothing to do now but to set to work opening a way into the vault, and I trust that Heaven will pardon me for thus desecrating the tomb of my ancestors, from a consideration of the object I have in view by so doing."
"It does seem wrong thus to tamper with the secrets of the tomb," remarked Mr. Marchdale.
"The secrets of a fiddlestick!" said the doctor. "What secrets has the tomb I wonder?"
"Well, but, my dear sir"
"Nay, my dear sir, it is high time that death, which is, then, the inevitable fate of us all, should be regarded with more philosophic eyes than it is. There are no secrets in the tomb but such as may well be endeavoured to be kept secret."
"What do you mean?"
"There is one which very probably we shall find unpleasantly revealed."
"Which is that?"
"The not over pleasant odour of decomposed animal remainsbeyond that I know of nothing of a secret nature that the tomb can show us."
"Ah, your profession hardens you to such matters."
"And a very good thing that it does, or else, if all men were to look upon a dead body as something almost too dreadful to look upon, and by far too horrible to touch, surgery would lose its value, and crime, in many instances of the most obnoxious character, would go unpunished."
"If we have a light here," said Henry, "we shall run the greatest chance in the world of being seen, for the church has many windows."
"Do not have one, then, by any means," said Mr. Chillingworth. "A match held low down in the pew may enable us to open the vault."
"That will be the only plan."
Henry led them to the pew which belonged to his family, and in the floor of which was the trap door.
"When was it last opened?" inquired Marchdale.
"When my father died," said Henry; "some ten months ago now, I should think."
"The screws, then, have had ample time to fix themselves with fresh rust."
"Here is one of my chemical matches," said Mr. Chillingworth, as he suddenly irradiated the pew with a clear and beautiful flame, that lasted about a minute.
The heads of the screws were easily discernible, and the short time that the light lasted had enabled Henry to turn the key he had brought with him in the lock.
"I think that without a light now," he said, "I can turn the screws well."
"Yes; there are but four."
"Try it, then."
Henry did so, and from the screws having very large heads, and being made purposely, for the convenience of removal when required, with deep indentations to receive the screw-driver, he found no difficulty in feeling for the proper places, and extracting the screws without any more light than was afforded to him from the general whitish aspect of the heavens.
"Now, Mr. Chillingworth," he said "another of your matches, if you please. I have all the screws so loose that I can pick them up with my fingers."
"Here," said the doctor.
In another moment the pew was as light as day, and Henry succeeded in taking out the few screws, which he placed in his pocket for their greater security, since, of course, the intention was to replace everything exactly as it was found, in order that not the least surmise should arise in the mind of any person that the vault had been opened, and visited for any purpose whatever, secretly or otherwise."
"Let us descend," said Henry. "There is no further obstacle, my friends. Let us descend."
"If any one," remarked George, in a whisper, as they slowly descended the stairs which conducted into the vault"if any one had told me that I should be descending into a vault for the purpose of ascertaining if a dead body, which had been nearly a century there, was removed or not, and had become a vampyre, I should have denounced the idea as one of the most absurd that ever entered the brain of a human being."
"We are the very slaves of circumstances," said Marchdale, "and we never know what we may do, or what we may not. What appears to us so improbable as to border even upon the impossible at one time, is at another the only course of action which appears feasibly open to us to attempt to pursue."
They had now reached the vault, the floor of which was composed of flat red tiles, laid in tolerable order the one beside the other. As Henry had stated, the vault was by no means of large extent. Indeed, several of the apartments for the living, at the hall, were much larger than was that one destined for the dead.
The atmosphere was dump and noisome, but not by any means so bad as might have been expected, considering the number of months which had elapsed since last the vault was opened to receive one of its ghastly and still visitants.
"Now for one of your lights. Mr. Chillingworth. You say you have the candles, I think, Marchdale, although you forgot the matches."
"I have. They are here."
Marchdale took from his pocket a parcel which contained several wax candles, and when it was opened, a smaller packet fell to the ground.
"Why, these are instantaneous matches," said Mr. Chillingworth, as he lifted the small packet up.
"They are; and what a fruitless journey I should have had back to the hall," said Mr. Marchdale, "if you had not been so well provided as you are with the means of getting a light. These matches, which I thought I had not with me, have been, in the hurry of departure, enclosed, you see, with the candles. Truly, I should have hunted for them at home in vain."
Mr. Chillingworth lit the wax candle which was now handed to him by Marchdale, and in another moment the vault from one end of it to the other was quite clearly discernible.
THE COFFIN.THE ABSENCE OF THE DEAD.THE MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE, AND THE CONSTERNATION OF GEORGE.
They were all silent for a few moments as they looked around them with natural feelings of curiosity. Two of that party had of course never been in that vault at all, and the brothers, although they had descended into it upon the occasion, nearly a year before, of their father being placed in it, still looked upon it with almost as curious eyes as they who now had their first sight of it.
If a man be at all of a thoughtful or imaginative cast of mind, some curious sensations are sure to come over him, upon standing in such a place, where he knows around him lie, in the calmness of death, those in whose veins have flowed kindred blood to himwho bore the same name, and who preceded him in the brief drama of his existence, influencing his destiny and his position in life probably largely by their actions compounded of their virtues and their vices.
Henry Bannerworth and his brother George were just the kind of persons to feel strongly such sensations. Both were reflective, imaginative, educated young men, and, as the light from the wax candle flashed upon their faces, it was evident how deeply they felt the situation in which they were placed.
Mr. Chillingworth and Marchdale were silent. They both knew what was passing in the minds of the brothers, and they had too much delicacy to interrupt a train of thought which, although from having no affinity with the dead who lay around, they could not share in, yet they respected. Henry at length, with a sudden start, seemed to recover himself from his reverie.
"This is a time for action, George," he said, "and not for romantic thought. Let us proceed."
"Yes, yes," said George, and he advanced a step towards the centre of the vault.
"Can you find out among all these coffins, for there seem to be nearly twenty," said Mr. Chillingworth, "which is the one we seek?"
"I think we may," replied Henry. "Some of the earlier coffins of our race, I know, were made of marble, and others of metal, both of which materials, I expect, would withstand the encroaches of time for a hundred years, at least."
"Let us examine," said George.
There were shelves or niches built into the walls all round, on which the coffins were placed, so that there could not be much difficulty in a minute examination of them all, the one after the other.
When, however, they came to look, they found that "decay's offensive fingers" had been more busy than they could have imagined, and that whatever they touched of the earlier coffins crumbled into dust before their very fingers.
In some cases the inscriptions were quite illegible, and, in others, the plates that had borne them had fallen on to the floor of the vault, so that it was impossible to say to which coffin they belonged.
Of course, the more recent and fresh-looking coffins they did not examine, because they could not have anything to do with the object of that melancholy visit.
"We shall arrive at no conclusion," said George. "All seems to have rotted away among those coffins where we might expect to find the one belonging to Marmaduke Bannerworth, our ancestor."
"Here is a coffin plate," said Marchdale, taking one from the floor.
He handed it to Mr. Chillingworth, who, upon an inspection of it, close to the light, exclaimed,
"It must have belonged to the coffin you seek."
"What says it?"
"Ye mortale remains of Marmaduke Bannerworth, Yeoman. God reste his soule. A.D. 1540."
"It is the plate belonging to his coffin," said Henry, "and now our search is fruitless."
"It is so, indeed," exclaimed George, "for how can we tell to which of the coffins that have lost the plates this one really belongs?"
"I should not be so hopeless," said Marchdale. "I have, from time to time, in the pursuit of antiquarian lore, which I was once fond of, entered many vaults, and I have always observed that an inner coffin of metal was sound and good, while the outer one of wood had rotted away, and yielded at once to the touch of the first hand that was laid upon it."
"But, admitting that to be the case," said Henry, "how does that assist us in the identification of a coffin?"
"I have always, in my experience, found the name and rank of the deceased engraved upon the lid of the inner coffin, as well as being set forth in a much more perishable manner on the plate which was secured to the outer one."
"He is right," said Mr. Chillingworth. "I wonder we never thought of that. If your ancestor was buried in a leaden coffin, there will be no difficulty in finding which it is."
Henry seized the light, and proceeding to one of the coffins, which seemed to be a mass of decay, he pulled away some of the rotted wood work, and then suddenly exclaimed,
"You are quite right. Here is a firm strong leaden coffin within, which, although quite black, does not otherwise appear to have suffered."
"What is the inscription on that?" said George.
With difficulty the name on the lid was deciphered, but it was found not to be the coffin of him whom they sought.
"We can make short work of this," said Marchdale, "by only examining those leaden coffins which have lost the plates from off their outer cases. There do not appear to be many in such a state."
He then, with another light, which he lighted from the one that Henry now carried, commenced actively assisting in the search, which was carried on silently for more than ten minutes.
Suddenly Mr. Marchdale cried, in a tone of excitement,
"I have found it. It is here."
They all immediately surrounded the spot where he was, and then he pointed to the lid of a coffin, which he had been rubbing with his handkerchief, in order to make the inscription more legible, and said,
"See. It is here."
By the combined light of the candles they saw the words,
"Marmaduke Bannerworth, Yeoman, 1640."
"Yes, there can be no mistake here," said Henry. "This is the coffin, and it shall be opened."
"I have the iron crowbar here," said Marchdale. "It is an old friend of mine, and I am accustomed to the use of it. Shall I open the coffin?"
"Do sodo so," said Henry.
They stood around in silence, while Mr. Marchdale, with much care, proceeded to open the coffin, which seemed of great thickness, and was of solid lead.
It was probably the partial rotting of the metal, in consequence of the damps of that place, that made it easier to open the coffin than it otherwise would have been, but certain it was that the top came away remarkably easily. Indeed, so easily did it come off, that another supposition might have been hazarded, namely, that it had never at all been effectually fastened.
The few moments that elapsed were ones of very great suspense to every one there present; and it would, indeed, be quite sure to assert, that all the world was for the time forgotten in the absorbing interest which appertained to the affair which was in progress.
The candles were now both held by Mr. Chillingworth, and they were so held as to cast a full and clear light upon the coffin. Now the lid slid off, and Henry eagerly gazed into the interior.
There lay something certainly there, and an audible "Thank God!" escaped his lips.
"The body is there!" exclaimed George.
"All right," said Marchdale, "here it is. There is something, and what else can it be?"
"Hold the lights," said Mr. Chillingworth; "hold the lights, some of you; let us be quite certain."
George took the lights, and Mr. Chillingworth, without any hesitation, dipped his hands at once into the coffin, and took up some fragments of rags which were there. They were so rotten, that they fell to pieces in his grasp, like so many pieces of tinder.
There was a death-like pause for some few moments, and then Mr. Chillingworth said, in a low voice,
"There is not the least vestige of a dead body here."
Henry gave a deep groan, as he said,
"Mr. Chillingworth, can you take upon yourself to say that no corpse has undergone the process of decomposition in this coffin?"
"To answer your question exactly, as probably in your hurry you have worded it," said Mr. Chillingworth, "I cannot take upon myself to say any such thing; but this I can say, namely, that in this coffin there are no animal remains, and that it is quite impossible that any corpse enclosed here could, in any lapse of time, have so utterly and entirely disappeared."
"I am answered," said Henry.
"Good God!" exclaimed George, "and has this but added another damning proof, to those we have already on our minds, of one of the must dreadful superstitions that ever the mind of man conceived?"
"It would seem so," said Marchdale, sadly.
"Oh, that I were dead! This is terrible. God of heaven, why are these things? Oh, if I were but dead, and so spared the torture of supposing such things possible."
"Think again, Mr. Chillingworth; I pray you think again," cried Marchdale.
"If I were to think for the remainder of my existence," he replied, "I could come to no other conclusion. It is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact."
"You are positive, then," said Henry, "that the dead body of Marmaduke Bannerworth is not rested here?"
"I am positive. Look for yourselves. The lead is but slightly discoloured; it looks tolerably clean and fresh; there is not a vestige of putrefactionno bones, no dust even."
They did all look for themselves, and the most casual glance was sufficient to satisfy the most sceptical.
"All is over," said Henry; "let us now leave this place; and all I can now ask of you, my friends, is to lock this dreadful secret deep in your own hearts."
"It shall never pass my lips," said Marchdale.
"Nor mine, you may depend," said the doctor. "I was much in hopes that this night's work would have had the effect of dissipating, instead of adding to, the gloomy fancies that now possess you."
"Good heavens!" cried George, "can you call them fancies, Mr. Chillingworth?"
"I do, indeed."
"Have you yet a doubt?"
"My young friend, I told you from the first, that I would not believe in your vampyre; and I tell you now, that if one was to come and lay hold of me by the throat, as long as I could at all gasp for breath I would tell him he was a dd impostor."
"This is carrying incredulity to the verge of obstinacy."
"Far beyond it, if you please."
"You will not be convinced?" said Marchdale.
"I most decidedly, on this point, will not."
"Then you are one who would doubt a miracle, if you saw it with your own eyes."
"I would, because I do not believe in miracles. I should endeavour to find some rational and some scientific means of accounting for the phenomenon, and that's the very reason why we have no miracles now-a-days, between you and I, and no prophets and saints, and all that sort of thing."
"I would rather avoid such observations in such a place as this," said Marchdale.
"Nay, do not be the moral coward," cried Mr. Chillingworth, "to make your opinions, or the expression of them, dependent upon any certain locality."
"I know not what to think," said Henry; "I am bewildered quite. Let us now come away."
Mr. Marchdale replaced the lid of the coffin, and then the little party moved towards the staircase. Henry turned before he ascended, and glanced back into the vault.
"Oh," he said, "if I could but think there had been some mistake, some error of judgment, on which the mind could rest for hope."
"I deeply regret," said Marchdale, "that I so strenuously advised this expedition. I did hope that from it would have resulted much good."
"And you had every reason so to hope," said Chillingworth. "I advised it likewise, and I tell you that its result perfectly astonishes me, although I will not allow myself to embrace at once all the conclusions to which it would seem to lead me."
"I am satisfied," said Henry; "I know you both advised me for the best. The curse of Heaven seems now to have fallen upon me and my house."
"Oh, nonsense!" said Chillingworth. "What for?"
"Alas! I know not."
"Then you may depend that Heaven would never act so oddly. In the first place, Heaven don't curse anybody; and, in the second, it is too just to inflict pain where pain is not amply deserved."
They ascended the gloomy staircase of the vault. The countenances of both George and Henry were very much saddened, and it was quite evident that their thoughts were by far too busy to enable them to enter into any conversation. They did not, and particularly George, seem to hear all that was said to them. Their intellects seemed almost stunned by the unexpected circumstance of the disappearance of the body of their ancestor.
All along they had, although almost unknown to themselves, felt a sort of conviction that they must find some remains of Marmaduke Bannerworth, which would render the supposition, even in the most superstitious minds, that he was the vampyre, a thing totally and physically impossible.
But now the whole question assumed a far more bewildering shape. The body was not in its coffinit had not there quietly slept the long sleep of death common to humanity. Where was it then? What had become of it? Where, how, and under what circumstances had it been removed? Had it itself burst the bands that held it, and hideously stalked forth into the world again to make one of its seeming inhabitants, and kept up for a hundred years a dreadful existence by such adventures as it had consummated at the hall, where, in the course of ordinary human life, it had once lived?
All these were questions which irresistibly pressed themselves upon the consideration of Henry and his brother. They were awful questions.
And yet, take any sober, sane, thinking, educated man, and show him all that they had seen, subject him to all to which they had been subjected, and say if human reason, and all the arguments that the subtlest brain could back it with, would be able to hold out against such a vast accumulation of horrible evidences, and say"I don't believe it."
Mr. Chillingworth's was the only plan. He would not argue the question. He said at once,
"I will not believe this thingupon this point I will yield to no evidence whatever."
That was the only way of disposing of such a question; but there are not many who could so dispose of it, and not one so much interested in it as were the brothers Bannerworth, who could at all hope to get into such a state of mind.
The boards were laid carefully down again, and the screws replaced. Henry found himself unequal to the task, so it was done by Marchdale, who took pains to replace everything in the same state in which they had found it, even to the laying even the matting at the bottom of the pew.
Then they extinguished the light, and, with heavy hearts, they all walked towards the window, to leave the sacred edifice by the same means they had entered it.
"Shall we replace the pane of glass?" said Marchdale.
"Oh, it matters notit matters not," said Henry, listlessly; "nothing matters now. I care not what becomes of meI am getting weary of a life which now must be one of misery and dread."
"You must not allow yourself to fall into such a state of mind as this," said the doctor, "or you will become a patient of mine very quickly."
"I cannot help it."
"Well, but be a man. If there are serious evils affecting you, fight out against them the best way you can."
"Come, now, listen to me. We need not, I think, trouble ourselves about the pane of glass, so come along."
He took the arm of Henry and walked on with him a little in advance of the others.
"Henry," he said, "the best way, you may depend, of meeting evils, be they great or small, is to get up an obstinate feeling of defiance against them. Now, when anything occurs which is uncomfortable to me, I endeavour to convince myself, and I have no great difficulty in doing so, that I am a decidedly injured man."
"Yes; I get very angry, and that gets up a kind of obstinacy, which makes me not feel half so much mental misery as would be my portion, if I were to succumb to the evil, and commence whining over it, as many people do, under the pretence of being resigned."
"But this family affliction of mine transcends anything that anybody else ever endured."
"I don't know that; but it is a view of the subject which, if I were you, would only make me more obstinate."
"What can I do?"
"In the first place, I would say to myself, 'There may or there may not be supernatural beings, who, from some physical derangement of the ordinary nature of things, make themselves obnoxious to living people; if there are, dn them! There may be vampyres; and if there are, I defy them.' Let the imagination paint its very worst terrors; let fear do what it will and what it can in peopling the mind with horrors. Shrink from nothing, and even then I would defy them all."
"Is not that like defying Heaven?"
"Most certainly not; for in all we say and in all we do we act from the impulses of that mind which is given to us by Heaven itself. If Heaven creates an intellect and a mind of a certain order, Heaven will not quarrel that it does the work which it was adapted to do."
"I know these are your opinions. I have heard you mention them before."
"They are the opinions of every rational person. Henry Bannerworth, because they will stand the test of reason; and what I urge upon you is, not to allow yourself to be mentally prostrated, even if a vampyre has paid a visit to your house. Defy him, say Ifight him. Self-preservation is a great law of nature, implanted in all our hearts; do you summon it to your aid."
"I will endeavour to think as you would have me. I thought more than once of summoning religion to my aid."
"Well, that is religion."
"I consider so, and the most rational religion of all. All that we read about religion that does not seem expressly to agree with it, you may consider as an allegory."
"But, Mr. Chillingworth, I cannot and will not renounce the sublime truths of Scripture. They may be incomprehensible; they may be inconsistent; and some of them may look ridiculous; but still they are sacred and sublime, and I will not renounce them although my reason may not accord with them, because they are the laws of Heaven."
No wonder this powerful argument silenced Mr. Chillingworth, who was one of those characters in society who hold most dreadful opinions, and who would destroy religious beliefs, and all the different sects in the world, if they could, and endeavour to introduce instead some horrible system of human reason and profound philosophy.
But how soon the religious man silences his opponent; and let it not be supposed that, because his opponent says no more upon the subject, he does so because he is disgusted with the stupidity of the other; no, it is because he is completely beaten, and has nothing more to say.
The distance now between the church and the hall was nearly traversed, and Mr. Chillingworth, who was a very good man, notwithstanding his disbelief in certain things of course paved the way for him to hell, took a kind leave of Mr. Marchdale and the brothers, promising to call on the following morning and see Flora.
Henry and George then, in earnest conversation with Marchdale, proceeded homewards. It was evident that the scene in the vault had made a deep and saddening impression upon them, and one which was not likely easily to be eradicated.
THE OCCURRENCES OF THE NIGHT AT THE HALL.THE SECOND APPEARANCE OF THE VAMPYRE, AND THE PISTOL-SHOT.
Despite the full and free consent which Flora had given to her brothers to entrust her solely to the care of her mother and her own courage at the hall, she felt greater fear creep over her after they were gone than she chose to acknowledge.
A sort of presentiment appeared to come over her that some evil was about to occur, and more than once she caught herself almost in the act of saying,
"I wish they had not gone."
Mrs. Bannerworth, too, could not be supposed to be entirely destitute of uncomfortable feelings, when she came to consider how poor a guard she was over her beautiful child, and how much terror might even deprive of the little power she had, should the dreadful visitor again make his appearance.
"But it is but for two hours," thought Flora, "and two hours will soon pass away."
There was, too, another feeling which gave her some degree of confidence, although it arose from a bad source, inasmuch as it was one which showed powerfully how much her mind was dwelling on the particulars of the horrible belief in the class of supernatural beings, one of whom she believed had visited her.
That consideration was this. The two hours of absence from the hall of its male inhabitants, would be from nine o'clock until eleven, and those were not the two hours during which she felt that she would be most timid on account of the vampyre.
"It was after midnight before," she thought, "when it came, and perhaps it may not be able to come earlier. It may not have the power, until that time, to make its hideous visits, and, therefore, I will believe myself safe."
She had made up her mind not to go to bed until the return of her brothers, and she and her mother sat in a small room that was used as a breakfast-room, and which had a latticed window that opened on to the lawn.
This window had in the inside strong oaken shutters, which had been fastened as securely as their construction would admit of some time before the departure of the brothers and Mr. Marchdale on that melancholy expedition, the object of which, if it had been known to her, would have added so much to the terrors of poor Flora.
It was not even guessed at, however remotely, so that she had not the additional affliction of thinking, that while she was sitting there, a prey to all sorts of imaginative terrors, they were perhaps gathering fresh evidence, as, indeed, they were, of the dreadful reality of the appearance which, but for the collateral circumstances attendant upon its coming and its going, she would fain have persuaded herself was but the vision of a dream.
It was before nine that the brothers started, but in her own mind Flora gave them to eleven, and when she heard ten o'clock sound from a clock which stood in the hall, she felt pleased to think that in another hour they would surely be at home.
"My dear," said her mother, "you look more like yourself, now."
"Do, I, mother?"
"Yes, you are well again."
"Ah, if I could forget"
"Time, my dear Flora, will enable you to do so, and all the fear of what made you so unwell will pass away. You will soon forget it all."
"I will hope to do so."
"Be assured that, some day or another, something will occur, as Henry says, to explain all that has happened, in some way consistent with reason and the ordinary nature of things, my dear Flora."
"Oh, I will cling to such a belief; I will get Henry, upon whose judgment I know I can rely, to tell me so, and each time that I hear such words from his lips, I will contrive to dismiss some portion of the terror which now, I cannot but confess, clings to my heart."
Flora laid her hand upon her mother's arm, and in a low, anxious tone of voice, said,"Listen, mother."
Mrs. Bannerworth turned pale, as she said,"Listen to what, dear?"
"Within these last ten minutes," said Flora, "I have thought three or four times that I heard a slight noise without. Nay, mother, do not trembleit may be only fancy."
Flora herself trembled, and was of a death-like paleness; once or twice she passed her hand across her brow, and altogether she presented a picture of much mental suffering.
They now conversed in anxious whispers, and almost all they said consisted in anxious wishes for the return of the brothers and Mr. Marchdale.
"You will be happier and more assured, my dear, with some company," said Mrs. Bannerworth. "Shall I ring for the servants, and let them remain in the room with us, until they who are our best safeguards next to Heaven return?"
"What do you hear?"
"I thoughtI heard a faint sound."
"I heard nothing, dear."
"Listen again, mother. Surely I could not be deceived so often. I have now, at least, six times heard a sound as if some one was outside by the windows."
"No, no, my darling, do not think; your imagination is active and in a state of excitement."
"It is, and yet"
"Believe me, it deceives you."
"I hope to Heaven it does!"
There was a pause of some minutes' duration, and then Mrs. Bannerworth again urged slightly the calling of some of the servants, for she thought that their presence might have the effect of giving a different direction to her child's thoughts; but Flora saw her place her hand upon the bell, and she said,
"No, mother, nonot yet, not yet. Perhaps I am deceived."
Mrs. Bannerworth upon this sat down, but no sooner had she done so than she heartily regretted she had not rung the bell, for, before, another word could be spoken, there came too perceptibly upon their ears for there to be any mistake at all about it, a strange scratching noise upon the window outside.
A faint cry came from Flora's lips, as she exclaimed, in a voice of great agony,
"Oh, God!oh, God! It has come again!"
Mrs. Bannerworth became faint, and unable to move or speak at all; she could only sit like one paralysed, and unable to do more than listen to and see what was going on.
The scratching noise continued for a few seconds, and then altogether ceased. Perhaps, under ordinary circumstances, such a sound outside the window would have scarcely afforded food for comment at all, or, if it had, it would have been attributed to some natural effect, or to the exertions of some bird or animal to obtain admittance to the house.
But there had occurred now enough in that family to make any little sound of wonderful importance, and these things which before would have passed completely unheeded, at all events without creating much alarm, were now invested with a fearful interest.
When the scratching noise ceased, Flora spoke in a low, anxious whisper, as she said,
"Mother, you heard it then?"
Mrs. Bannerworth tried to speak, but she could not; and then suddenly, with a loud clash, the bar, which on the inside appeared to fasten the shutters strongly, fell as if by some invisible agency, and the shutters now, but for the intervention of the window, could be easily pushed open from without.
Mrs. Bannerworth covered her face with her hands, and, after rocking to and fro for a moment, she fell off her chair, having fainted with the excess of terror that came over her.
For about the space of time in which a fast speaker could count twelve, Flora thought her reason was leaving her, but it did not. She found herself recovering; and there she sat, with her eyes fixed upon the window, looking more like some exquisitely-chiselled statue of despair than a being of flesh and blood, expecting each moment to have its eyes blasted by some horrible appearance, such as might be supposed to drive her to madness.
And now again came the strange knocking or scratching against the glass of the window.
This continued for some minutes, during which it appeared likewise to Flora that some confusion was going on at another part of the house, for she fancied she heard voices and the banging of doors.
It seemed to her as if she must have sat looking at the shutters of that window a long time before she saw them shake, and then one wide hinged portion of them slowly opened.
Once again horror appeared to be on the point of producing madness in her brain, and then, as before, a feeling of calmness rapidly ensued.
She was able to see plainly that something was by the window, but what it was she could not plainly discern, in consequence of the lights she had in the room. A few moments, however, sufficed to settle that mystery, for the window was opened and a figure stood before her.
One glance, one terrified glance, in which her whole soul was concentrated, sufficed to shew her who and what the figure was. There was the tall, gaunt formthere was the faded ancient apparelthe lustrous metallic-looking eyesits half-opened month, exhibiting the tusk-like teeth! It wasyes, it wasthe vampyre!
It stood for a moment gazing at her, and then in the hideous way it had attempted before to speak, it apparently endeavoured to utter some words which it could not make articulate to human ears. The pistols lay before Flora. Mechanically she raised one, and pointed it at the figure. It advanced a step, and then she pulled the trigger.
A stunning report followed. There was a loud cry of pain, and the vampyre fled. The smoke and the confusion that was incidental to the spot prevented her from seeing if the figure walked or ran away. She thought she heard a crashing sound among the plants outside the window, as if it had fallen, but she did not feel quite sure.
It was no effort of any reflection, but a purely mechanical movement, that made her raise the other pistol, and discharge that likewise in the direction the vampyre had taken. Then casting the weapon away, she rose, and made a frantic rush from the room. She opened the door, and was dashing out, when she found herself caught in the circling arms of some one who either had been there waiting, or who had just at that moment got there.
The thought that it was the vampyre, who by some mysterious means, had got there, and was about to make her his prey, now overcame her completely, and she sunk into a state of utter insensibility on the moment.
THE RETURN FROM THE VAULT.THE ALARM, AND THE SEARCH AROUND THE HALL.
It so happened that George and Henry Bannerworth, along with Mr. Marchdale, had just reached the gate which conducted into the garden of the mansion when they all were alarmed by the report of a pistol. Amid the stillness of the night, it came upon them with so sudden a shock, that they involuntarily paused, and there came from the lips of each an expression of alarm.
"Good heavens!" cried George, "can that be Flora firing at any intruder?"
"It must be," cried Henry; "she has in her possession the only weapons in the house."
Mr. Marchdale turned very pale, and trembled slightly, but he did not speak.
"On, on," cried Henry; "for God's sake, let us hasten on."
As he spoke, he cleared the gate at a bound, and at a terrific pace he made towards the house, passing over beds, and plantations, and flowers heedlessly, so that he went the most direct way to it.
Before, however, it was possible for any human speed to accomplish even half of the distance, the report of the other shot came upon his ears, and he even fancied he heard the bullet whistle past his head in tolerably close proximity. This supposition gave him a clue to the direction at all events from whence the shots proceeded, otherwise he knew not from which window they were fired, because it had not occurred to him, previous to leaving home, to inquire in which room Flora and his mother were likely to be seated waiting his return.
He was right as regarded the bullet. It was that winged messenger of death which had passed his head in such very dangerous proximity, and consequently he made with tolerable accuracy towards the open window from whence the shots had been fired.
The night was not near so dark as it had been, although even yet it was very far from being a light one, and he was soon enabled to see that there was a room, the window of which was wide open, and lights burning on the table within. He made towards it in a moment, and entered it. To his astonishment, the first objects he beheld were Flora and a stranger, who was now supporting her in his arms. To grapple him by the throat was the work of a moment, but the stranger cried aloud in a voice which sounded familiar to Harry,
"Good God, are you all mad?"
Henry relaxed his hold, and looked in his face.
"Gracious heavens, it is Mr. Holland!" he said.
"Yes; did you not know me?"
Henry was bewildered. He staggered to a seat, and, in doing so, he saw his mother, stretched apparently lifeless upon the floor. To raise her was the work of a moment, and then Marchdale and George, who had followed him as fast as they could, appeared at the open window.
Such a strange scene as that small room now exhibited had never been equalled in Bannerworth Hall. There was young Mr. Holland, of whom mention has already been made, as the affianced lover of Flora, supporting her fainting form. There was Henry doing equal service to his mother; and on the floor lay the two pistols, and one of the candles which had been upset in the confusion; while the terrified attitudes of George and Mr. Marchdale at the window completed the strange-looking picture.
"What is thisoh! what has happened?" cried George.
"I know notI know not," said Henry. "Some one summon the servants; I am nearly mad."
Mr. Marchdale at once rung the bell, for George looked so faint and ill as to be incapable of doing so; and he rung it so loudly and so effectually, that the two servants who had been employed suddenly upon the others leaving came with much speed to know what was the matter.
"See to your mistress," said Henry. "She is dead, or has fainted. For God's sake, let who can give me some account of what has caused all this confusion here."
"Are you aware, Henry," said Marchdale, "that a stranger is present in the room?"
He pointed to Mr. Holland as he spoke, who, before Henry could reply, said,
"Sir, I may be a stranger to you, as you are to me, and yet no stranger to those whose home this is."
"No, no," said Henry, "you are no stronger to us, Mr. Holland, but are thrice welcomenone can be more welcome. Mr. Marchdale, this is Mr Holland, of whom you have heard me speak."
"I am proud to know you, sir," said Marchdale.
"Sir, I thank you," replied Holland, coldly.
It will so happen; but, at first sight, it appeared as if those two persons had some sort of antagonistic feeling towards each other, which threatened to prevent effectually their ever becoming intimate friends.
The appeal of Henry to the servants to know if they could tell him what had occurred was answered in the negative. All they knew was that they had heard two shots fired, and that, since then, they had remained where they were, in a great fright, until the bell was rung violently. This was no news at all and, therefore, the only chance was, to wait patiently for the recovery of the mother, or of Flora, from one or the other of whom surely some information could be at once then procured.
Mrs. Bannerworth was removed to her own room, and so would Flora have been; but Mr. Holland, who was supporting her in his arms, said,
"I think the air from the open window is recovering her, and it is likely to do so. Oh, do not now take her from me, after so long an absence. Flora, Flora, look up; do you not know me? You have not yet given me one look of acknowledgment. Flora, dear Flora!"
The sound of his voice seemed to act as the most potent of charms in restoring her to consciousness; it broke through the death-like trance in which she lay, and, opening her beautiful eyes, she fixed them upon his face, saying,
"Yes, yes; it is Charlesit is Charles."
She burst into a hysterical flood of tears, and clung to him like some terrified child to its only friend in the whole wide world.
"Oh, my dear friends," cried Charles Holland, "do not deceive me; has Flora been ill?"
"We have all been ill," said George.
"Ay, and nearly mad," exclaimed Harry.
Holland looked from one to the other in surprise, as well he might, nor was that surprise at all lessened when Flora made an effort to extricate herself from his embrace, as she exclaimed,
"You must leave meyou must leave me, Charles, for ever! Oh! never, never look upon my face again!"
"II am bewildered," said Charles.
"Leave me, now," continued Flora; "think me unworthy; think what you will, Charles, but I cannot, I dare not, now be yours."
"Is this a dream?"
"Oh, would it were. Charles, if we had never met, you would be happierI could not be more wretched."
"Flora, Flora, do you say these words of so great cruelty to try my love?"
"No, as Heaven is my judge, I do not."
"Gracious Heaven, then, what do they mean?"
Flora shuddered, and Henry, coming up to her, took her hand in his tenderly, as he said,
"Has it been again?"
"You shot it?"
"I fired full upon it, Henry, but it fled."
"It did, Henry, but it will come againit will be sure to come again."
"Youyou hit it with the bullet?" interposed Mr. Marchdale. "Perhaps you killed it?"
"I think I must have hit it, unless I am mad."
Charles Holland looked from one to the other with such a look of intense surprise, that George remarked it, and said at once to him,
"Mr. Holland, a full explanation is due to you, and you shall have it."
"You seem the only rational person here," said Charles. "Pray what is it that everybody calls 'it?'"
"Hushhush!" said Henry; "you shall hear soon, but not at present."
"Hear me, Charles," said Flora. "From this moment mind, I do release you from every vow, from every promise made to me of constancy and love; and if you are wise, Charles, and will be advised, you will now this moment leave this house never to return to it."
"No," said Charles"no; by Heaven I love you, Flora! I have come to say again all that in another clime I said with joy to you. When I forget you, let what trouble may oppress you, may God forget me, and my own right hand forget to do me honest service."
"Oh! no moreno more!" sobbed Flora.
"Yes, much more, if you will tell me of words which shall be stronger than others in which to paint my love, my faith, and my constancy."
"Be prudent," said Henry. "Say no more."
"Nay, upon such a theme I could speak for ever. You may cast me off, Flora; but until you tell me you love another, I am yours till the death, and then with a sanguine hope at my heart that we shall meet again, never, dearest, to part."
Flora sobbed bitterly.
"Oh!" she said, "this is the unkindest blow of allthis is worse than all."
"Unkind!" echoed Holland.
"Heed her not," said Henry; "she means not you."
"Oh, nono!" she cried. "Farewell, Charlesdear Charles."
"Oh, say that word again!" he exclaimed, with animation. "It is the first time such music has met my ears."
"It must be the last."
"No, nooh, no."
"For your own sake I shall be able now, Charles, to show you that I really loved you."
"Not by casting me from you?"
"Yes, even so. That will be the way to show you that I love you."
She held up her hands wildly, as she added, in an excited voice,
"The curse of destiny is upon me! I am singled out as one lost and accursed. Oh, horrorhorror! would that I were dead!"
Charles staggered back a pace or two until he came to the table, at which he clutched for support. He turned very pale as he said, in a faint voice,
"Isis she mad, or am I?"
"Tell him I am mad, Henry," cried Flora. "Do not, oh, do not make his lonely thoughts terrible with more than that. Tell him I am mad."
"Come with me," whispered Henry to Holland. "I pray you come with me at once, and you shall know all."
"George, stay with Flora for a time. Come, come, Mr. Holland, you ought, and you shall know all; then you can come to a judgment for yourself. This way, sir. You cannot, in the wildest freak of your imagination, guess that which I have now to tell you."
Never was mortal man so utterly bewildered by the events of the last hour of his existence as was now Charles Holland, and truly he might well be so. He had arrived in England, and made what speed he could to the house of a family whom he admired for their intelligence, their high culture, and in one member of which his whole thoughts of domestic happiness in this world were centered, and he found nothing but confusion, incoherence, mystery, and the wildest dismay.
Well might he doubt if he were sleeping or wakingwell might he ask if he or they were mad.
And now, as, after a long, lingering look of affection upon the pale, suffering face of Flora, he followed Henry from the room, his thoughts were busy in fancying a thousand vague and wild imaginations with respect to the communication which was promised to be made to him.
But, as Henry had truly said to him, not in the wildest freak of his imagination could he conceive of any thing near the terrible strangeness and horror of that which he had to tell him, and consequently he found himself closeted with Henry in a small private room, removed from the domestic part of the hall, to the full in as bewildered a state as he had been from the first.