Varney, The Vampyre: Or, The Feast Of Blood (2. Teil)
VARNEY, THE VAMPYRE:
THE FEAST OF BLOOD.
(Chapter XI - XX)
THE COMMUNICATIONS TO THE LOVER.—THE HEART'S DESPAIR.
Consternation is sympathetic, and any one who had looked upon the features of Charles Holland, now that he was seated with Henry Bannerworth, in expectation of a communication which his fears told him was to blast all his dearest and most fondly cherished hopes for ever, would scarce have recognised in him the same young man who, one short hour before, had knocked so loudly, and so full of joyful hope and expectation, at the door of the hall.
But so it was. He knew Henry Bannerworth too well to suppose that any unreal cause could blanch his cheek. He knew Flora too well to imagine for one moment that caprice had dictated the, to him, fearful words of dismissal she had uttered to him.
Happier would it at that time have been for Charles Holland had she acted capriciously towards him, and convinced him that his true heart's devotion had been cast at the feet of one unworthy of so really noble a gift. Pride would then have enabled him, no doubt, successfully to resist the blow. A feeling of honest and proper indignation at having his feelings trifled with, would, no doubt, have sustained him, but, alas! the case seemed widely different.
True, she implored him to think of her no more—no longer to cherish in his breast the fond dream of affection which had been its guest so long; but the manner in which she did so brought along with it an irresistible conviction, that she was making a noble sacrifice of her own feelings for him, from some cause which was involved in the profoundest mystery.
But now he was to hear all. Henry had promised to tell him, and as he looked into his pale, but handsomely intellectual face, he half dreaded the disclosure he yet panted to hear.
"Tell me all, Henry—tell me all," he said. "Upon the words that come from your lips I know I can rely."
"I will have no reservations with you," said Henry, sadly. "You ought to know all, and you shall. Prepare yourself for the strangest revelation you ever heard."
"Ay. One which in hearing you may well doubt; and one which, I hope, you will never find an opportunity of verifying."
"You speak in riddles."
"And yet speak truly, Charles. You heard with what a frantic vehemence Flora desired you to think no more of her?"
"I did—I did."
"She was right. She is a noble-hearted girl for uttering those words. A dreadful incident in our family has occurred, which might well induce you to pause before uniting your fate with that of any member of it."
"Impossible. Nothing can possibly subdue the feelings of affection I entertain for Flora. She is worthy of any one, and, as such, amid all changes—all mutations of fortune, she shall be mine."
"Do not suppose that any change of fortune has produced the scene you were witness to."
"Then, what else?"
"I will tell you, Holland. In all your travels, and in all your reading, did you ever come across anything about vampyres?"
"About what?" cried Charles, drawing his chair forward a little. "About what?"
"You may well doubt the evidence of your own ears, Charles Holland, and wish me to repeat what I said. I say, do you know anything about vampyres?"
Charles Holland looked curiously in Henry's face, and the latter immediately added,—
"I can guess what is passing in your mind at present, and I do not wonder at it. You think I must be mad."
"Well, really, Henry, your extraordinary question—"
"I knew it. Were I you, I should hesitate to believe the tale; but the fact is, we have every reason to believe that one member of our own family is one of those horrible preternatural beings called vampyres."
"Good God, Henry, can you allow your judgment for a moment to stoop to such a supposition?"
"That is what I have asked myself a hundred times; but, Charles Holland, the judgment, the feelings, and all the prejudices, natural and acquired, must succumb to actual ocular demonstration. Listen to me, and do not interrupt me. You shall know all, and you shall know it circumstantially."
Henry then related to the astonished Charles Holland all that had occurred, from the first alarm of Flora, up to that period when he, Holland, caught her in his arms as she was about to leave the room.
"And now," he said, in conclusion, "I cannot tell what opinion you may come to as regards these most singular events. You will recollect that here is the unbiassed evidence of four or five people to the facts, and, beyond that, the servants, who have seen something of the horrible visitor."
"You bewilder me, utterly," said Charles Holland.
"As we are all bewildered."
"But—but, gracious Heaven! it cannot be."
"No—no. There is—there must be yet some dreadful mistake."
"Can you start any supposition by which we can otherwise explain any of the phenomena I have described to you? If you can, for Heaven's sake do so, and you will find no one who will cling to it with more tenacity than I."
"Any other species or kind of supernatural appearance might admit of argument; but this, to my perception, is too wildly improbable—too much at variance with all we see and know of the operations of nature."
"It is so. All that we have told ourselves repeatedly, and yet is all human reason at once struck down by the few brief words of—'We have seen it.'"
"I would doubt my eyesight."
"One might; but many cannot be labouring under the same delusion."
"My friend, I pray you, do not make me shudder at the supposition that such a dreadful thing as this is at all possible."
"I am, believe me, Charles, most unwilling to oppress anyone with the knowledge of these evils; but you are so situated with us, that you ought to know, and you will clearly understand that you may, with perfect honour, now consider yourself free from all engagements you have entered into with Flora."
"No, no! By Heaven, no!"
"Yes, Charles. Reflect upon the consequences now of a union with such a family."
"Oh, Henry Bannerworth, can you suppose me so dead to all good feeling, so utterly lost to honourable impulses, as to eject from my heart her who has possession of it entirely, on such a ground as this?"
"You would be justified."
"Coldly justified in prudence I might be. There are a thousand circumstances in which a man may be justified in a particular course of action, and that course yet may be neither honourable nor just. I love Flora; and were she tormented by the whole of the supernatural world, I should still love her. Nay, it becomes, then, a higher and a nobler duty on my part to stand between her and those evils, if possible."
"Charles—Charles," said Henry, "I cannot of course refuse to you my meed of praise and admiration for your generosity of feeling; but, remember, if we are compelled, despite all our feelings and all our predilections to the contrary, to give in to a belief in the existence of vampyres, why may we not at once receive as the truth all that is recorded of them?"
"To what do you allude?"
"To this. That one who has been visited by a vampyre, and whose blood has formed a horrible repast for such a being, becomes, after death, one of the dreadful race, and visits others in the same way."
"Now this must be insanity," cried Charles.
"It bears the aspect of it, indeed," said Henry; "oh, that you could by some means satisfy yourself that I am mad."
"There may be insanity in this family," thought Charles, with such an exquisite pang of misery, that he groaned aloud.
"Already," added Henry, mournfully, "already the blighting influence of the dreadful tale is upon you, Charles. Oh, let me add my advice to Flora's entreaties. She loves you, and we all esteem you; fly, then, from us, and leave us to encounter our miseries alone. Fly from us, Charles Holland, and take with you our best wishes for happiness which you cannot know here."
"Never," cried Charles; "I devote my existence to Flora. I will not play the coward, and fly from one whom I love, on such grounds. I devote my life to her."
Henry could not speak for emotion for several minutes, and when at length, in a faltering voice, he could utter some words, he said,—
"God of heaven, what happiness is marred by these horrible events? What have we all done to be the victims of such a dreadful act of vengeance?"
"Henry, do not talk in that way," cried Charles. "Rather let us bend all our energies to overcoming the evil, than spend any time in useless lamentations. I cannot even yet give in to a belief in the existence of such a being as you say visited Flora."
"But the evidences."
"Look you here, Henry: until I am convinced that some things have happened which it is totally impossible could happen by any human means whatever, I will not ascribe them to supernatural influence."
"But what human means, Charles, could produce what I have now narrated to you?"
"I do not know, just at present, but I will give the subject the most attentive consideration. Will you accommodate me here for a time?"
"You know you are as welcome here as if the house were your own, and all that it contains."
"I believe so, most truly. You have no objection, I presume, to my conversing with Flora upon this strange subject?"
"Certainly not. Of course you will be careful to say nothing which can add to her fears."
"I shall be most guarded, believe me. You say that your brother George, Mr. Chillingworth, yourself, and this Mr. Marchdale, have all been cognisant of the circumstances."
"Then with the whole of them you permit me to hold free communication upon the subject?"
"I will do so then. Keep up good heart, Henry, and this affair, which looks so full of terror at first sight, may yet be divested of some of its hideous aspect."
"I am rejoiced, if anything can rejoice me now," said Henry, "to see you view the subject with so much philosophy."
"Why," said Charles, "you made a remark of your own, which enabled me, viewing the matter in its very worst and most hideous aspect, to gather hope."
"What was that?"
"You said, properly and naturally enough, that if ever we felt that there was such a weight of evidence in favour of a belief in the existence of vampyres that we are compelled to succumb to it, we might as well receive all the popular feelings and superstitions concerning them likewise."
"I did. Where is the mind to pause, when once we open it to the reception of such things?"
"Well, then, if that be the case, we will watch this vampyre and catch it."
"Yes; surely it can be caught; as I understand, this species of being is not like an apparition, that may be composed of thin air, and utterly impalpable to the human touch, but it consists of a revivified corpse."
"Then it is tangible and destructible. By Heaven! if ever I catch a glimpse of any such thing, it shall drag me to its home, be that where it may, or I will make it prisoner."
"Oh, Charles! you know not the feeling of horror that will come across you when you do. You have no idea of how the warm blood will seem to curdle in your veins, and how you will be paralysed in every limb."
"Did you feel so?"
"I will endeavour to make head against such feelings. The love of Flora shall enable me to vanquish them. Think you it will come again to-morrow?"
"I can have no thought the one way or the other."
"It may. We must arrange among us all, Henry, some plan of watching which, without completely prostrating our health and strength, will always provide that one shall be up all night and on the alert."
"It must be done."
"Flora ought to sleep with the consciousness now that she has ever at hand some intrepid and well-armed protector, who is not only himself prepared to defend her, but who can in a moment give an alarm to us all, in case of necessity requiring it."
"It would be a dreadful capture to make to seize a vampyre," said Henry.
"Not at all; it would be a very desirable one. Being a corpse revivified, it is capable of complete destruction, so as to render it no longer a scourge to any one."
"Charles, Charles, are you jesting with me, or do you really give any credence to the story?"
"My dear friend, I always make it a rule to take things at their worst, and then I cannot be disappointed. I am content to reason upon this matter as if the fact of the existence of a vampyre were thoroughly established, and then to think upon what is best to be done about it."
"You are right."
"If it should turn out then that there is an error in the fact, well and good—we are all the better off; but if otherwise, we are prepared, and armed at all points."
"Let it be so, then. It strikes me, Charles, that you will be the coolest and the calmest among us all on this emergency; but the hour now waxes late, I will get them to prepare a chamber for you, and at least to-night, after what has occurred already, I should think we can be under no apprehension."
"Probably not. But, Henry, if you would allow me to sleep in that room where the portrait hangs of him whom you suppose to be the vampyre, I should prefer it."
"Yes; I am not one who courts danger for danger's sake, but I would rather occupy that room, to see if the vampyre, who perhaps has a partiality for it, will pay me a visit."
"As you please, Charles. You can have the apartment. It is in the same state as when occupied by Flora. Nothing has been, I believe, removed from it."
"You will let me, then, while I remain here, call it my room?"
This arrangement was accordingly made to the surprise of all the household, not one of whom would, indeed, have slept, or attempted to sleep there for any amount of reward. But Charles Holland had his own reasons for preferring that chamber, and he was conducted to it in the course of half an hour by Henry, who looked around it with a shudder, as he bade his young friend good night.
CHARLES HOLLAND'S SAD FEELINGS.—THE PORTRAIT.—THE OCCURRENCE OF THE NIGHT AT THE HALL.
Charles Holland wished to be alone, if ever any human being had wished fervently to be so. His thoughts were most fearfully oppressive.
The communication that had been made to him by Henry Bannerworth, had about it too many strange, confirmatory circumstances to enable him to treat it, in his own mind, with the disrespect that some mere freak of a distracted and weak imagination would, most probably, have received from him.
He had found Flora in a state of excitement which could arise only from some such terrible cause as had been mentioned by her brother, and then he was, from an occurrence which certainly never could have entered into his calculations, asked to forego the bright dream of happiness which he had held so long and so rapturously to his heart.
How truly he found that the course of true love ran not smooth; and yet how little would any one have suspected that from such a cause as that which now oppressed his mind, any obstruction would arise.
Flora might have been fickle and false; he might have seen some other fairer face, which might have enchained his fancy, and woven for him a new heart's chain; death might have stepped between him and the realization of his fondest hopes; loss of fortune might have made the love cruel which would have yoked to its distresses a young and beautiful girl, reared in the lap of luxury, and who was not, even by those who loved her, suffered to feel, even in later years, any of the pinching necessities of the family.
All these things were possible—some of them were probable; and yet none of them had occurred. She loved him still; and he, although he had looked on many a fair face, and basked in the sunny smiles of beauty, had never for a moment forgotten her faith, or lost his devotion to his own dear English girl.
Fortune he had enough for both; death had not even threatened to rob him of the prize of such a noble and faithful heart which he had won. But a horrible superstition had arisen, which seemed to place at once an impassable abyss between them, and to say to him, in a voice of thundering denunciation,—
"Charles Holland, will you have a vampyre for your bride?"
The thought was terrific. He paced the gloomy chamber to and fro with rapid strides, until the idea came across his mind that by so doing he might not only be proclaiming to his kind entertainers how much he was mentally distracted, but he likewise might be seriously distracting them.
The moment this occurred to him he sat down, and was profoundly still for some time. He then glanced at the light which had been given to him, and he found himself almost unconsciously engaged in a mental calculation as to how long it would last him in the night.
Half ashamed, then, of such terrors, as such a consideration would seem to indicate, he was on the point of hastily extinguishing it, when he happened to cast his eyes on the now mysterious and highly interesting portrait in the panel.
The picture, as a picture, was well done, whether it was a correct likeness or not of the party whom it represented. It was one of those kind of portraits that seem so life-like, that, as you look at them, they seem to return your gaze fully, and even to follow you with their eyes from place to place.
By candle-light such an effect is more likely to become striking and remarkable than by daylight; and now, as Charles Holland shaded his own eyes from the light, so as to cast its full radiance upon the portrait, he felt wonderfully interested in its life-like appearance.
"Here is true skill," he said; "such as I have not before seen. How strangely this likeness of a man whom I never saw seems to gaze upon me."
Unconsciously, too, he aided the effect, which he justly enough called life-like, by a slight movement of the candle, such as any one not blessed with nerves of iron would be sure to make, and such a movement made the face look as if it was inspired with vitality.
Charles remained looking at the portrait for a considerable period of time. He found a kind of fascination in it which prevented him from drawing his eyes away from it. It was not fear which induced him to continue gazing on it, but the circumstance that it was a likeness of the man who, after death, was supposed to have borrowed so new and so hideous an existence, combined with its artistic merits, chained him to the spot.
"I shall now," he said, "know that face again, let me see it where I may, or under what circumstances I may. Each feature is now indelibly fixed upon my memory—I never can mistake it."
He turned aside as he uttered these words, and as he did so his eyes fell upon a part of the ornamental frame which composed the edge of the panel, and which seemed to him to be of a different colour from the surrounding portion.
Curiosity and increased interest prompted him at once to make a closer inquiry into the matter; and, by a careful and diligent scrutiny, he was almost induced to come to the positive opinion, that it no very distant period in time past, the portrait had been removed from the place it occupied.
When once this idea, even vague and indistinct as it was, in consequence of the slight grounds he formed it on, had got possession of his mind, he felt most anxious to prove its verification or its fallacy.
He held the candle in a variety of situations, so that its light fell in different ways on the picture; and the more he examined it, the more he felt convinced that it must have been moved lately.
It would appear as if, in its removal, a piece of the old oaken carved framework of the panel had been accidentally broken off, which caused the new look of the fracture, and that this accident, from the nature of the broken bit of framing, could have occurred in any other way than from an actual or attempted removal of the picture, he felt was extremely unlikely.
He set down the candle on a chair near at hand, and tried if the panel was fast in its place. Upon the very first touch, he felt convinced it was not so, and that it easily moved. How to get it out, though, presented a difficulty, and to get it out was tempting.
"Who knows," he said to himself, "what may be behind it? This is an old baronial sort of hall, and the greater portion of it was, no doubt, built at a time when the construction of such places as hidden chambers and intricate staircases were, in all buildings of importance, considered a disiderata."
That he should make some discovery behind the portrait, now became an idea that possessed him strongly, although he certainly had no definite grounds for really supposing that he should do so.
Perhaps the wish was more father to the thought than he, in the partial state of excitement he was in, really imagined; but so it was. He felt convinced that he should not be satisfied until he had removed that panel from the wall, and seen what was immediately behind it.
After the panel containing the picture had been placed where it was, it appeared that pieces of moulding had been inserted all around, which had had the effect of keeping it in its place, and it was a fracture of one of these pieces which had first called Charles Holland's attention to the probability of the picture having been removed. That he should have to get two, at least, of the pieces of moulding away, before he could hope to remove the picture, was to him quite apparent, and he was considering how he should accomplish such a result, when he was suddenly startled by a knock at his chamber door.
Until that sudden demand for admission at his door came, he scarcely knew to what a nervous state he had worked himself up. It was an odd sort of tap—one only—a single tap, as if some one demanded admittance, and wished to awaken his attention with the least possible chance of disturbing any one else.
"Come in," said Charles, for he knew he had not fastened his door; "come in."
There was no reply, but after a moment's pause, the same sort of low tap came again.
Again he cried "come in," but, whoever it was, seemed determined that the door should be opened for him, and no movement was made from the outside. A third time the tap came, and Charles was very close to the door when he heard it, for with a noiseless step he had approached it intending to open it. The instant this third mysterious demand for admission came, he did open it wide. There was no one there! In an instant he crossed the threshold into the corridor, which ran right and left. A window at one end of it now sent in the moon's rays, so that it was tolerably light, but he could see no one. Indeed, to look for any one, he felt sure was needless, for he had opened his chamber-door almost simultaneously with the last knock for admission.
"It is strange," he said, as he lingered on the threshold of his room door for some moments; "my imagination could not so completely deceive me. There was most certainly a demand for admission."
Slowly, then, he returned to his room again, and closed the door behind him.
"One thing is evident," he said, "that if I am in this apartment to be subjected to these annoyances, I shall get no rest, which will soon exhaust me."
This thought was a very provoking one, and the more he thought that he should ultimately find a necessity for giving up that chamber he had himself asked as a special favour to be allowed to occupy, the more vexed he became to think what construction might be put upon his conduct for so doing.
"They will all fancy me a coward," he thought, "and that I dare not sleep here. They may not, of course, say so, but they will think that my appearing so bold was one of those acts of bravado which I have not courage to carry fairly out."
Taking this view of the matter was just the way to enlist a young man's pride in staying, under all circumstances, where he was, and, with a slight accession of colour, which, even although he was alone, would visit his cheeks, Charles Holland said aloud,—
"I will remain the occupant of this room come what may, happen what may. No terrors, real or unsubstantial, shall drive me from it: I will brave them all, and remain here to brave them."
Tap came the knock at the door again, and now, with more an air of vexation than fear, Charles turned again towards it, and listened. Tap in another minute again succeeded, and much annoyed, he walked close to the door, and laid his hand upon the lock, ready to open it at the precise moment of another demand for admission being made.
He had not to wait long. In about half a minute it came again, and, simultaneously with the sound, the door flew open. There was no one to be seen; but, as he opened the door, he heard a strange sound in the corridor—a sound which scarcely could be called a groan, and scarcely a sigh, but seemed a compound of both, having the agony of the one combined with the sadness of the other. From what direction it came he could not at the moment decide, but he called out,—
"Who's there? who's there?"
The echo of his own voice alone answered him for a few moments, and then he heard a door open, and a voice, which he knew to be Henry's, cried,—
"What is it? who speaks?"
"Henry," said Charles.
"I fear I have disturbed you."
"You have been disturbed yourself, or you would not have done so. I shall be with you in a moment."
Henry closed his door before Charles Holland could tell him not to come to him, as he intended to do, for he felt ashamed to have, in a manner of speaking, summoned assistance for so trifling a cause of alarm as that to which he had been subjected. However, he could not go to Henry's chamber to forbid him from coming to his, and, more vexed than before, he retired to his room again to await his coming.
He left the door open now, so that Henry Bannerworth, when he had got on some articles of dress, walked in at once, saying,—
"What has happened, Charles?"
"A mere trifle, Henry, concerning which I am ashamed you should have been at all disturbed."
"Never mind that, I was wakeful."
"I heard a door open, which kept me listening, but I could not decide which door it was till I heard your voice in the corridor."
"Well, it was this door; and I opened it twice in consequence of the repeated taps for admission that came to it; some one has been knocking at it, and, when I go to it, lo! I can see nobody."
"Such is the case."
"You surprise me."
"I am very sorry to have disturbed you, because, upon such a ground, I do not feel that I ought to have done so; and, when I called out in the corridor, I assure you it was with no such intention."
"Do not regret it for a moment," said Henry; "you were quite justified in making an alarm on such an occasion."
"It's strange enough, but still it may arise from some accidental cause; admitting, if we did but know it, of some ready enough explanation."
"It may, certainly, but, after what has happened already, we may well suppose a mysterious connexion between any unusual sight or sound, and the fearful ones we have already seen."
"Certainly we may."
"How earnestly that strange portrait seems to look upon us, Charles."
"It does, and I have been examining it carefully. It seems to have been removed lately."
"Yes, I think, as far as I can judge, that it has been taken from its frame; I mean, that the panel on which it is painted has been taken out."
"If you touch it you will find it loose, and, upon a close examination, you will perceive that a piece of the moulding which holds it in its place has been chipped off, which is done in such a place that I think it could only have arisen during the removal of the picture."
"You must be mistaken."
"I cannot, of course, take upon myself, Henry, to say precisely such is the case," said Charles.
"But there is no one here to do so."
"That I cannot say. Will you permit me and assist me to remove it? I have a great curiosity to know what is behind it."
"If you have, I certainly will do so. We thought of taking it away altogether, but when Flora left this room the idea was given up as useless. Remain here a few moments, and I will endeavour to find something which shall assist us in its removal."
Henry left the mysterious chamber in order to search in his own for some means of removing the frame-work of the picture, so that the panel would slip easily out, and while he was gone, Charles Holland continued gazing upon it with greater interest, if possible, than before.
In a few minutes Henry returned, and although what he had succeeded in finding were very inefficient implements for the purpose, yet with this aid the two young men set about the task.
It is said, and said truly enough, that "where there is a will there is a way," and although the young men had no tools at all adapted for the purpose, they did succeed in removing the moulding from the sides of the panel, and then by a little tapping at one end of it, and using a knife at a lever at the other end of the panel, they got it fairly out.
Disappointment was all they got for their pains. On the other side there was nothing but a rough wooden wall, against which the finer and more nicely finished oak panelling of the chamber rested.
"There is no mystery here," said Henry.
"None whatever," said Charles, as he tapped the wall with his knuckles, and found it all hard and sound. "We are foiled."
"We are indeed."
"I had a strange presentiment, now," added Charles, "that we should make some discovery that would repay us for our trouble. It appears, however, that such is not to be the case; for you see nothing presents itself to us but the most ordinary appearances."
"I perceive as much; and the panel itself, although of more than ordinary thickness, is, after all, but a bit of planed oak, and apparently fashioned for no other object than to paint the portrait on."
"True. Shall we replace it?"
Charles reluctantly assented, and the picture was replaced in its original position. We say Charles reluctantly assented, because, although he had now had ocular demonstration that there was really nothing behind the panel but the ordinary woodwork which might have been expected from the construction of the old house, yet he could not, even with such a fact staring him in the face, get rid entirely of the feeling that had come across him, to the effect that the picture had some mystery or another.
"You are not yet satisfied," said Henry, as he observed the doubtful look of Charles Holland's face.
"My dear friend," said Charles, "I will not deceive you. I am much disappointed that we have made no discovery behind that picture."
"Heaven knows we have mysteries enough in our family," said Henry.
Even as he spoke they were both startled by a strange clattering noise at the window, which was accompanied by a shrill, odd kind of shriek, which sounded fearful and preternatural on the night air.
"What is that?" said Charles.
"God only knows," said Henry.
The two young men naturally turned their earnest gaze in the direction of the window, which we have before remarked was one unprovided with shutters, and there, to their intense surprise, they saw, slowly rising up from the lower part of it, what appeared to be a human form. Henry would have dashed forward, but Charles restrained him, and drawing quickly from its case a large holster pistol, he levelled it carefully at the figure, saying in a whisper,—
"Henry, if I don't hit it, I will consent to forfeit my head."
He pulled the trigger—a loud report followed—the room was filled with smoke, and then all was still. A circumstance, however, had occurred, as a consequence of the concussion of air produced by the discharge of the pistol, which neither of the young men had for the moment calculated upon, and that was the putting out of the only light they there had.
In spite of this circumstance, Charles, the moment he had discharged the pistol, dropped it and sprung forward to the window. But here he was perplexed, for he could not find the old fashioned, intricate fastening which held it shut, and he had to call to Henry,—
"Henry! For God's sake open the window for me, Henry! The fastening of the window is known to you, but not to me. Open it for me."
Thus called upon, Henry sprung forward, and by this time the report of the pistol had effectually alarmed the whole household. The flashing of lights from the corridor came into the room, and in another minute, just as Henry succeeded in getting the window wide open, and Charles Holland had made his way on to the balcony, both George Bannerworth and Mr. Marchdale entered the chamber, eager to know what had occurred. To their eager questions Henry replied,—
"Ask me not now;" and then calling to Charles, he said,—"Remain where you are, Charles, while I run down to the garden immediately beneath the balcony."
"Yes—yes," said Charles.
Henry made prodigious haste, and was in the garden immediately below the bay window in a wonderfully short space of time. He spoke to Charles, saying,—
"Will you now descend? I can see nothing here; but we will both make a search."
George and Mr. Marchdale were both now in the balcony, and they would have descended likewise, but Henry said,—
"Do not all leave the house. God only knows, now, situated as we are, what might happen."
"I will remain, then," said George. "I have been sitting up to-night as the guard, and, therefore, may as well continue to do so."
Marchdale and Charles Holland clambered over the balcony, and easily, from its insignificant height, dropped into the garden. The night was beautiful, and profoundly still. There was not a breath of air sufficient to stir a leaf on a tree, and the very flame of the candle which Charles had left burning in the balcony burnt clearly and steadily, being perfectly unruffled by any wind.
It cast a sufficient light close to the window to make everything very plainly visible, and it was evident at a glance that no object was there, although had that figure, which Charles shot at, and no doubt hit, been flesh and blood, it must have dropped immediately below.
As they looked up for a moment after a cursory examination of the ground, Charles exclaimed,—
"Look at the window! As the light is now situated, you can see the hole made in one of the panes of glass by the passage of the bullet from my pistol."
They did look, and there the clear, round hole, without any starring, which a bullet discharged close to a pane of glass will make in it, was clearly and plainly discernible.
"You must have hit him," said Henry.
"One would think so," said Charles; "for that was the exact place where the figure was."
"And there is nothing here," added Marchdale. "What can we think of these events—what resource has the mind against the most dreadful suppositions concerning them?"
Charles and Henry were both silent; in truth, they knew not what to think, and the words uttered by Marchdale were too strikingly true to dispute for a moment. They were lost in wonder.
"Human means against such an appearance as we saw to-night," said Charles, "are evidently useless."
"My dear young friend," said Marchdale, with much emotion, as he grasped Henry Bannerworth's hand, and the tears stood in his eyes as he did so,—"my dear young friend, these constant alarms will kill you. They will drive you, and all whose happiness you hold dear, distracted. You must control these dreadful feelings, and there is but one chance that I can see of getting now the better of these."
"What is that?"
"By leaving this place for ever."
"Alas! am I to be driven from the home of my ancestors from such a cause as this? And whither am I to fly? Where are we to find a refuge? To leave here will be at once to break up the establishment which is now held together, certainly upon the sufferance of creditors, but still to their advantage, inasmuch as I am doing what no one else would do, namely, paying away to within the scantiest pittance the whole proceeds of the estate that spreads around me."
"Heed nothing but an escape from such horrors as seem to be accumulating now around you."
"If I were sure that such a removal would bring with it such a corresponding advantage, I might, indeed, be induced to risk all to accomplish it."
"As regards poor dear Flora," said Mr. Marchdale, "I know not what to say, or what to think; she has been attacked by a vampyre, and after this mortal life shall have ended, it is dreadful to think there may be a possibility that she, with all her beauty, all her excellence and purity of mind, and all those virtues and qualities which should make her the beloved of all, and which do, indeed, attach all hearts towards her, should become one of that dreadful tribe of beings who cling to existence by feeding, in the most dreadful manner, upon the life blood of others—oh, it is too dreadful to contemplate! Too horrible—too horrible!"
"Then wherefore speak of it?" said Charles, with some asperity. "Now, by the great God of Heaven, who sees all our hearts, I will not give in to such a horrible doctrine! I will not believe it; and were death itself my portion for my want of faith, I would this moment die in my disbelief of anything so truly fearful!"
"Oh, my young friend," added Marchdale, "if anything could add to the pangs which all who love, and admire, and respect Flora Bannerworth must feel at the unhappy condition in which she is placed, it would be the noble nature of you, who, under happier auspices, would have been her guide through life, and the happy partner of her destiny."
"As I will be still."
"May Heaven forbid it! We are now among ourselves, and can talk freely upon such a subject. Mr. Charles Holland, if you wed, you would look forward to being blessed with children—those sweet ties which bind the sternest hearts to life with so exquisite a bondage. Oh, fancy, then, for a moment, the mother of your babes coming at the still hour of midnight to drain from their veins the very life blood she gave to them. To drive you and them mad with the expected horror of such visitations—to make your nights hideous—your days but so many hours of melancholy retrospection. Oh, you know not the world of terror, on the awful brink of which you stand, when you talk of making Flora Bannerworth a wife."
"Peace! oh, peace!" said Henry.
"Nay, I know my words are unwelcome," continued Mr. Marchdale. "It happens, unfortunately for human nature, that truth and some of our best and holiest feelings are too often at variance, and hold a sad contest—"
"I will hear no more of this," cried Charles Holland.—"I will hear no more."
"I have done," said Mr. Marchdale.
"And 'twere well you had not begun."
"Nay, say not so. I have but done what I considered was a solemn duty."
"Under that assumption of doing duty—a solemn duty—heedless of the feelings and the opinions of others," said Charles, sarcastically, "more mischief is produced—more heart-burnings and anxieties caused, than by any other two causes of such mischievous results combined. I wish to hear no more of this."
"Do not be angered with Mr. Marchdale, Charles," said Henry. "He can have no motive but our welfare in what he says. We should not condemn a speaker because his words may not sound pleasant to our ears."
"By Heaven!" said Charles, with animation, "I meant not to be illiberal; but I will not because I cannot see a man's motives for active interference in the affairs of others, always be ready, merely on account of such ignorance, to jump to a conclusion that they must be estimable."
"To-morrow, I leave this house," said Marchdale.
"Leave us?" exclaimed Henry.
"Ay, for ever."
"Nay, now, Mr. Marchdale, is this generous?"
"Am I treated generously by one who is your own guest, and towards whom I was willing to hold out the honest right hand of friendship?"
Henry turned to Charles Holland, saying,—
"Charles, I know your generous nature. Say you meant no offence to my mother's old friend."
"If to say I meant no offence," said Charles, "is to say I meant no insult, I say it freely."
"Enough," cried Marchdale; "I am satisfied."
"But do not," added Charles, "draw me any more such pictures as the one you have already presented to my imagination, I beg of you. From the storehouse of my own fancy I can find quite enough to make me wretched, if I choose to be so; but again and again do I say I will not allow this monstrous superstition to tread me down, like the tread of a giant on a broken reed. I will contend against it while I have life to do so."
"And when I desert Flora Bannerworth, may Heaven, from that moment, desert me!"
"Charles!" cried Henry, with emotion, "dear Charles, my more than friend—brother of my heart—noble Charles!"
"Nay, Henry, I am not entitled to your praises. I were base indeed to be other than that which I purpose to be. Come weal or woe—come what may, I am the affianced husband of your sister, and she, and she only, can break asunder the tie that binds me to her."
THE OFFER FOR THE HALL.—THE VISIT TO SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.—THE STRANGE RESEMBLANCE.—A DREADFUL SUGGESTION.
The party made a strict search through every nook and corner of the garden, but it proved to be a fruitless one: not the least trace of any one could be found. There was only one circumstance, which was pondered over deeply by them all, and that was that, beneath the window of the room in which Flora and her mother sat while the brothers were on their visit to the vault of their ancestors, were visible marks of blood to a considerable extent.
It will be remembered that Flora had fired a pistol at the spectral appearance, and that immediately upon that it had disappeared, after uttering a sound which might well be construed into a cry of pain from a wound.
That a wound then had been inflicted upon some one, the blood beneath the window now abundantly testified; and when it was discovered, Henry and Charles made a very close examination indeed of the garden, to discover what direction the wounded figure, be it man or vampyre, had taken.
But the closest scrutiny did not reveal to them a single spot of blood, beyond the space immediately beneath the window;—there the apparition seemed to have received its wound, and then, by some mysterious means, to have disappeared.
At length, wearied with the continued excitement, combined with want of sleep, to which they had been subjected, they returned to the hall.
Flora, with the exception of the alarm she experienced from the firing of the pistol, had met with no disturbance, and that, in order to spare her painful reflections, they told her was merely done as a precautionary measure, to proclaim to any one who might be lurking in the garden that the inmates of the house were ready to defend themselves against any aggression.
Whether or not she believed this kind deceit they knew not. She only sighed deeply, and wept. The probability is, that she more than suspected the vampyre had made another visit, but they forbore to press the point; and, leaving her with her mother, Henry and George went from her chamber again—the former to endeavour to seek some repose, as it would be his turn to watch on the succeeding night, and the latter to resume his station in a small room close to Flora's chamber, where it had been agreed watch and ward should be kept by turns while the alarm lasted.
At length, the morning again dawned upon that unhappy family, and to none were its beams more welcome.
The birds sang their pleasant carols beneath the window. The sweet, deep-coloured autumnal sun shone upon all objects with a golden luster; and to look abroad, upon the beaming face of nature, no one could for a moment suppose, except from sad experience, that there were such things as gloom, misery, and crime, upon the earth.
"And must I," said Henry, as he gazed from a window of the hall upon the undulating park, the majestic trees, the flowers, the shrubs, and the many natural beauties with which the place was full,—"must I be chased from this spot, the home of my self and of my kindred, by a phantom—must I indeed seek refuge elsewhere, because my own home has become hideous?"
It was indeed a cruel and a painful thought! It was one he yet would not, could not be convinced was absolutely necessary. But now the sun was shining: it was morning; and the feelings, which found a home in his breast amid the darkness, the stillness, and the uncertainty of night, were chased away by those glorious beams of sunlight, that fell upon hill, valley, and stream, and the thousand sweet sounds of life and animation that filled that sunny air!
Such a revulsion of feeling was natural enough. Many of the distresses and mental anxieties of night vanish with the night, and those which oppressed the heart of Henry Bannerworth were considerably modified.
He was engaged in these reflections when he heard the sound of the lodge bell, and as a visitor was now somewhat rare at this establishment, he waited with some anxiety to see to whom he was indebted for so early a call.
In the course of a few minutes, one of the servants came to him with a letter in her hand.
It bore a large handsome seal, and, from its appearance, would seem to have come from some personage of consequence. A second glance at it shewed him the name of "Varney" in the corner, and, with some degree of vexation, he muttered to himself,
"Another condoling epistle from the troublesome neighbour whom I have not yet seen."
"If you please, sir," said the servant who had brought him the letter, "as I'm here, and you are here, perhaps you'll have no objection to give me what I'm to have for the day and two nights as I've been here, cos I can't stay in a family as is so familiar with all sorts o' ghostesses: I ain't used to such company."
"What do you mean?" said Henry.
The question was a superfluous one—: too well he knew what the woman meant, and the conviction came across his mind strongly that no domestic would consent to live long in a house which was subject to such dreadful visitations.
"What does I mean!" said the woman,—"why, sir, if it's all the same to you, I don't myself come of a wampyre family, and I don't choose to remain in a house where there is sich things encouraged. That's what I means, sir."
"What wages are owing to you?" said Henry.
"Why, as to wages, I only comed here by the day."
"Go, then, and settle with my mother. The sooner you leave this house, the better."
"Oh, indeed. I'm sure I don't want to stay."
This woman was one of those who were always armed at all points for a row, and she had no notion of concluding any engagement, of any character whatever, without some disturbance; therefore, to see Henry take what she said with such provoking calmness was aggravating in the extreme; but there was no help for such a source of vexation. She could find no other ground of quarrel than what was connected with the vampyre, and, as Henry would not quarrel with her on such a score, she was compelled to give it up in despair.
When Henry found himself alone, and free from the annoyance of this woman, he turned his attention to the letter he held in his hand, and which, from the autograph in the corner, he knew came from his new neighbour, Sir Francis Varney, whom, by some chance or another, he had never yet seen.
To his great surprise, he found that the letter contained the following words:—
Dear Sir,—"As a neighbour, by purchase of an estate contiguous to your own, I am quite sure you have excused, and taken in good part, the cordial offer I made to you of friendship and service some short time since; but now, in addressing to you a distinct proposition, I trust I shall meet with an indulgent consideration, whether such proposition be accordant with your views or not.
"What I have heard from common report induces me to believe that Bannerworth Hall cannot be a desirable residence for yourself, or your amiable sister. If I am right in that conjecture, and you have any serious thought of leaving the place, I would earnestly recommend you, as one having some experience in such descriptions of property, to sell it at once.
"Now, the proposition with which I conclude this letter is, I know, of a character to make you doubt the disinterestedness of such advice; but that it is disinterested, nevertheless, is a fact of which I can assure my own heart, and of which I beg to assure you. I propose, then, should you, upon consideration, decide upon such a course of proceeding, to purchase of you the Hall. I do not ask for a bargain on account of any extraneous circumstances which may at the present time depreciate the value of the property, but I am willing to give a fair price for it. Under these circumstances, I trust, sir, that you will give a kindly consideration to my offer, and even if you reject it, I hope that, as neighbours, we may live long in peace and amity, and in the interchange of those good offices which should subsist between us. Awaiting your reply,
"Believe me to be, dear sir,
"Your very obedient servant,
"To Henry Bannerworth, Esq."
Henry, after having read this most unobjectionable letter through, folded it up again, and placed it in his pocket. Clasping his hands, then, behind his back, a favourite attitude of his when he was in deep contemplation, he paced to and fro in the garden for some time in deep thought.
"How strange," he muttered. "It seems that every circumstance combines to induce me to leave my old ancestral home. It appears as if everything now that happened had that direct tendency. What can be the meaning of all this? 'Tis very strange—amazingly strange. Here arise circumstances which are enough to induce any man to leave a particular place. Then a friend, in whose single-mindedness and judgment I know I can rely, advises the step, and immediately upon the back of that comes a fair and candid offer."
There was an apparent connexion between all these circumstances which much puzzled Henry. He walked to and fro for nearly an hour, until he heard a hasty footstep approaching him, and upon looking in the direction from whence it came, he saw Mr. Marchdale.
"I will seek Marchdale's advice," he said, "upon this matter. I will hear what he says concerning it."
"Henry," said Marchdale, when he came sufficiently near to him for conversation, "why do you remain here alone?"
"I have received a communication from our neighbour, Sir Francis Varney," said Henry.
"It is here. Peruse it for yourself, and then tell me, Marchdale, candidly what you think of it."
"I suppose," said Marchdale, as he opened the letter, "it is another friendly note of condolence on the state of your domestic affairs, which, I grieve to say, from the prattling of domestics, whose tongues it is quite impossible to silence, have become food for gossip all over the neighbouring villages and estates."
"If anything could add another pang to those I have already been made to suffer," said Henry, "it would certainly arise from being made the food of vulgar gossip. But read the letter, Marchdale. You will find its contents of a more important character than you anticipate."
"Indeed!" said Marchdale, as he ran his eyes eagerly over the note.
When he had finished it he glanced at Henry, who then said,—
"Well, what is your opinion?"
"I know not what to say, Henry. You know that my own advice to you has been to get rid of this place."
"With the hope that the disagreeable affair connected with it now may remain connected with it as a house, and not with you and yours as a family."
"It may be so."
"There appears to me every likelihood of it."
"I do not know," said Henry, with a shudder. "I must confess, Marchdale, that to my own perceptions it seems more probable that the infliction we have experienced from the strange visitor, who seems now resolved to pester us with visits, will rather attach to a family than to a house. The vampyre may follow us."
"If so, of course the parting with the Hall would be a great pity, and no gain."
"None in the least."
"Henry, a thought has struck me."
"Let's hear it, Marchdale."
"It is this:—Suppose you were to try the experiment of leaving the Hall without selling it. Suppose for one year you were to let it to some one, Henry."
"It might be done."
"Ay, and it might, with very great promise and candour, be proposed to this very gentleman, Sir Francis Varney, to take it for one year, to see how he liked it before becoming the possessor of it. Then if he found himself tormented by the vampyre, he need not complete the purchase, or if you found that the apparition followed you from hence, you might yourself return, feeling that perhaps here, in the spots familiar to your youth, you might be most happy, even under such circumstances as at present oppress you."
"Most happy!" ejaculated Henry.
"Perhaps I should not have used that word."
"I am sure you should not," said Henry, "when you speak of me."
"Well—well; let us hope that the time may not be very far distant when I may use the term happy, as applied to you, in the most conclusive and the strongest manner it can be used."
"Oh," said Henry, "I will hope; but do not mock me with it now, Marchdale, I pray you."
"Heaven forbid that I should mock you!"
"Well—well; I do not believe you are the man to do so to any one. But about this affair of the house."
"Distinctly, then, if I were you, I would call upon Sir Francis Varney, and make him an offer to become a tenant of the Hall for twelve months, during which time you could go where you please, and test the fact of absence ridding you or not ridding you of the dreadful visitant who makes the night here truly hideous."
"I will speak to my mother, to George, and to my sister of the matter. They shall decide."
Mr. Marchdale now strove in every possible manner to raise the spirits of Henry Bannerworth, by painting to him the future in far more radiant colours than the present, and endeavouring to induce a belief in his mind that a short period of time might after all replace in his mind, and in the minds of those who were naturally so dear to him, all their wonted serenity.
Henry, although he felt not much comfort from these kindly efforts, yet could feel gratitude to him who made them; and after expressing such a feeling to Marchdale, in strong terms, he repaired to the house, in order to hold a solemn consultation with those whom he felt ought to be consulted as well as himself as to what steps should be taken with regard to the Hall.
The proposition, or rather the suggestion, which had been made by Marchdale upon the proposition of Sir Francis Varney, was in every respect so reasonable and just, that it met, as was to be expected, with the concurrence of every member of the family.
Flora's cheeks almost resumed some of their wonted colour at the mere thought now of leaving that home to which she had been at one time so much attached.
"Yes, dear Henry," she said, "let us leave here if you are agreeable so to do, and in leaving this house, we will believe that we leave behind us a world of terror."
"Flora," remarked Henry, in a tone of slight reproach, "if you were so anxious to leave Bannerworth Hall, why did you not say so before this proposition came from other mouths? You know your feelings upon such a subject would have been laws to me."
"I knew you were attached to the old house," said Flora; "and, besides, events have come upon us all with such fearful rapidity, there has scarcely been time to think."
"And you will leave, Henry?"
"I will call upon Sir Francis Varney myself, and speak to him upon the subject."
A new impetus to existence appeared now to come over the whole family, at the idea of leaving a place which always would be now associated in their minds with so much terror. Each member of the family felt happier, and breathed more freely than before, so that the change which had come over them seemed almost magical. And Charles Holland, too, was much better pleased, and he whispered to Flora,—
"Dear Flora, you will now surely no longer talk of driving from you the honest heart that loves you?"
"Hush, Charles, hush!" she said; "meet me an hour hence in the garden, and we will talk of this."
"That hour will seem an age," he said.
Henry, now, having made a determination to see Sir Francis Varney, lost no time in putting it into execution. At Mr. Marchdale's own request, he took him with him, as it was desirable to have a third person present in the sort of business negotiation which was going on. The estate which had been so recently entered upon by the person calling himself Sir Francis Varney, and which common report said he had purchased, was a small, but complete property, and situated so close to the grounds connected with Bannerworth Hall, that a short walk soon placed Henry and Mr. Marchdale before the residence of this gentleman, who had shown so kindly a feeling towards the Bannerworth family.
"Have you seen Sir Francis Varney?" asked Henry of Mr. Marchdale, as he rung the gate-bell.
"I have not. Have you?"
"No; I never saw him. It is rather awkward our both being absolute strangers to his person."
"We can but send in our names, however; and, from the great vein of courtesy that runs through his letter, I have no doubt but we shall receive the most gentlemanly reception from him."
A servant in handsome livery appeared at the iron-gates, which opened upon a lawn in the front of Sir Francis Varney's house, and to this domestic Henry Bannerworth handed his card, on which he had written, in pencil, likewise the name of Mr. Marchdale.
"If your master," he said, "is within, we shall be glad to see him."
"Sir Francis is at home, sir," was the reply, "although not very well. If you will be pleased to walk in, I will announce you to him."
Henry and Marchdale followed the man into a handsome enough reception-room, where they were desired to wait while their names were announced.
"Do you know if this gentleman be a baronet," said Henry, "or a knight merely?"
"I really do not; I never saw him in my life, or heard of him before he came into this neighbourhood."
"And I have been too much occupied with the painful occurrences of this hall to know anything of our neighbours. I dare say Mr. Chillingworth, if we had thought to ask him, would have known something concerning him."
This brief colloquy was put an end to by the servant, who said,—
"My master, gentlemen, is not very well; but he begs me to present his best compliments, and to say he is much gratified with your visit, and will be happy to see you in his study."
Henry and Marchdale followed the man up a flight of stone stairs, and then they were conducted through a large apartment into a smaller one. There was very little light in this small room; but at the moment of their entrance a tall man, who was seated, rose, and, touching the spring of a blind that was to the window, it was up in a moment, admitting a broad glare of light. A cry of surprise, mingled with terror, came from Henry Bannerworth's lip. The original of the portrait on the panel stood before him! There was the lofty stature, the long, sallow face, the slightly projecting teeth, the dark, lustrous, although somewhat sombre eyes; the expression of the features—all were alike.
"Are you unwell, sir?" said Sir Francis Varney, in soft, mellow accents, as he handed a chair to the bewildered Henry.
"God of Heaven!" said Henry; "how like!"
"You seem surprised, sir. Have you ever seen me before?"
Sir Francis drew himself up to his full height, and cast a strange glance upon Henry, whose eyes were rivetted upon his face, as if with a species of fascination which he could not resist.
"Marchdale," Henry gasped; "Marchdale, my friend, Marchdale. I—I am surely mad."
"Hush! be calm," whispered Marchdale.
"Calm—calm—can you not see? Marchdale, is this a dream? Look—look—oh! look."
"For God's sake, Henry, compose yourself."
"Is your friend often thus?" said Sir Francis Varney, with the same mellifluous tone which seemed habitual to him.
"No, sir, he is not; but recent circumstances have shattered his nerves; and, to tell the truth, you bear so strong a resemblance to an old portrait, in his house, that I do not wonder so much as I otherwise should at his agitation."
"A resemblance!" said Henry; "a resemblance! God of Heaven! it is the face itself."
"You much surprise me," said Sir Francis.
Henry sunk into the chair which was near him, and he trembled violently. The rush of painful thoughts and conjectures that came through his mind was enough to make any one tremble. "Is this the vampyre?" was the horrible question that seemed impressed upon his very brain, in letters of flame. "Is this the vampyre?"
"Are you better, sir?" said Sir Francis Varney, in his bland, musical voice. "Shall I order any refreshment for you?"
"No—no," gasped Henry; "for the love of truth tell me! Is—is your name really Varney!"
"Have you no other name to which, perhaps, a better title you could urge?"
"Mr. Bannerworth, I can assure you that I am too proud of the name of the family to which I belong to exchange it for any other, be it what it may."
"How wonderfully like!"
"I grieve to see you so much distressed. Mr. Bannerworth. I presume ill health has thus shattered your nerves?"
"No; ill health has not done the work. I know not what to say, Sir Francis Varney, to you; but recent events in my family have made the sight of you full of horrible conjectures."
"What mean you, sir?"
"You know, from common report, that we have had a fearful visitor at our house."
"A vampyre, I have heard," said Sir Francis Varney, with a bland, and almost beautiful smile, which displayed his white glistening teeth to perfection.
"Yes; a vampyre, and—and—"
"I pray you go on, sir; you surely are far above the vulgar superstition of believing in such matters?"
"My judgment is assailed in too many ways and shapes for it to hold out probably as it ought to do against so hideous a belief, but never was it so much bewildered as now."
"Nay, Henry," whispered Mr. Marchdale, "it is scarcely civil to tell Sir Francis to his face, that he resembles a vampyre."
"I must, I must."
"Pray, sir," interrupted Varney to Marchdale, "permit Mr. Bannerworth to speak here freely. There is nothing in the whole world I so much admire as candour."
"Then you so much resemble the vampyre," added Henry, "that—that I know not what to think."
"Is it possible?" said Varney.
"It is a damning fact."
"Well, it's unfortunate for me, I presume? Ah!"
Varney gave a twinge of pain, as if some sudden bodily ailment had attacked him severely.
"You are unwell, sir?" said Marchdale.
"No, no—no," he said; "I—hurt my arm, and happened accidentally to touch the arm of this chair with it."
"A hurt?" said Henry.
"Yes, Mr. Bannerworth."
"Yes, a wound, but not much more than skin deep. In fact, little beyond an abrasion of the skin."
"May I inquire how you came by it?"
"Oh, yes. A slight fall."
"Remarkable, is it not? Very remarkable. We never know a moment when, from same most trifling cause, we may receive really some serious bodily harm. How true it is, Mr. Bannerworth, that in the midst of life we are in death."
"And equally true, perhaps," said Henry, "that in the midst of death there may be found a horrible life."
"Well, I should not wonder. There are really so many strange things in this world, that I have left off wondering at anything now."
"There are strange things," said Henry. "You wish to purchase of me the Hall, sir?"
"If you wish to sell."
"You—you are perhaps attached to the place? Perhaps you recollected it, sir, long ago?"
"Not very long," smiled Sir Francis Varney. "It seems a nice comfortable old house; and the grounds, too, appear to be amazingly well wooded, which, to one of rather a romantic temperament like myself, is always an additional charm to a place. I was extremely pleased with it the first time I beheld it, and a desire to call myself the owner of it took possession of my mind. The scenery is remarkable for its beauty, and, from what I have seen of it, it is rarely to be excelled. No doubt you are greatly attached to it."
"It has been my home from infancy," returned Henry, "and being also the residence of my ancestors for centuries, it is natural that I should be so."
"The house, no doubt, has suffered much," said Henry, "within the last hundred years."
"No doubt it has. A hundred years is a tolerable long space of time, you know."
"It is, indeed. Oh, how any human life which is spun out to such an extent, must lose its charms, by losing all its fondest and dearest associations."
"Ah, how true," said Sir Francis Varney. He had some minutes previously touched a bell, and at this moment a servant brought in on a tray some wine and refreshments.
HENRY'S AGREEMENT WITH SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.—THE SUDDEN ARRIVAL AT THE HALL.—FLORA'S ALARM.
On the tray which the servant brought into the room, were refreshments of different kinds, including wine, and after waving his hand for the domestic to retire, Sir Francis Varney said,—
"You will be better, Mr. Bannerworth, for a glass of wine after your walk, and you too, sir. I am ashamed to say, I have quite forgotten your name."
"Mr. Marchdale. Ay, Marchdale. Pray, sir, help yourself."
"You take nothing yourself?" said Henry.
"I am under a strict regimen," replied Varney. "The simplest diet alone does for me, and I have accustomed myself to long abstinence."
"He will not eat or drink," muttered Henry, abstractedly.
"Will you sell me the Hall?" said Sir Francis Varney.
Henry looked in his face again, from which he had only momentarily withdrawn his eyes, and he was then more struck than ever with the resemblance between him and the portrait on the panel of what had been Flora's chamber. What made that resemblance, too, one about which there could scarcely be two opinions, was the mark or cicatrix of a wound in the forehead, which the painter had slightly indented in the portrait, but which was much more plainly visible on the forehead of Sir Francis Varney. Now that Henry observed this distinctive mark, which he had not done before, he could feel no doubt, and a sickening sensation came over him at the thought that he was actually now in the presence of one of those terrible creatures, vampyres.
"You do not drink," said Varney. "Most young men are not so modest with a decanter of unimpeachable wine before them. I pray you help yourself."
Henry rose as he spoke, and turning to Marchdale, he said, in addition,—
"Will you come away?"
"If you please," said Marchdale, rising.
"But you have not, my dear sir," said Varney, "given me yet any answer about the Hall?"
"I cannot yet," answered Henry, "I will think. My present impression is, to let you have it on whatever terms you may yourself propose, always provided you consent to one of mine."
"That you never show yourself in my family."
"How very unkind. I understand you have a charming sister, young, beautiful, and accomplished. Shall I confess, now, that I had hopes of making myself agreeable to her?"
"You make yourself agreeable to her? The sight of you would blast her for ever, and drive her to madness."
"Am I so hideous?"
"No, but—you are—"
"What am I?"
"Hush, Henry, hush," cried Marchdale. "Remember you are in this gentleman's house."
"True, true. Why does he tempt me to say these dreadful things? I do not want to say them."
"Come away, then—come away at once. Sir Francis Varney, my friend, Mr. Bannerworth, will think over your offer, and let you know. I think you may consider that your wish to become the purchaser of the Hall will be complied with."
"I wish to have it," said Varney, "and I can only say, that if I am master of it, I shall be very happy to see any of the family on a visit at any time."
"A visit!" said Henry, with a shudder. "A visit to the tomb were far more desirable. Farewell, sir."
"Adieu," said Sir Francis Varney, and he made one of the most elegant bows in the world, while there came over his face a peculiarity of expression that was strange, if not painful, to contemplate. In another minute Henry and Marchdale were clear of the house, and with feelings of bewilderment and horror, which beggar all description, poor Henry allowed himself to be led by the arm by Marchdale to some distance, without uttering a word. When he did speak, he said,—
"Marchdale, it would be charity of some one to kill me."
"To kill you!"
"Yes, for I am certain otherwise that I must go mad."
"Nay, nay; rouse yourself."
"This man, Varney, is a vampyre."
"I tell you, Marchdale," cried Henry, in a wild, excited manner, "he is a vampyre. He is the dreadful being who visited Flora at the still hour of midnight, and drained the life-blood from her veins. He is a vampyre. There are such things. I cannot doubt now. Oh, God, I wish now that your lightnings would blast me, as here I stand, for over into annihilation, for I am going mad to be compelled to feel that such horrors can really have existence."
"Nay, talk not to me. What can I do? Shall I kill him? Is it not a sacred duty to destroy such a thing? Oh, horror—horror. He must be killed—destroyed—burnt, and the very dust to which he is consumed must be scattered to the winds of Heaven. It would be a deed well done, Marchdale."
"Hush! hush! These words are dangerous."
"I care not."
"What if they were overheard now by unfriendly ears? What might not be the uncomfortable results? I pray you be more cautious what you say of this strange man."
"I must destroy him."
"Can you ask? Is he not a vampyre?"
"Yes; but reflect, Henry, for a moment upon the length to which you might carry out so dangerous an argument. It is said that vampyres are made by vampyres sucking the blood of those who, but for that circumstance, would have died and gone to decay in the tomb along with ordinary mortals; but that being so attacked during life by a vampyre, they themselves, after death, become such."
"Well—well, what is that to me?"
"Have you forgotten Flora?"
A cry of despair came from poor Henry's lips, and in a moment he seemed completely, mentally and physically, prostrated.
"God of Heaven!" he moaned, "I had forgotten her!"
"I thought you had."
"Oh, if the sacrifice of my own life would suffice to put an end to all this accumulating horror, how gladly would I lay it down. Ay, in any way—in any way. No mode of death should appal me. No amount of pain make me shrink. I could smile then upon the destroyer, and say, 'welcome—welcome—most welcome.'"
"Rather, Henry, seek to live for those whom you love than die for them. Your death would leave them desolate. In life you may ward off many a blow of fate from them."
"I may endeavour so to do."
"Consider that Flora may be wholly dependent upon such kindness as you may be able to bestow upon her."
"Charles clings to her."
"You do not doubt him?"
"My dear friend, Henry Bannerworth, although I am not an old man, yet I am so much older than you that I have seen a great deal of the world, and am, perhaps, far better able to come to accurate judgments with regard to individuals."
"No doubt—no doubt; but yet—"
"Nay, hear me out. Such judgments, founded upon experience, when uttered have all the character of prophecy about them. I, therefore, now prophecy to you that Charles Holland will yet be so stung with horror at the circumstance of a vampyre visiting Flora, that he will never make her his wife."
"Marchdale, I differ from you most completely," said Henry. "I know that Charles Holland is the very soul of honour."
"I cannot argue the matter with you. It has not become a thing of fact. I have only sincerely to hope that I am wrong."
"You are, you may depend, entirely wrong. I cannot be deceived in Charles. From you such words produce no effect but one of regret that you should so much err in your estimate of any one. From any one but yourself they would have produced in me a feeling of anger I might have found it difficult to smother."
"It has often been my misfortune through life," said Mr. Marchdale, sadly, "to give the greatest offence where I feel the truest friendship, because it is in such quarters that I am always tempted to speak too freely."
"Nay, no offence," said Henry. "I am distracted, and scarcely know what I say. Marchdale, I know you are my sincere friend—but, as I tell you, I am nearly mad."
"My dear Henry, be calmer. Consider upon what is to be said concerning this interview at home."
"Ay; that is a consideration."
"I should not think it advisable to mention the disagreeable fact, that in your neighbour you think you have found out the nocturnal disturber of your family."
"I would say nothing of it. It is not at all probable that, after what you have said to him this Sir Francis Varney, or whatever his real name may be will obtrude himself upon you."
"If he should he die."
"He will, perhaps, consider that such a step would be dangerous to him."
"It would be fatal, so help me. However, and then would I take especial care that no power of resuscitation should ever enable that man again to walk the earth."
"They say that only way of destroying a vampyre is to fix him to the earth with a stake, so that he cannot move, and then, of course, decomposition will take its course, as in ordinary cases."
"Fire would consume him, and be a quicker process," said Henry. "But these are fearful reflections, and, for the present, we will not pursue them. Now to play the hypocrite, and endeavour to look composed and serene to my mother, and to Flora while my heart is breaking."
The two friends had by this time reached the hall, and leaving his friend Marchdale, Henry Bannerworth, with feelings of the most unenviable description, slowly made his way to the apartment occupied by his mother and sister.
THE OLD ADMIRAL AND HIS SERVANT.—THE COMMUNICATION FROM THE LANDLORD OF THE NELSON'S ARMS.
While those matters of most grave and serious import were going on at the Hall, while each day, and almost each hour in each day, was producing more and more conclusive evidence upon a matter which at first had seemed too monstrous to be at all credited, it may well be supposed what a wonderful sensation was produced among the gossip-mongers of the neighbourhood by the exaggerated reports that had reached them.
The servants, who had left the Hall on no other account, as they declared, but sheer fright at the awful visits of the vampyre, spread the news far and wide, so that in the adjoining villages and market-towns the vampyre of Bannerworth Hall became quite a staple article of conversation.
Such a positive godsend for the lovers of the marvellous had not appeared in the country side within the memory of that sapient individual—the oldest inhabitant.
And, moreover, there was one thing which staggered some people of better education and maturer judgments, and that was, that the more they took pains to inquire into the matter, in order, if possible, to put an end to what they considered a gross lie from the commencement, the more evidence they found to stagger their own senses upon the subject.
Everywhere then, in every house, public as well as private, something was being continually said of the vampyre. Nursery maids began to think a vampyre vastly superior to "old scratch and old bogie" as a means of terrifying their infant charges into quietness, if not to sleep, until they themselves became too much afraid upon the subject to mention it.
But nowhere was gossiping carried on upon the subject with more systematic fervour than at an inn called the Nelson's Arms, which was in the high street of the nearest market town to the Hall.
There, it seemed as if the lovers of the horrible made a point of holding their head quarters, and so thirsty did the numerous discussions make the guests, that the landlord was heard to declare that he, from his heart, really considered a vampyre as very nearly equal to a contested election.
It was towards evening of the same day that Marchdale and Henry made their visit to Sir Francis Varney, that a postchaise drew up to the inn we have mentioned. In the vehicle were two persons of exceedingly dissimilar appearance and general aspect.
One of these people was a man who seemed fast verging upon seventy years of age, although, from his still ruddy and embrowned complexion and stentorian voice, it was quite evident he intended yet to keep time at arm's-length for many years to come.
He was attired in ample and expensive clothing, but every article had a naval animus about it, it we may be allowed such an expression with regard to clothing. On his buttons was an anchor, and the general assortment and colour of the clothing as nearly assimilated as possible to the undress naval uniform of an officer of high rank some fifty or sixty years ago.
His companion was a younger man, and about his appearance there was no secret at all. He was a genuine sailor, and he wore the shore costume of one. He was hearty-looking, and well dressed, and evidently well fed.
As the chaise drove up to the door of the inn, this man made an observation to the other to the following effect,—
"Well, you lubber, what now?" cried the other.
"They call this the Nelson's Arms; and you know, shiver me, that for the best half of his life he had but one."
"D—n you!" was the only rejoinder he got for this observation; but, with that, he seemed very well satisfied.
"Heave to!" he then shouted to the postilion, who was about to drive the chaise into the yard. "Heave to, you lubberly son of a gun! we don't want to go into dock."
"Ah!" said the old man, "let's get out, Jack. This is the port; and, do you hear, and be cursed to you, let's have no swearing, d—n you, nor bad language, you lazy swab."
"Aye, aye," cried Jack; "I've not been ashore now a matter o' ten years, and not larnt a little shore-going politeness, admiral, I ain't been your walley de sham without larning a little about land reckonings. Nobody would take me for a sailor now, I'm thinking, admiral."
"Hold your noise!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
Jack, as he was called, bundled out of the chaise when the door was opened, with a movement so closely resembling what would have ensued had he been dragged out by the collar, that one was tempted almost to believe that such a feat must have been accomplished all at once by some invisible agency.
He then assisted the old gentleman to alight, and the landlord of the inn commenced the usual profusion of bows with which a passenger by a postchaise is usually welcomed in preference to one by a stage coach.
"Be quiet, will you!" shouted the admiral, for such indeed he was. "Be quiet."
"Best accommodation, sir—good wine—well-aired beds—good attendance—fine air—"
"Belay there," said Jack; and he gave the landlord what no doubt he considered a gentle admonition, but which consisted of such a dig in the ribs, that he made as many evolutions as the clown in a pantomime when he vociferates hot codlings.
"Now, Jack, where's the sailing instructions?" said his master.
"Here, sir, in the locker," said Jack, a he took from his pocket a letter, which he handed to the admiral.
"Won't you step in, sir?" said the landlord, who had begun now to recover a little from the dig in the ribs.
"What's the use of coming into port and paying harbour dues, and all that sort of thing, till we know if it's the right, you lubber, eh?"
"No; oh, dear me, sir, of course—God bless me, what can the old gentleman mean?"
The admiral opened the letter, and read:—
"If you stop at the Nelson's Aims at Uxotter, you will hear of me, and I can be sent for, when I will tell you more.
"Yours, very obediently and humbly,
"Who the deuce is he?"
"This is Uxotter, sir," said the landlord; "and here you are, sir, at the Nelson's Arms. Good beds—good wine—good—"
"Yes, sir—oh, of course"
"Who the devil is Josiah Crinkles?"
"Ha! ha! ha! ha! Makes me laugh, sir. Who the devil indeed! They do say the devil and lawyers, sir, know something of each other—makes me smile."
"I'll make you smile on the other side of that d——d great hatchway of a mouth of yours in a minute. Who is Crinkles?"
"Oh, Mr. Crinkles, sir, everybody knows, most respectable attorney, sir, indeed, highly respectable man, sir."
"Yes, sir, a lawyer."
"Well, I'm d——d!"
Jack gave a long whistle, and both master and man looked at each other aghast.
"Now, hang me!" cried the admiral, "if ever I was so taken in in all my life."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Jack.
"To come a hundred and seventy miles see a d——d swab of a rascally lawyer."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"I'll smash him—Jack!"
"Get into the chaise again."
"Well, but where's Master Charles? Lawyers, in course, sir, is all blessed rogues; but, howsomdever, he may have for once in his life this here one of 'em have told us of the right channel, and if so be as he has, don't be the Yankee to leave him among the pirates. I'm ashamed on you."
"You infernal scoundrel; how dare you preach to me in such a way, you lubberly rascal?"
"Cos you desarves it."
"Mutiny—mutiny—by Jove! Jack, I'll have you put in irons—you're a scoundrel, and no seaman."
"No seaman!—no seaman!"
"Not a bit of one."
"Very good. It's time, then, as I was off the purser's books. Good bye to you; I only hopes as you may get a better seaman to stick to you and be your walley de sham nor Jack Pringle, that's all the harm I wish you. You didn't call me no seaman in the Bay of Corfu, when the bullets were scuttling our nobs."
"Jack, you rascal, give us your fin. Come here, you d——d villain. You'll leave me, will you?"
"Not if I know it."
"Come in, then"
"Don't tell me I'm no seaman. Call me a wagabone if you like, but don't hurt my feelings. There I'm as tender as a baby, I am.—Don't do it."
"Confound you, who is doing it?"
Thus wrangling, they entered the inn, to the great amusement of several bystanders, who had collected to hear the altercation between them.
"Would you like a private room, sir?" said the landlord.
"What's that to you?" said Jack.
"Hold your noise, will you?" cried his master. "Yes, I should like a private room, and some grog."
"Strong as the devil!" put in Jack.
"Yes, sir-yes, sir. Good wines—good beds—good—"
"You said all that before, you know," remarked Jack, as he bestowed upon the landlord another terrific dig in the ribs.
"Hilloa!" cried the admiral, "you can send for that infernal lawyer, Mister Landlord."
"Mr. Crinkles, sir?"
"Who may I have the honour to say, sir, wants to see him?"
"Certainly, admiral, certainly. You'll find him a very conversible, nice, gentlemanly little man, sir."
"And tell him as Jack Pringle is here, too," cried the seaman.
"Oh, yes, yes—of course," said the landlord, who was in such a state of confusion from the digs in the ribs he had received and the noise his guests had already made in his house, that, had he been suddenly put upon his oath, he would scarcely have liked to say which was the master and which was the man.
"The idea now, Jack," said the admiral, "of coming all this way to see a lawyer."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"If he'd said he was a lawyer, we would have known what to do. But it's a take in, Jack."
"So I think. Howsomdever, we'll serve him out when we catch him, you know."
"Good—so we will."
"And, then, again, he may know something about Master Charles, sir, you know. Lord love him, don't you remember when he came aboard to see you once at Portsmouth?"
"Ah! I do, indeed."
"And how he said he hated the French, and quite a baby, too. What perseverance and sense. 'Uncle,' says he to you, 'when I'm a big man, I'll go in a ship, and fight all the French in a heap,' says he. 'And beat 'em, my boy, too,' says you; cos you thought he'd forgot that; and then he says, 'what's the use of saying that, stupid?—don't we always beat 'em?'"
The admiral laughed and rubbed his hands, as he cried aloud,—
"I remember, Jack—I remember him. I was stupid to make such a remark."
"I know you was—a d——d old fool I thought you."
"Come, come. Hilloa, there!"
"Well, then, what do you call me no seaman for?"
"Why, Jack, you bear malice like a marine."
"There you go again. Goodbye. Do you remember when we were yard arm to yard arm with those two Yankee frigates, and took 'em both! You didn't call me a marine then, when the scuppers were running with blood. Was I a seaman then?"
"You were, Jack—you were; and you saved my life."
"I say I didn't—it was a marlin-spike."
"But I say you did, you rascally scoundrel.—I say you did, and I won't be contradicted in my own ship."
"Call this your ship?"
"No, d—n it—I—"
"Mr. Crinkles," said the landlord, flinging the door wide open, and so at once putting an end to the discussion which always apparently had a tendency to wax exceedingly warm.
"The shark, by G—d!" said Jack.
A little, neatly dressed man made his appearance, and advanced rather timidly into the room. Perhaps he had heard from the landlord that the parties who had sent for him were of rather a violent sort.
"So you are Crinkles, are you?" cried the admiral. "Sit down, though you are a lawyer."
"Thank you, sir. I am an attorney, certainly, and my name as certainly is Crinkles."
"Look at that."
The admiral placed the letter in the little lawyer's hands, who said,—
"Am I to read it?"
"Yes, to be sure."
"Read it to the devil, if you like, in a pig's whisper, or a West India hurricane."
"Oh, very good, sir. I—I am willing to be agreeable, so I'll read it aloud, if it's all the same to you."
He then opened the letter, and read as follows:—
"To Admiral Bell.
"Admiral,—Being, from various circumstances, aware that you take a warm and a praiseworthy interest in your nephew, Charles Holland, I venture to write to you concerning a matter in which your immediate and active co-operation with others may rescue him from a condition which will prove, if allowed to continue, very much to his detriment, and ultimate unhappiness.
"You are, then, hereby informed, that he, Charles Holland, has, much earlier than he ought to have done, returned to England, and that the object of his return is to contract a marriage into a family in every way objectionable, and with a girl who is highly objectionable.
"You, admiral, are his nearest and almost his only relative in the world; you are the guardian of his property, and, therefore, it becomes a duty on your part to interfere to save him from the ruinous consequences of a marriage, which is sure to bring ruin and distress upon himself and all who take an interest in his welfare.
"The family he wishes to marry into is named Bannerworth, and the young lady's name is Flora Bannerworth. When, however, I inform you that a vampyre is in that family, and that if he marries into it, he marries a vampyre, and will have vampyres for children, I trust I have said enough to warn you upon the subject, and to induce you to lose no time in repairing to the spot.
"If you stop at the Nelson's Arms at Uxotter, you will hear of me. I can be sent for, when I will tell you more.
"Yours, very obediently and humbly,
"P.S. I enclose you Dr. Johnson's definition of a vampyre, which is as follows:
"VAMPYRE (a German blood-sucker)—by which you perceive how many vampyres, from time immemorial, must have been well entertained at the expense of John Bull, at the court of St. James, where no thing hardly is to be met with but German blood-suckers."
The lawyer ceased to read, and the amazed look with which he glanced at the face of Admiral Bell would, under any other circumstances, have much amused him. His mind, however, was by far too much engrossed with a consideration of the danger of Charles Holland, his nephew, to be amused at anything; so, when he found that the little lawyer said nothing, he bellowed out,—
"We—we—well," said the attorney.
"I've sent for you, and here you are, and here I am, and here's Jack Pringle. What have you got to say?"
"Just this much," said Mr. Crinkles, recovering himself a little, "just this much, sir, that I never saw that letter before in all my life."
"Didn't you write it?"
"On my solemn word of honour, sir, I did not."
Jack Pringle whistled, and the admiral looked puzzled. Like the admiral in the song, too, he "grew paler," and then Mr. Crinkles added,—
"Who has forged my name to a letter such as this, I cannot imagine. As for writing to you, sir, I never heard of your existence, except publicly, as one of those gallant officers who have spent a long life in nobly fighting their country's battles, and who are entitled to the admiration and the applause of every Englishman."
Jack and the admiral looked at each other in amazement, and then the latter exclaimed,—
"What! This from a lawyer?"
"A lawyer, sir," said Crinkles, "may know how to appreciate the deeds of gallant men, although he may not be able to imitate them. That letter, sir, is a forgery, and I now leave you, only much gratified at the incident which has procured me the honour of an interview with a gentleman, whose name will live in the history of his country. Good day, sir! Good day!"
"No! I'm d——d if you go like that," said Jack, as he sprang to the door, and put his back against it. "You shall take a glass with me in honour of the wooden walls of Old England, d——e, if you was twenty lawyers."
"That's right, Jack," said the admiral. "Come, Mr. Crinkles, I'll think, for your sake, there may be two decent lawyers in the world, and you one of them. We must have a bottle of the best wine the ship—I mean the house—can afford together."
"If it is your command, admiral, I obey with pleasure," said the attorney; "and although I assure you, on my honour, I did not write that letter, yet some of the matters mentioned in it are so generally notorious here, that I can afford you information concerning them."
"I regret to say I can, for I respect the parties."
"Sit down, then—sit down. Jack, run to the steward's room and get the wine. We will go into it now starboard and larboard. Who the deuce could have written that letter?"
"I have not the least idea, sir."
"Well—well, never mind; it has brought me here, that's something, so I won't grumble much at it. I didn't know my nephew was in England, and I dare say he didn't know I was; but here we both are, and I won't rest till I've seen him, and ascertained how the what's-its-name—"
"Ah! the vampyre."
"Shiver my timbers!" said Jack Pringle, who now brought in some wine much against the remonstrances of the waiters of the establishment, who considered that he was treading upon their vested interests by so doing.—"Shiver my timbers, if I knows what a wamphigher is, unless he's some distant relation to Davy Jones!"
"Hold your ignorant tongue," said the admiral; "nobody wants you to make a remark, you great lubber!"
"Very good," said Jack, and he sat down the wine on the table, and then retired to the other end of the room, remarking to himself that he was not called a great lubber on a certain occasion, when bullets were scuttling their nobs, and they were yard arm and yard arm with God knows who.
"Now, mister lawyer," said Admiral Bell, who had about him a large share of the habits of a rough sailor. "Now, mister lawyer, here is a glass first to our better acquaintance, for d——e, if I don't like you!"
"You are very good, sir."
"Not at all. There was a time, when I'd just as soon have thought of asking a young shark to supper with me in my own cabin as a lawyer, but I begin to see that there may be such a thing as a decent, good sort of a fellow seen in the law; so here's good luck to you, and you shall never want a friend or a bottle while Admiral Bell has a shot in the locker."
"Gammon," said Jack.
"D—n you, what do you mean by that?" roared the admiral, in a furious tone.
"I wasn't speaking to you," shouted Jack, about two octaves higher. "It's two boys in the street as is pretending they're a going to fight, and I know d——d well they won't."
"Hold your noise."
"I'm going. I wasn't told to hold my noise, when our nobs were being scuttled off Beyrout."
"Never mind him, mister lawyer," added the admiral. "He don't know what he's talking about. Never mind him. You go on and tell me all you know about the—the—"
"Ah! I always forget the names of strange fish. I suppose, after all, it's something of the mermaid order?"
"That I cannot say, sir; but certainly the story, in all its painful particulars, has made a great sensation all over the country."
"Yes, sir. You shall hear how it occurred. It appears that one night Miss Flora Bannersworth, a young lady of great beauty, and respected and admired by all who knew her was visited by a strange being who came in at the window."
"My eye," said Jack, "it waren't me, I wish it had a been."
"So petrified by fear was she, that she had only time to creep half out of the bed, and to utter one cry of alarm, when the strange visitor seized her in his grasp."
"D—n my pig tail," said Jack, "what a squall there must have been, to be sure."
"Do you see this bottle?" roared the admiral.
"To be sure, I does; I think as it's time I seed another."
"You scoundrel, I'll make you feel it against that d——d stupid head of yours, if you interrupt this gentleman again."
"Don't be violent."
"Well, as I was saying," continued the attorney, "she did, by great good fortune, manage to scream, which had the effect of alarming the whole house. The door of her chamber, which was fast, was broken open."
"Ah," cried Jack.
"You may imagine the horror and the consternation of those who entered the room to find her in the grasp of a fiend-like figure, whose teeth were fastened on her neck, and who was actually draining her veins of blood."
"Before any one could lay hands sufficiently upon the figure to detain it, it had fled precipitately from its dreadful repast. Shots were fired after it in vain."
"And they let it go?"
"They followed it, I understand, as well as they were able, and saw it scale the garden wall of the premises; there it escaped, leaving, as you may well imagine, on all their minds, a sensation of horror difficult to describe."
"Well, I never did hear anything the equal of that. Jack, what do you think of it?"
"I haven't begun to think, yet," said Jack.
"But what about my nephew, Charles?" added the admiral.
"Of him I know nothing."
"Not a word, admiral. I was not aware you had a nephew, or that any gentleman bearing that, or any other relationship to you, had any sort of connexion with these mysterious and most unaccountable circumstances. I tell you all I have gathered from common report about this vampyre business. Further I know not, I assure you."
"Well, a man can't tell what he don't know. It puzzles me to think who could possibly have written me this letter."
"That I am completely at a loss to imagine," said Crinkles. "I assure you, my gallant sir, that I am much hurt at the circumstance of any one using my name in such a way. But, nevertheless, as you are here, permit me to say, that it will be my pride, my pleasure, and the boast of the remainder of my existence, to be of some service to so gallant a defender of my country, and one whose name, along with the memory of his deeds, is engraved upon the heart of every Briton."
"Quite ekal to a book, he talks," said Jack. "I never could read one myself, on account o' not knowing how, but I've heard 'em read, and that's just the sort o' incomprehensible gammon."
"We don't want any of your ignorant remarks," said the admiral, "so you be quiet."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Now, Mister Lawyer, you are an honest fellow, and an honest fellow is generally a sensible fellow."
"Sir, I thank you."
"If so be as what this letter says is true, my nephew Charles has got a liking for this girl, who has had her neck bitten by a vampyre, you see."
"I perceive, sir."
"Now what would you do?"
"One of the most difficult, as well, perhaps, as one of the most ungracious of tasks," said the attorney, "is to interfere with family affairs. The cold and steady eye of reason generally sees things in such very different lights to what they appear to those whose feelings and whose affections are much compromised in their results."
"Very true. Go on."
"Taking, my dear sir, what in my humble judgment appears to be a reasonable view of this subject, I should say it would be a dreadful thing for your nephew to marry into a family any member of which was liable to the visitations of a vampyre."
"It wouldn't be pleasant."
"The young lady might have children."
"Oh, lots," cried Jack.
"Hold your noise, Jack."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"And she might herself actually, when after death she became a vampyre, come and feed on her own children."
"Become a vampyre! What, is she going to be a vampyre too?"
"My dear sir, don't you know that it is a remarkable fact, as regards the physiology of vampyres, that whoever is bitten by one of those dreadful beings, becomes a vampyre?"
"It is a fact, sir."
"Whew!" whistled Jack; "she might bite us all, and we should be a whole ship's crew o' wamphighers. There would be a confounded go!"
"It's not pleasant," said the admiral, as he rose from his chair, and paced to and fro in the room, "it's not pleasant. Hang me up at my own yard-arm if it is."
"Who said it was?" cried Jack.
"Who asked you, you brute?"
"Well, sir," added Mr. Crinkles, "I have given you all the information I can; and I can only repeat what I before had the honour of saying more at large, namely, that I am your humble servant to command, and that I shall be happy to attend upon you at any time."
"Thank ye—thank ye, Mr.—a—a—"
"Ah, Crinkles. You shall hear from me again, sir, shortly. Now that I am down here, I will see to the very bottom of this affair, were it deeper than fathom ever sounded. Charles Holland was my poor sister's son; he's the only relative I have in the wide world, and his happiness is dearer to my heart than my own."
Crinkles turned aside, and, by the twinkle of his eyes, one might premise that the honest little lawyer was much affected.
"God bless you, sir," he said; "farewell."
"Good day to you."
"Good-bye, lawyer," cried Jack. "Mind how you go. D—n me, if you don't seem a decent sort of fellow, and, after all, you may give the devil a clear berth, and get into heaven's straits with a flowing sheet, provided as you don't, towards the end of the voyage, make any lubberly blunders."
The old admiral threw himself into a chair with a deep sigh.
"Jack," said he.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"What's to be done now?"
Jack opened the window to discharge the superfluous moisture from an enormous quid he had indulged himself with while the lawyer was telling about the vampyre, and then again turning his face towards his master, he said,—
"Do! What shall we do? Why, go at once and find out Charles, our nevy, and ask him all about it, and see the young lady, too, and lay hold o' the wamphigher if we can, as well, and go at the whole affair broadside to broadside, till we make a prize of all the particulars, after which we can turn it over in our minds agin, and see what's to be done."
"Jack, you are right. Come along."
"I knows I am. Do you know now which way to steer?"
"Of course not. I never was in this latitude before, and the channel looks intricate. We will hail a pilot, Jack, and then we shall be all right, and if we strike it will be his fault."
"Which is a mighty great consolation," said Jack. "Come along."
THE MEETING OF THE LOVERS IN THE GARDEN.—AN AFFECTING SCENE.—THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.
Our readers will recollect that Flora Bannerworth had made an appointment with Charles Holland in the garden of the hall. This meeting was looked forward to by the young man with a variety of conflicting feelings, and he passed the intermediate time in a most painful state of doubt as to what would be its result.
The thought that he should be much urged by Flora to give up all thoughts of making her his, was a most bitter one to him, who loved her with so much truth and constancy, and that she would say all she could to induce such a resolution in his mind he felt certain. But to him the idea of now abandoning her presented itself in the worst of aspects.
"Shall I," he said, "sink so low in my own estimation, as well as in hers, and in that of all honourable-minded persons, as to desert her now in the hour of affliction? Dare I be so base as actually or virtually to say to her, 'Flora, when your beauty was undimmed by sorrow—when all around you seemed life and joy, I loved you selfishly for the increased happiness which you might bestow upon me; but now the hand of misfortune presses heavily upon you—you are not what you were, and I desert you? Never—never—never!"
Charles Holland, it will be seen by some of our more philosophic neighbours, felt more acutely than he reasoned; but let his errors of argumentation be what they may, can we do other than admire the nobility of soul which dictated such a self denying generous course as that he was pursuing?
As for Flora, Heaven only knows if at that precise time her intellect had completely stood the test of the trying events which had nearly overwhelmed it.
The two grand feelings that seemed to possess her mind were fear of the renewed visit of the vampyre, and an earnest desire to release Charles Holland from his repeated vows of constancy towards her.
Feeling, generosity, and judgment, all revolted holding a young man to such a destiny as hers. To link him to her fate, would be to make him to a real extent a sharer in it, and the more she heard fall from his lips in the way of generous feelings of continued attachment to her, the more severely did she feel that he would suffer most acutely if united to her.
And she was right. The very generosity of feeling which would have now prompted Charles Holland to lead Flora Bannerworth to the altar, even with the marks of the vampyre's teeth upon her throat, gave an assurance of a depth of feeling which would have made him an ample haven in all her miseries, in all her distresses and afflictions.
What was familiarly in the family at the Hall called the garden, was a semicircular piece of ground shaded in several directions by trees, and which was exclusively devoted to the growth of flowers. The piece of ground was nearly hidden from the view of the house, and in its centre was a summer-house, which at the usual season of the year was covered with all kinds of creeping plants of exquisite perfumes, and rare beauty. All around, too, bloomed the fairest and sweetest of flowers, which a rich soil and a sheltered situation could produce.
Alas! though, of late many weeds had straggled up among their more estimable floral culture, for the decayed fortunes of the family had prevented them from keeping the necessary servants, to place the Hall and its grounds in a state of neatness, such as it had once been the pride of the inhabitants of the place to see them. It was then in this flower-garden that Charles and Flora used to meet.
As may be supposed, he was on the spot before the appointed hour, anxiously expecting the appearance of her who was so really and truly dear to him. What to him were the sweet flowers that there grew in such happy luxuriance and heedless beauty? Alas, the flower that to his mind was fairer than them all, was blighted, and in the wan cheek of her whom he loved, he sighed to see the lily usurping the place of the radiant rose.
"Dear, dear Flora," he ejaculated, "you must indeed be taken from this place, which is so full of the most painful remembrance; now, I cannot think that Mr. Marchdale somehow is a friend to me, but that conviction, or rather impression, does not paralyze my judgment sufficiently to induce me not to acknowledge that his advice is good. He might have couched it in pleasanter words—words that would not, like daggers, each have brought a deadly pang home to my heart, but still I do think that in his conclusion he was right."
A light sound, as of some fairy footstep among the flowers, came upon his ears, and turning instantly to the direction from whence the sound proceeded, he saw what his heart had previously assured him of, namely, that it was his Flora who was coming.
Yes, it was she; but, ah, how pale, how wan—how languid and full of the evidences of much mental suffering was she. Where now was the elasticity of that youthful step? Where now was that lustrous beaming beauty of mirthfulness, which was wont to dawn in those eyes?
Alas, all was changed. The exquisite beauty of form was there, but the light of joy which had lent its most transcendent charms to that heavenly face, was gone. Charles was by her side in a moment. He had her hand clasped in his, while his disengaged one was wound tenderly around her taper waist.
"Flora, dear, dear Flora," he said, "you are better. Tell me that you feel the gentle air revives you?"
She could not speak. Her heart was too full of woe.
"Oh; Flora, my own, my beautiful," he added, in those tones which come so direct from the heart, and which are so different from any assumption of tenderness. "Speak to me, dear, dear Flora—speak to me if it be but a word."
"Charles," was all she could say, and then she burst into a flood of tears, and leant so heavily upon his arm, that it was evident but for that support she must have fallen.
Charles Holland welcomed those, although, they grieved him so much that he could have accompanied them with his own, but then he knew that she would be soon now more composed, and that they would relieve the heart whose sorrows called them into existence.
He forbore to speak to her until he found this sudden gush of feeling was subsiding into sobs, and then in low, soft accents, he again endeavoured to breathe comfort to her afflicted and terrified spirit.
"My Flora," he said, "remember that there are warm hearts that love you. Remember that neither time nor circumstance can change such endearing affection as mine. Ah, Flora, what evil is there in the whole world that love may not conquer, and in the height of its noble feelings laugh to scorn."
"Oh, hush, hush, Charles, hush."
"Wherefore, Flora, would you still the voice of pure affection? I love you surely, as few have ever loved. Ah, why would you forbid me to give such utterance as I may to those feelings which fill up my whole heart?"
"Flora, Flora, wherefore do you say no?"
"Do not, Charles, now speak to me of affection or love. Do not tell me you love me now."
"Not tell you I love you! Ah, Flora, if my tongue, with its poor eloquence to give utterance to such a sentiment, were to do its office, each feature of my face would tell the tale. Each action would show to all the world how much I loved you."
"I must not now hear this. Great God of Heaven give me strength to carry out the purpose of my soul."
"What purpose is it, Flora, that you have to pray thus fervently for strength to execute? Oh, if it savour aught of treason against love's majesty, forget it. Love is a gift from Heaven. The greatest and the most glorious gift it ever bestowed upon its creatures. Heaven will not aid you in repudiating that which is the one grand redeeming feature that rescues human nature from a world of reproach."
Flora wrung her hands despairingly as she said,—
"Charles, I know I cannot reason with you. I know I have not power of language, aptitude of illustration, nor depth of thought to hold a mental contention with you."
"Flora, for what do I contend?"
"You, you speak of love."
"And I have, ere this, spoken to you of love unchecked."
"Yes, yes. Before this."
"And now, wherefore not now? Do not tell me you are changed."
"I am changed, Charles. Fearfully changed. The curse of God has fallen upon me, I know not why. I know not that in word or in thought I have done evil, except perchance unwittingly, and yet—the vampyre."
"Let not that affright you."
"Affright me! It has killed me."
"Nay, Flora,—you think too much of what I still hope to be susceptible of far more rational explanation."
"By your own words, then, Charles, I must convict you. I cannot, I dare not be yours, while such a dreadful circumstance is hanging over me, Charles; if a more rational explanation than the hideous one which my own fancy gives to the form that visits me can be found, find it, and rescue me from despair and from madness."
They had now reached the summer-house, and as Flora uttered these words she threw herself on to a seat, and covering her beautiful face with her hands, she sobbed convulsively.
"You have spoken," said Charles, dejectedly. "I have heard that which you wished to say to me."
"No, no. Not all, Charles."
"I will be patient, then, although what more you may have to add should tear my very heart-strings."
"I—I have to add, Charles," she said, in a tremulous voice, "that justice, religion, mercy—every human attribute which bears the name of virtue, calls loudly upon me no longer to hold you to vows made under different auspices."
"Go on, Flora."
"I then implore you, Charles, finding me what I am, to leave me to the fate which it has pleased Heaven to cast upon me. I do not ask you, Charles, not to love me."
"'Tis well. Go on, Flora."
"Because I should like to think that, although I might never see you more, you loved me still. But you must think seldom of me, and you must endeavour to be happy with some other—"
"You cannot, Flora, pursue the picture you yourself would draw. These words come not from your heart."
"Did you ever love me?"
"Charles, Charles, why will you add another pang to those you know must already rend my heart?"
"No, Flora, I would tear my own heart from my bosom ere I would add one pang to yours. Well I know that gentle maiden modesty would seal your lips to the soft confession that you loved me. I could not hope the joy of hearing you utter these words. The tender devoted lover is content to see the truthful passion in the speaking eyes of beauty. Content is he to translate it from a thousand acts, which, to eyes that look not so acutely as a lover's, bear no signification; but when you tell me to seek happiness with another, well may the anxious question burst from my throbbing heart of, 'Did you ever love me, Flora?'"
Her senses hung entranced upon his words. Oh, what a witchery is in the tongue of love. Some even of the former colour of her cheek returned as forgetting all for the moment but that she was listening to the voice of him, the thoughts of whom had made up the day dream of her happiness, she gazed upon his face.
His voice ceased. To her it seemed as if some music had suddenly left off in its most exquisite passage. She clung to his arm—she looked imploringly up to him. Her head sunk upon his breast as she cried,
"Charles, Charles, I did love you. I do love you now."
"Then let sorrow and misfortune shake their grisly locks in vain," he cried. "Heart to heart—hand to hand with me, defy them."
He lifted up his arms towards Heaven as he spoke, and at the moment came such a rattling peal of thunder, that the very earth seemed to shake upon its axis.
A half scream of terror burst from the lips of Flora, as she cried,—
"What was that?"
"Only thunder," said Charles, calmly.
"'Twas an awful sound."
"A natural one."
"But at such a moment, when you were defying Fate to injure us. Oh! Charles, is it ominous?"
"Flora, can you really give way to such idle fancies?"
"The sun is obscured."
"Ay, but it will shine all the brighter for its temporary eclipse. The thunder-storm will clear the air of many noxious vapours; the forked lightning has its uses as well as its powers of mischief. Hark! there again!"
Another peal, of almost equal intensity to the other, shook the firmament. Flora trembled.
"Charles," she said, "this is the voice of Heaven. We must part—we must part for ever. I cannot be yours."
"Flora, this is madness. Think again, dear Flora. Misfortunes for a time will hover over the best and most fortunate of us; but, like the clouds that now obscure the sweet sunshine, will pass away, and leave no trace behind them. The sunshine of joy will shine on you again."
There was a small break in the clouds, like a window looking into Heaven. From it streamed one beam of sunlight, so bright, so dazzling, and so beautiful, that it was a sight of wonder to look upon. It fell upon the face of Flora; it warmed her cheek; it lent lustre to her pale lips and tearful eyes; it illumined that little summer-house as if it had been the shrine of some saint.
"Behold!" cried Charles, "where is your omen now?"
"God of Heaven!'" cried Flora; and she stretched out her arms.
"The clouds that hover over your spirit now," said Charles, "shall pass away. Accept this beam of sunlight as a promise from God."
"I will—I will. It is going."
"It has done its office."
The clouds closed over the small orifice, and all was gloom again as before.
"Flora," said Charles, "you will not ask me now to leave you?"
She allowed him to clasp her to his heart. It was beating for her, and for her only.
"You will let me, Flora, love you still?"
Her voice, as she answered him, was like the murmur of some distant melody the ears can scarcely translate to the heart.
"Charles we will live, love, and die together."
And now there was a wrapt stillness in that summer-house for many minutes—a trance of joy. They did not speak, but now and then she would look into his face with an old familiar smile, and the joy of his heart was near to bursting in tears from his eyes.
A shriek burst from Flora's lips—a shriek so wild and shrill that it awakened echoes far and near. Charles staggered back a step, as if shot, and then in such agonised accents as he was long indeed in banishing the remembrance of, she cried,—
"The vampyre! the vampyre!"
THE EXPLANATION.—THE ARRIVAL OF THE ADMIRAL AT THE HOUSE.—A SCENE OF CONFUSION, AND SOME OF ITS RESULTS.
So sudden and so utterly unexpected a cry of alarm from Flora, at such a time might well have the effect of astounding the nerves of any one, and no wonder that Charles was for a few seconds absolutely petrified and almost unable to think.
Mechanically, then, he turned his eyes towards the door of the summer-house, and there he saw a tall, thin man, rather elegantly dressed, whose countenance certainly, in its wonderful resemblance to the portrait on the panel, might well appal any one.
The stranger stood in the irresolute attitude on the threshold of the summer-house of one who did not wish to intrude, but who found it as awkward, if not more so now, to retreat than to advance.
Before Charles Holland could summon any words to his aid, or think of freeing himself from the clinging grasp of Flora, which was wound around him, the stranger made a very low and courtly bow, after which he said, in winning accents,—
"I very much fear that I am an intruder here. Allow me to offer my warmest apologies, and to assure you, sir, and you, madam, that I had no idea any one was in the arbour. You perceive the rain is falling smartly, and I made towards here, seeing it was likely to shelter me from the shower."
These words were spoken in such a plausible and courtly tone of voice, that they might well have become any drawing-room in the kingdom.
Flora kept her eyes fixed upon him during the utterance of these words; and as she convulsively clutched the arm of Charles, she kept on whispering,—
"The vampyre! the vampyre!"
"I much fear," added the stranger, in the same bland tones, "that I have been the cause of some alarm to the young lady!"
"Release me," whispered Charles to Flora. "Release me; I will follow him at once."
"No, no—do not leave me—do not leave me. The vampyre—the dreadful vampyre!"
"Hush—hush—hush! It speaks again."
"Perhaps I ought to account for my appearance in the garden at all," added the insinuating stranger. "The fact is, I came on a visit—"
"To Mr. Henry Bannerworth," continued the stranger; "and finding the garden-gate open, I came in without troubling the servants, which I much regret, as I can perceive I have alarmed and annoyed the lady. Madam, pray accept of my apologies."
"In the name of God, who are you?" said Charles.
"My name is Varney."
"Oh, yes. You are the Sir Francis Varney, residing close by, who bears so fearful a resemblance to—"
"Pray go on, sir. I am all attention."
"To a portrait here."
"Indeed! Now I reflect a moment, Mr. Henry Bannerworth did incidentally mention something of the sort. It's a most singular coincidence."
The sound of approaching footsteps was now plainly heard, and in a few moments Henry and George, along with Mr. Marchdale, reached the spot. Their appearance showed that they had made haste, and Henry at once exclaimed,—
"We heard, or fancied we heard, a cry of alarm."
"You did hear it," said Charles Holland. "Do you know this gentleman?"
"It is Sir Francis Varney."
Varney bowed to the new comers, and was altogether as much at his ease as everybody else seemed quite the contrary. Even Charles Holland found the difficulty of going up to such a well-bred, gentlemanly man, and saying, "Sir, we believe you to be a vampyre"—to be almost, if not insurmountable.
"I cannot do it," he thought, "but I will watch him."
"Take me away," whispered Flora. "'Tis he—'tis he. Oh, take me away, Charles."
"Hush, Flora, hush. You are in some error; the accidental resemblance should not make us be rude to this gentleman."
"The vampyre!—it is the vampyre!"
"Are you sure, Flora?"
"Do I know your features—my own—my brother's? Do not ask me to doubt—I cannot. I am quite sure. Take me from his hideous presence, Charles."
"The young lady, I fear, is very much indisposed," remarked Sir Francis Varney, in a sympathetic tone of voice. "If she will accept of my arm, I shall esteem it a great honour."
"No—no—no!—God! no," cried Flora.
"Madam, I will not press you."
He bowed, and Charles led Flora from the summer-house towards the hall.
"Flora," he said, "I am bewildered—I know not what to think. That man most certainly has been fashioned after the portrait which is on the panel in the room you formerly occupied; or it has been painted from him."
"He is my midnight visitor!" exclaimed Flora. "He is the vampyre;—this Sir Francis Varney is the vampyre."
"Good God! What can be done?"
"I know not. I am nearly distracted."
"Be calm, Flora. If this man be really what you name him, we now know from what quarter the mischief comes, which is, at all events, a point gained. Be assured we shall place a watch upon him."
"Oh, it is terrible to meet him here."
"And he is so wonderfully anxious, too, to possess the Hall."
"He is—he is."
"It looks strange, the whole affair. But, Flora, be assured of one thing, and that is, of your own safety."
"Can I be assured of that?"
"Most certainly. Go to your mother now. Here we are, you see, fairly within doors. Go to your mother, dear Flora, and keep yourself quiet. I will return to this mysterious man now with a cooler judgment than I left him."
"You will watch him, Charles?"
"I will, indeed."
"And you will not let him approach the house here alone?"
"I will not."
"Oh, that the Almighty should allow such beings to haunt the earth!"
"Hush, Flora, hush! we cannot judge of his allwise purpose."
'"Tis hard that the innocent should be inflicted with its presence."
Charles bowed his head in mournful assent.
"Is it not very, very dreadful?"
"Hush—hush! Calm yourself, dearest, calm yourself. Recollect that all we have to go upon in this matter is a resemblance, which, after all, may be accidental. But leave it all to me, and be assured that now I have some clue to this affair, I will not lose sight of it, or of Sir Francis Varney."
So saying, Charles surrendered Flora to the care of her mother, and then was hastening back to the summer-house, when he met the whole party coming towards the Hall, for the rain was each moment increasing in intensity.
"We are returning," remarked Sir Francis Varney, with a half bow and a smile, to Charles.
"Allow me," said Henry, "to introduce you, Mr. Holland, to our neighbour, Sir Francis Varney."
Charles felt himself compelled to behave with courtesy, although his mind was so full of conflicting feelings as regarded Varney; but there was no avoiding, without such brutal rudeness as was inconsistent with all his pursuits and habits, replying in something like the same strain to the extreme courtly politeness of the supposed vampyre.
"I will watch him closely," thought Charles. "I can do no more than watch him closely."
Sir Francis Varney seemed to be a man of the most general and discursive information. He talked fluently and pleasantly upon all sorts of topics, and notwithstanding he could not but have heard what Flora had said of him, he asked no questions whatever upon that subject.
This silence as regarded a matter which would at once have induced some sort of inquiry from any other man, Charles felt told much against him, and he trembled to believe for a moment that, after all, it really might be true.
"Is he a vampyre?" he asked himself. "Are there vampyres, and is this man of fashion—this courtly, talented, educated gentleman one?" It was a perfectly hideous question.
"You are charmingly situated here," remarked Varney, as, after ascending the few steps that led to the hall door, he turned and looked at the view from that slight altitude.
"The place has been much esteemed," said Henry, "for its picturesque beauties of scenery."
"And well it may be. I trust, Mr. Holland, the young lady is much better?"
"She is, sir," said Charles.
"I was not honoured by an introduction."
"It was my fault," said Henry, who spoke to his extraordinary guest with an air of forced hilarity. "It was my fault for not introducing you to my sister."
"And that was your sister?"
"It was, sir."
"Report has not belied her—she is beautiful. But she looks rather pale, I thought. Has she bad health?"
"The best of health."
"Indeed! Perhaps the little disagreeable circumstance, which is made so much food for gossip in the neighbourhood, has affected her spirits?"
"You allude to the supposed visit here of a vampyre?" said Charles, as he fixed his eyes upon Varney's face.
"Yes, I allude to the supposed appearance of a supposed vampyre in this family," said Sir Francis Varney, as he returned the earnest gaze of Charles, with such unshrinking assurance, that the young man was compelled, after about a minute, nearly to withdraw his own eyes.
"He will not be cowed," thought Charles. "Use has made him familiar to such cross-questioning."
It appeared now suddenly to occur to Henry that he had said something at Varney's own house which should have prevented him from coming to the Hall, and he now remarked,—
"We scarcely expected the pleasure of your company here, Sir Francis Varney."
"Oh, my dear sir, I am aware of that; but you roused my curiosity. You mentioned to me that there was a portrait here amazingly like me."
"Indeed you did, or how could I know it? I wanted to see if the resemblance was so perfect."
"Did you hear, sir," added Henry, "that my sister was alarmed at your likeness to that portrait?"
"I pray you walk in, and we will talk more at large upon that matter."
"With great pleasure. One leads a monotonous life in the country, when compared with the brilliancy of a court existence. Just now I have no particular engagement. As we are near neighbours I see no reason why we should not be good friends, and often interchange such civilities as make up the amenities of existence, and which, in the country, more particularly, are valuable."
Henry could not be hypocrite enough to assent to this; but still, under the present aspect of affairs, it was impossible to return any but a civil reply; so he said,—
"Oh, yes, of course—certainly. My time is very much occupied, and my sister and mother see no company."
"Oh, now, how wrong."
"Yes, surely. If anything more than another tends to harmonize individuals, it is the society of that fairer half of the creation which we love for their very foibles. I am much attached to the softer sex—to young persons full of health. I like to see the rosy checks, where the warm blood mantles in the superficial veins, and all is loveliness and life."
Charles shrank back, and the word "Demon" unconsciously escaped his lips.
Sir Francis took no manner of notice of the expression, but went on talking, as if he had been on the very happiest terms with every one present.
"Will you follow me, at once, to the chamber where the portrait hangs," said Henry, "or will you partake of some refreshment first?"
"No refreshment for me," said Varney. "My dear friend, if you will permit me to call you such, this is a time of the day at which I never do take any refreshment."
"Nor at any other," thought Henry.
They all went to the chamber where Charles had passed one very disagreeable night, and when they arrived, Henry pointed to the portrait on the panel, saying—
"There, Sir Francis Varney, is your likeness."
He looked, and, having walked up to it, in an under tone, rather as if he were conversing with himself than making a remark for any one else to hear, he said—
"It is wonderfully like."
"It is, indeed," said Charles.
"If I stand beside it, thus," said Varney, placing himself in a favourable attitude for comparing the two faces, "I dare say you will be more struck with the likeness than before."
So accurate was it now, that the same light fell upon his face as that under which the painter had executed the portrait, that all started back a step or two.
"Some artists," remarked Varney, "have the sense to ask where a portrait is to be hung before they paint it, and then they adapt their lights and shadows to those which would fall upon the original, were it similarly situated."
"I cannot stand this," said Charles to Henry; "I must question him farther."
"As you please, but do not insult him."
"I will not."
"He is beneath my roof now, and, after all, it is but a hideous suspicion we have of him."
"Rely upon me."
Charles stepped forward, and once again confronting Varney, with an earnest gaze, he said—
"Do you know, sir, that Miss Bannerworth declares the vampyre she fancies to have visited this chamber to be, in features, the exact counterpart of this portrait?"
"Does she indeed?"
"She does, indeed."
"And perhaps, then, that accounts for her thinking that I am the vampyre, because I bear a strong resemblance to the portrait."
"I should not be surprised," said Charles.
"How very odd."
"And yet entertaining. I am rather amused than otherwise. The idea of being a vampyre. Ha! ha! If ever I go to a masquerade again, I shall certainly assume the character of a vampyre."
"You would do it well."
"I dare say, now, I should make quite a sensation."
"I am certain you would. Do you not think, gentlemen, that Sir Francis Varney would enact the character to the very life? By Heavens, he would do it so well that one might, without much difficulty, really imagine him a vampyre."
"Bravo—bravo," said Varney, as he gently folded his hands together, with that genteel applause that may even be indulged in in a box at the opera itself. "Bravo. I like to see young persons enthusiastic; it looks as if they had some of the real fire of genius in their composition. Bravo—bravo."
This was, Charles thought, the very height and acme of impudence, and yet what could he do? What could he say? He was foiled by the downright coolness of Varney.
As for Henry, George, and Mr. Marchdale, they had listened to what was passing between Sir Francis and Charles in silence. They feared to diminish the effect of anything Charles might say, by adding a word of their own; and, likewise, they did not wish to lose one observation that might come from the lips of Varney.
But now Charles appeared to have said all he had to say, he turned to the window and looked out. He seemed like a man who had made up his mind, for a time, to give up some contest in which he had been engaged.
And, perhaps, not so much did he give it up from any feeling or consciousness of being beaten, as from a conviction that it could be the more effectually, at some other and far more eligible opportunity, renewed.
Varney now addressed Henry, saying,—
"I presume the subject of our conference, when you did me the honour of a call, is no secret to any one here?"
"None whatever," said Henry.
"Then, perhaps, I am too early in asking you if you have made up your mind?"
"I have scarcely, certainly, had time to think."
"My dear sir, do not let me hurry you; I much regret, indeed, the intrusion."
"You seem anxious to possess the Hall," remarked Mr. Marchdale, to Varney.
"Is it new to you?"
"Not quite. I have some boyish recollections connected with this neighbourhood, among which Bannerworth Hall stands sufficiently prominent."
"May I ask how long ago that was?" said Charles Howard, rather abruptly.
"I do not recollect, my enthusiastic young friend," said Varney. "How old are you?"
"Just about twenty-one."
"You are, then, for your age, quite a model of discretion."
It would have been difficult for the most accurate observer of human nature to have decided whether this was said truthfully or ironically, so Charles made no reply to it whatever.
"I trust," said Henry, "we shall induce you, as this is your first visit, Sir Francis Varney, to the Hall, to partake of some thing."
"Well, well, a cup of wine—"
"Is at your service."
Henry now led the way to a small parlour, which, although by no means one of the showiest rooms of the house, was, from the care and exquisite carving with which it abounded, much more to the taste of any who possessed an accurate judgment in such works of art.
Then wine was ordered, and Charles took an opportunity of whispering to Henry,—
"Notice well if he drinks."
"Do you see that beneath his coat there is a raised place, as if his arm was bound up?"
"There, then, was where the bullet from the pistol fired by Flora, when we were at the church, hit him."
"Hush! for God's sake, hush! you are getting into a dreadful state of excitement, Charles; hush! hush!"
"And can you blame—"
"No, no; but what can we do?"
"You are right. Nothing can we do at present. We have a clue now, and be it our mutual inclination, as well as duty, to follow it. Oh, you shall see how calm I will be!"
"For Heaven's sake, be so. I have noted that his eyes flash upon yours with no friendly feeling."
"His friendship were a curse."
"Hush! he drinks!"
"Gentlemen all," said Sir Francis Varney, in such soft, dulcet tones, that it was quite a fascination to hear him speak; "gentlemen all, being as I am, much delighted with your company, do not accuse me of presumption, if I drink now, poor drinker as I am, to our future merry meetings."
He raised the wine to his lips, and seemed to drink, after which he replaced the glass upon the table.
Charles glanced at it, it was still full.
"You have not drank, Sir Francis Varney," he said.
"Pardon me, enthusiastic young sir," said Varney, "perhaps you will have the liberality to allow me to take my wine how I please and when I please."
"Your glass is full."
"Will you drink it?"
"Not at any man's bidding, most certainly. If the fair Flora Bannerworth would grace the board with her sweet presence, methinks I could then drink on, on, on."
"Hark you, sir," cried Charles, "I can bear no more of this. We have had in this house most horrible and damning evidence that there are such things as vampyres."
"Have you really? I suppose you eat raw pork at supper, and so had the nightmare?"
"A jest is welcome in its place, but pray hear me out, sir, if it suit your lofty courtesy to do so."
"Then I say we believe, as far as human judgment has a right to go, that a vampyre has been here."
"Go on, it's interesting. I always was a lover of the wild and the wonderful."
"We have, too," continued Charles, "some reason to believe that you are the man."
Varney tapped his forehead as he glanced at Henry, and said,—
"Oh, dear, I did not know. You should have told me he was a little wrong about the brain; I might have quarreled with the lad. Dear me, how lamentable for his poor mother."
"This will not do, Sir Francis Varney alias Bannerworth."
"Oh—oh! Be calm—be calm."
"I defy you to your teeth, sir! No, God, no! Your teeth!"
"Poor lad! Poor lad!"
"You are a cowardly demon, and here I swear to devote myself to your destruction."
Sir Francis Varney drew himself up to his full height, and that was immense, as he said to Henry,—
"I pray you, Mr. Bannerworth, since I am thus grievously insulted beneath your roof, to tell me if your friend here be mad or sane?"
"He's not mad."
"Hold, sir! The quarrel shall be mine. In the name of my persecuted sister—in the name of Heaven. Sir Francis Varney, I defy you."
Sir Francis, in spite of his impenetrable calmness, appeared somewhat moved, as he said,—
"I have already endured insult sufficient—I will endure no more. If there are weapons at hand—"
"My young friend," interrupted Mr. Marchdale, stepping between the excited men, "is carried away by his feelings, and knows not what he says. You will look upon it in that light, Sir Francis."
"We need no interference," exclaimed Varney, his hitherto bland voice changing to one of fury. "The hot blooded fool wishes to fight, and he shall—to the death—to the death."
"And I say he shall not," exclaimed Mr. Marchdale, taking Henry by the arm. "George," he added, turning to the young man, "assist me in persuading your brother to leave the room. Conceive the agony of your sister and mother if anything should happen to him."
Varney smiled with a devilish sneer, as he listened to these words, and then he said,—
"As you will—as you will. There will be plenty of time, and perhaps better opportunity, gentlemen. I bid you good day."
And with provoking coolness, he then moved towards the door, and quitted the room.
"Remain here," said Marchdale; "I will follow him, and see that he quits the premises."
He did so, and the young men, from the window, beheld Sir Francis walking slowly across the garden, and then saw Mr. Marchdale follow on his track.
While they were thus occupied, a tremendous ringing came at the gate, but their attention was so rivetted to what was passing in the garden, that they paid not the least attention to it.
THE ADMIRAL'S ADVICE.—THE CHALLENGE TO THE VAMPYRE.—THE NEW SERVANT AT THE HALL.
The violent ringing of the bell continued uninterruptedly until at length George volunteered to answer it. The fact was, that now there was no servant at all in the place for, after the one who had recently demanded of Henry her dismissal had left, the other was terrified to remain alone, and had precipitately gone from the house, without even going through the ceremony of announcing her intention to. To be sure, she sent a boy for her money afterwards, which may be considered a great act of condescension.
Suspecting, then, this state of things, George himself hastened to the gate, and, being not over well pleased at the continuous and unnecessary ringing which was kept up at it, he opened it quickly, and cried, with more impatience, by a vast amount, than was usual with him.
"Who is so impatient that he cannot wait a seasonable time for the door to be opened?"
"And who the d——l are you?" cried one who was immediately outside.
"Who do you want?" cried George.
"Shiver my timbers!" cried Admiral Bell, for it was no other than that personage. "What's that to you?"
"Ay, ay," added Jack, "answer that if you can, you shore-going-looking swab."
"Two madmen, I suppose," ejaculated George, and he would have closed the gate upon them; but Jack introduced between it and the post the end of a thick stick, saying,—
"Avast there! None of that; we have had trouble enough to get in. If you are the family lawyer, or the chaplain, perhaps you'll tell us where Mister Charley is."
"Once more I demand of you who you want?" said George, who was now perhaps a little amused at the conduct of the impatient visitors.
"We want the admiral's nevey" said Jack.
"But how do I know who is the admiral's nevey as you call him."
"Why, Charles Holland, to be sure. Have you got him aboard or not?"
"Mr. Charles Holland is certainly here; and, if you had said at once, and explicitly, that you wished to see him, I could have given you a direct answer."
"He is here?" cried the admiral.
"Come along, then; yet, stop a bit. I say, young fellow, just before we go any further, tell us if he has maimed the vampyre?"
"The wamphigher," said Jack, by way of being, as he considered, a little more explanatory than the admiral.
"I do not know what you mean," said George; "if you wish to see Mr. Charles Holland walk in and see him. He is in this house; but, for myself, as you are strangers to me, I decline answering any questions, let their import be what they may."
"Hilloa! who are they?" suddenly cried Jack, as he pointed to two figures some distance off in the meadows, who appeared to be angrily conversing.
George glanced in the direction towards which Jack pointed, and there he saw Sir Francis Varney and Mr. Marchdale standing within a few paces of each other, and apparently engaged in some angry discussion.
His first impulse was to go immediately towards them; but, before he could execute even that suggestion of his mind, he saw Varney strike Marchdale, and the latter fell to the ground.
"Allow me to pass," cried George, as he endeavoured to get by the rather unwieldy form of the admiral. But, before he could accomplish this, for the gate was narrow, he saw Varney, with great swiftness, make off, and Marchdale, rising to his feet, came towards the Hall.
When Marchdale got near enough to the garden-gate to see George, he motioned to him to remain where he was, and then, quickening his pace, he soon came up to the spot.
"Marchdale," cried George, "you have had an encounter with Sir Francis Varney."
"I have," said Marchdale, in an excited manner. "I threatened to follow him, but he struck me to the earth as easily as I could a child. His strength is superhuman."
"I saw you fall."
"I believe, but that he was observed, he would have murdered me."
"What, do you mean to say that lankey, horse-marine looking fellow is as bad as that!" said the admiral.
Marchdale now turned his attention to the two new comers, upon whom he looked with some surprise, and then, turning to George, he said,—
"Is this gentleman a visitor?"
"To Mr. Holland, I believe he is," said George; "but I have not the pleasure of knowing his name."
"Oh, you may know my name as soon as you like," cried the admiral. "The enemies of old England know it, and I don't care if all the world knows it. I'm old Admiral Bell, something of a hulk now, but still able to head a quarter-deck if there was any need to do so."
"Ay, ay," cried Jack, and taking from his pocket a boatswain's whistle, he blew a blast so long, and loud, and shrill, that George was fain to cover his ears with his hands to shut out the brain-piercing, and, to him unusual sound.
"And are you, then, a relative," said Marchdale, "of Mr. Holland's, sir, may I ask?"
"I'm his uncle, and be d——d to him, if you must know, and some one has told me that the young scamp thinks of marrying a mermaid, or a ghost, or a vampyre, or some such thing, so, for the sake of the memory of his poor mother, I've come to say no to the bargain, and d—n me, who cares."
"Come in, sir," said George, "I will conduct you to Mr. Holland. I presume this is your servant?"
"Why, not exactly. That's Jack Pringle, he was my boatswain, you see, and now he's a kind o' something betwixt and between. Not exactly a servant."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Jack. "Have it all your own way, though we is paid off."
"Hold your tongue, you audacious scoundrel, will you."
"Oh, I forgot, you don't like anything said about paying off, cos it puts you In mind of—"
"Now, d—n you, I'll have you strung up to the yard-arm, you dog, if you don't belay there."
"I'm done. All's right."
By this time the party, including the admiral, Jack, George Bannerworth, and Marchdale, had got more than half-way across the garden, and were observed by Charles Holland and Henry, who had come to the steps of the hall to see what was going on. The moment Charles saw the admiral a change of colour came over his face, and he exclaimed,—
"By all that's surprising, there is my uncle!"
"Your uncle!" said Henry.
"Yes, as good a hearted a man as ever drew breath, and yet, withal, as full of prejudices, and as ignorant of life, as a child."
Without waiting for any reply from Henry, Charles Holland rushed forward, and seizing his uncle by the hand, he cried, in tones of genuine affection,—
"Uncle, dear uncle, how came you to find me out?"
"Charley, my boy," cried the old man, "bless you; I mean, confound your d——d impudence; you rascal, I'm glad to see you; no, I ain't, you young mutineer. What do you mean by it, you ugly, ill-looking, d——d fine fellow—my dear boy. Oh, you infernal scoundrel."
All this was accompanied by a shaking of the hand, which was enough to dislocate anybody's shoulder, and which Charles was compelled to bear as well as he could.
It quite prevented him from speaking, however, for a few moments, for it nearly shook the breath out of him. When, then, he could get in a word, he said,—
"Uncle, I dare say you are surprised."
"Surprised! D—n me, I am surprised."
"Well, I shall be able to explain all to your satisfaction, I am sure. Allow me now to introduce you to my friends."
Turning then to Henry, Charles said,—
"This is Mr. Henry Bannerworth, uncle; and this Mr. George Bannerworth, both good friends of mine; and this is Mr. Marchdale, a friend of theirs, uncle."
"And here you see Admiral Bell, my most worthy, but rather eccentric uncle."
"Confound your impudence."
"What brought him here I cannot tell; but he is a brave officer, and a gentleman."
"None of your nonsense," said the admiral.
"And here you sees Jack Pringle," said that individual, introducing himself, since no one appeared inclined to do that office for him, "a tar for all weathers. One as hates the French, and is never so happy as when he's alongside o' some o' those lubberly craft blazing away."
"That's uncommonly true," remarked the admiral.
"Will you walk in, sir?" said Henry, courteously. "Any friend of Charles Holland's is most welcome here. You will have much to excuse us for, because we are deficient in servants at present, in consequence of come occurrences in our family, which your nephew has our full permission to explain to you in full"
"Oh, very good, I tell you what it is, all of you, what I've seen of you, d——e, I like, so here goes. Come along, Jack."
The admiral walked into the house, and as he went, Charles Holland said to him,—
"How came you to know I was here, uncle?"
"Some fellow wrote me a despatch."
"Yes, saying at you was a going to marry some odd sort of fish as it wasn't at all the thing to introduce into the family."
"Was—was a vampyre mentioned?"
"That's the very thing."
"Do not, I implore, hint at such a thing before these kind friends of mine. I will take an opportunity within the next hour of explaining all to you, and you shall form your own kind and generous judgement upon circumstances in which my honour and my happiness are so nearly concerned."
"Gammon," said the admiral.
"Oh, I know you want to palaver me into saying it's all right. I suppose if my judgment and generosity don't like it, I shall be an old fool, and a cursed goose?"
"Well, well—no more at present. We will talk over this at leisure. You promise me to say nothing about it until you have heard my explanation, uncle?"
"Very good. Make it as soon as you can, and as short as you can, that's all I ask of you."
"I will, I will."
Charles was to the full as anxious as his uncle could be to enter upon the subject, some remote information of which, he felt convinced, had brought the old man down to the Hall. Who it could have been that so far intermeddled with his affairs as to write to him, he could not possibly conceive.
A very few words will suffice to explain the precise position in which Charles Holland was. A considerable sum of money had been left to him, but it was saddled with the condition that he should not come into possession of it until he was one year beyond the age which is usually denominated that of discretion, namely, twenty-one. His uncle, the admiral, was the trustee of his fortune, and he, with rare discretion, had got the active and zealous assistance of a professional gentleman of great honour and eminence to conduct the business for him.
This gentleman had advised that for the two years between the ages of twenty and twenty-two, Charles Holland should travel, inasmuch as in English society he would find himself in an awkward position, being for one whole year of age, and yet waiting for his property.
Under such circumstances, reasoned the lawyer, a young man, unless he is possessed of very rare discretion indeed, is almost sure to get fearfully involved with money-lenders. Being of age, his notes, and bills, and bonds would all be good, and he would be in a ten times worse situation than a wealthy minor.
All this was duly explained to Charles, who, rather eagerly than otherwise, caught at the idea of a two years wander on the continent, where he could visit so many places, which to a well read young man like himself, and one of a lively imagination, were full of the most delightful associations.
But the acquaintance with Flora Bannerworth effected a great revolution in his feelings. The dearest, sweetest spot on earth became that which she inhabited. When the Bannerworths left him abroad, he knew not what to do with himself. Everything, and every pursuit in which he had before taken a delight, became most distasteful to him. He was, in fact, in a short time, completely "used up," and then he determined upon returning to England, and finding out the dear object of his attachment at once. This resolution was no sooner taken, than his health and spirits returned to him, and with what rapidity he could, he now made his way to his native shores.
The two years were so nearly expired, that he made up his mind he would not communicate either with his uncle, the admiral, or the professional gentleman upon whose judgment he set so high and so just a value. And at the Hall he considered he was in perfect security from any interruption, and so he would have been, but for that letter which was written to Admiral Bell, and signed Josiah Crinkles, but which Josiah Crinkles so emphatically denied all knowledge of. Who wrote it, remains at present one of those mysteries which time, in the progress of our narrative, will clear up.
The opportune, or rather the painful juncture at which Charles Holland had arrived at Bannerworth Hall, we are well cognisant of. Where he expected to find smiles he found tears, and the family with whom he had fondly hoped he should pass a time of uninterrupted happiness, he found plunged in the gloom incidental to an occurrence of the most painful character.
Our readers will perceive, too, that coming as he did with an utter disbelief in the vampyre, Charles had been compelled, in some measure, to yield to the overwhelming weight of evidence which had been brought to bear upon the subject, and although he could not exactly be said to believe in the existence and the appearance of the vampyre at Bannerworth Hall, he was upon the subject in a most painful state of doubt and indecision.
Charles now took an opportunity to speak to Henry privately, and inform him exactly how he stood with his uncle, adding—
"Now, my dear friend, if you forbid me, I will not tell my uncle of this sad affair, but I must own I would rather do so fully and freely, and trust to his own judgment upon it."
"I implore you to do so," said Henry. "Conceal nothing. Let him know the precise situation and circumstances of the family by all means. There is nothing so mischievous as secrecy: I have the greatest dislike to it. I beg you tell him all."
"I will; and with it, Henry, I will tell him that my heart is irrevocably Flora's."
"Your generous clinging to one whom your heart saw and loved, under very different auspices," said Henry, "believe me, Charles, sinks deep into my heart. She has related to me something of a meeting she had with you."
"Oh, Henry, she may tell you what I said; but there are no words which can express the depth of my tenderness. 'Tis only time which can prove how much I love her."
"Go to your uncle," said Henry, in a voice of emotion. "God bless you, Charles. It is true you would have been fully justified in leaving my sister; but the nobler and the more generous path you have chosen has endeared you to us all."
"Where is Flora now?" said Charles.
"She is in her own room. I have persuaded her, by some occupation, to withdraw her mind from a too close and consequently painful contemplation of the distressing circumstances in which she feels herself placed."
"You are right. What occupation best pleases her?"
"The pages of romance once had a charm for her gentle spirit."
"Then come with me, and, from among the few articles I brought with me here, I can find some papers which may help her to pass some merry hours."
Charles took Henry to his room, and, unstrapping a small valise, he took from it some manuscript papers, one of which he handed to Henry, saying—
"Give that to her: it contains an account of a wild adventure, and shows that human nature may suffer much more—and that wrongfully too—than came ever under our present mysterious affliction."
"I will," said Henry; "and, coming from you, I am sure it will have a more than ordinary value in her eyes."
"I will now," said Charles, "seek my uncle. I will tell him how I love her; and at the end of my narration, if he should not object, I would fain introduce her to him, that he might himself see that, let what beauty may have met his gaze, her peer he never yet met with, and may in vain hope to do so."
"You are partial, Charles."
"Not so. 'Tis true I look upon her with a lover's eyes, but I look still with those of truthful observation."
"Well, I will speak to her about seeing your uncle, and let you know. No doubt, he will not be at all averse to an interview with any one who stands high in your esteem."
The young men now separated—Henry, to seek his beautiful sister; and Charles, to communicate to his uncle the strange particulars connected with Varney, the Vampyre.
FLORA IN HER CHAMBER.—HER FEARS.—THE MANUSCRIPT.—AN ADVENTURE.
Henry found Flora in her chamber. She was in deep thought when he tapped at the door of the room, and such was the state of nervous excitement in which she was that even the demand for admission made by him to the room was sufficient to produce from her a sudden cry of alarm.
"Who—who is there?" she then said, in accents full of terror.
"'Tis I, dear Flora," said Henry.
She opened the door in an instant, and, with a feeling of grateful relief, exclaimed—
"Oh, Henry, is it only you?"
"Who did you suppose it was, Flora?"
"I—I—do not know; but I am so foolish now, and so weak-spirited, that the slightest noise is enough to alarm me."
"You must, dear Flora, fight up, as I had hoped you were doing, against this nervousness."
"I will endeavour. Did not some strangers come a short time since, brother?"
"Strangers to us, Flora, but not to Charles Holland. A relative of his—an uncle whom he much respects, has found him out here, and has now come to see him."
"And to advise him," said Flora, as she sunk into a chair, and wept bitterly; "to advise him, of course, to desert, as he would a pestilence, a vampyre bride."
"Hush, hush! for the sake of Heaven, never make use of such a phrase, Flora. You know not what a pang it brings to my heart to hear you."
"Oh, forgive me, brother."
"Say no more of it, Flora. Heed it not. It may be possible—in fact, it may well be supposed as more than probable—that the relative of Charles Holland may shrink from sanctioning the alliance, but do you rest securely in the possession of the heart which I feel convinced is wholly yours, and which, I am sure, would break ere it surrendered you."
A smile of joy came across Flora's pale but beautiful face, as she cried,—
"And you, dear brother—you think so much of Charles's faith?"
"As Heaven is my judge, I do."
"Then I will bear up with what strength God may give me against all things that seek to depress me; I will not be conquered."
"You are right, Flora; I rejoice to find in you such a disposition. Here is some manuscript which Charles thinks will amuse you, and he bade me ask you if you would be introduced to his uncle."
"I will tell him so; I know he wishes it, and I will tell him so. Be patient, dear Flora, and all may yet be well."
"But, brother, on your sacred word, tell me do you not think this Sir Francis Varney is the vampyre?"
"I know not what to think, and do not press me for a judgment now. He shall be watched."
Henry left his sister, and she sat for some moments in silence with the papers before her that Charles had sent her.
"Yes," she then said, gently, "he loves me—Charles loves me; I ought to be very, very happy. He loves me. In those words are concentrated a whole world of joy—Charles loves me—he will not forsake me. Oh, was there ever such dear love—such fond devotion?—never, never. Dear Charles. He loves me—he loves me!"
The very repetition of these words had a charm for Flora—a charm which was sufficient to banish much sorrow; even the much-dreaded vampyre was forgotten while the light of love was beaming upon her, and she told herself,—
"He is mine!—he is mine! He loves me truly."
After a time, she turned to the manuscript which her brother had brought her, and, with a far greater concentration of mind than she had thought it possible she could bring to it, considering the many painful subjects of contemplation that she might have occupied herself with, she read the pages with very great pleasure and interest.
The tale was one which chained her attention both by its incidents and the manner of its recital. It commenced as follows, and was entitled, "Hugo de Verole; or, the Double Plot."
In a very mountainous part of Hungary lived a nobleman whose paternal estates covered many a mile of rock and mountain land, as well as some fertile valleys, in which reposed a hardy and contented peasantry. The old Count de Hugo de Verole had quitted life early, and had left his only son, the then Count Hugo de Verole, a boy of scarcely ten years, under the guardianship of his mother, an arbitrary and unscrupulous woman.
The count, her husband, had been one of those quiet, even-tempered men, who have no desire to step beyond the sphere in which they are placed; he had no cares, save those included in the management of his estate, the prosperity of his serfs, and the happiness of those, around him.
His death caused much lamentation throughout his domains, it was so sudden and unexpected, being in the enjoyment of his health and strength until a few hours previous, and then his energies became prostrated by pain and disease. There was a splendid funeral ceremony, which, according to the usages of his house, took place by torch-light.
So great and rapid were the ravages of disease, that the count's body quickly became a mass of corruption. All were amazed at the phenomena, and were heartily glad when the body was disposed of in the place prepared for its reception in the vaults of his own castle. The guests who came to witness the funeral, and attend the count's obsequies, and to condole with the widow on the loss she had sustained, were entertained sumptuously for many days.
The widow sustained her part well. She was inconsolable for the loss of her husband, and mourned his death bitterly. Her grief appeared profound, but she, with difficulty, subdued it to within decent bounds, that she might not offend any of her numerous guests.
However, they left her with the assurances of their profound regard, and then when they were gone, when the last guest had departed, and were no longer visible to the eye of the countess, as she gazed from the battlements, then her behaviour changed totally.
She descended from the battlements, and then with an imperious gesture she gave her orders that all the gates of the castle should be closed, and a watch set. All signs of mourning she ordered to be laid on one side save her own, which she wore, and then she retired to her own apartment, where she remained unseen.
Here the countess remained in profound meditation for nearly two days, during which time the attendants believed she was praying for the welfare of the soul of their deceased master, and they feared she would starve herself to death if she remained any longer.
Just as they had assembled together for the purpose of either recalling her from her vigils or breaking open the door, they were amazed to see the countess open the room-door, and stand in the midst of them.
"What do you here?" she demanded, in a stern voice.
The servants were amazed and terrified at her contracted brow, and forgot to answer the question she put to them.
"What do you do here?"
"We came, my lady, to see—see—if—if you were well."
"Because we hadn't seen your ladyship these two days, and we thought that your grief was so excessive that we feared some harm might befall you."
The countess's brows contracted for a few seconds, and she was about to make a hasty reply, but she conquered the desire to do so, and merely said,—
"I am not well, I am faint; but, had I been dying, I should not have thanked you for interfering to prevent me; however, you acted for the best, but do so no more. Now prepare me some food."
The servants, thus dismissed, repaired to their stations, but with such a degree of alacrity, that they sufficiently showed how much they feared their mistress.
The young count, who was only in his sixth year, knew little about the loss he had sustained; but after a day or two's grief, there was an end of his sorrow for the time.
That night there came to the castle-gate a man dressed in a black cloak, attended by a servant. They were both mounted on good horses, and they demanded to be admitted to the presence of the Countess de Hugo de Verole.
The message was carried to the countess, who started, but said,—
"Admit the stranger."
Accordingly the stranger was admitted, and shown into the apartment where the countess was sitting.
At a signal the servants retired, leaving the countess and the stranger alone. It was some moments ere they spoke, and then the countess said in a low tone,—
"You are come?"
"I am come."
"You cannot now, you see, perform your threat. My husband, the count, caught a putrid disease, and he is no more."
"I cannot indeed do what I intended, inform your husband of your amours; but I can do something as good, and which will give you as much annoyance."
"Aye, more, it will cause you to be hated. I can spread reports."
"And these may ruin you."
"What do you intend to do? Do you intend that I shall be an enemy or a friend? I can be either, according to my will."
"What, do you desire to be either?" inquired the countess, with a careless tone.
"If you refuse my terms, you can make me an implacable enemy, and if you grant them, you can make me a useful friend and auxiliary," said the stranger.
"What would you do if you were my enemy?" inquired the countess.
"It is hardly my place," said the stranger, "to furnish you with a knowledge of my intentions, but I will say this much, that the bankrupt Count of Morven is your lover."
"And in the second place, that you were the cause of the death of your husband,"
"How dare you, sir—"
"I dare say so much, and I dare say, also, that the Count of Morven bought the drug of me, and that he gave it to you, and that you gave it to the count your husband."
"And what could you do if you were my friend?" inquired the countess, in the same tone, and without emotion.
"I should abstain from doing all this; should be able to put any one else out of your way for you, when you get rid of this Count of Morven, as you assuredly will; for I know him too well not to be sure of that."
"Get rid of him!"
"Exactly, in the same manner you got rid of the old count."
"Then I accept your terms."
"It is agreed, then?"
"Well, then, you must order me some rooms in a tower, where I can pursue my studies in quiet."
"You will be seen—and noticed—all will be discovered."
"No, indeed, I will take care of that, I can so far disguise myself that he will not recognise me, and you can give out I am a philosopher or necromancer, or what you will; no one will come to me—they will be terrified."
"And the gold?"
"Shall be forthcoming as soon as I can get it. The count has placed all his gold in safe keeping, and all I can seize are the rents as they become due."
"Very well; but let me have them. In the meantime you must provide for me, as I have come here with the full intention of staying here, or in some neighbouring town."
"Yes; and my servant must be discharged, as I want none here."
The countess called to an attendant and gave the necessary orders, and afterwards remained some time with the stranger, who had thus so unceremoniously thrust himself upon her, and insisted upon staying under such strange and awful circumstances.
The Count of Morven came a few weeks after, and remained some days with the countess. They were ceremonious and polite until they had a moment to retire from before people, when the countess changed her cold disdain to a cordial and familiar address.
"And now, my dear Morven," she exclaimed, as soon as they were unobserved—"and now, my dear Morven, that we are not seen, tell me, what have you been doing with yourself?"
"Why, I have been in some trouble. I never had gold that would stay by me. You know my hand was always open."
"The old complaint again."
"No; but having come to the end of my store, I began to grow serious."
"Ah, Morven!' said the countess, reproachfully.
"Well, never mind; when my purse is low my spirits sink, as the mercury does with the cold. You used to say my spirits were mercurial—I think they were."
"Well, what did you do?"
"Was that what you were about to tell me?" inquired the countess.
"Oh, dear, no. You recollect the Italian quack of whom I bought the drug you gave to the count, and which put an end to his days—he wanted more money. Well, as I had no more to spare, I could spare no more to him, and he turned vicious, and threatened. I threatened, too, and he knew I was fully able and willing to perform any promise I might make to him on that score. I endeavoured to catch him, as he had already began to set people off on the suspicious and marvellous concerning me, and if I could have come across him, I would have laid him very low indeed."
"And you could not find him?"
"No, I could not."
"Well, then, I will tell you where he is at this present moment."
"I can scarcely credit my senses at what you say," said Count Morven. "My worthy doctor, you are little better than a candidate for divine honours. But where is he?"
"Will you promise to be guided by me?" said the countess.
"If you make it a condition upon which you grant the information, I must."
"Well, then, I take that as a promise."
"You may. Where—oh, where is he?"
"Remember your promise. Your doctor is at this moment in this castle."
"Yes, this castle."
"Surely there must be some mistake; it is too much fortune at once."
"He came here for the same purpose he went to you."
"Yes, to get more money by extortion, and a promise to poison anybody I liked."
"D—n! it is the offer he made to me, and he named you."
"He named you to me, and said I should be soon tired of you."
"You have caged him?"
"Oh, dear, no; he has a suite of apartments in the eastern tower, where he passes for a philosopher, or a wizard, as people like best."
"I have given him leave there."
"Yes; and what is more amazing is, that he is to aid me in poisoning you when I have become tired of you."
"This is a riddle I cannot unravel; tell me the solution."
"Well, dear, listen,—he came to me and told me of something I already knew, and demanded money and a residence for his convenience, and I have granted him the asylum."
"I see; I will give him an inch or two of my Andrea Ferrara."
"Do you countenance him?"
"For a time. Listen—we want men in the mines; my late husband sent very few to them of late years, and therefore they are getting short of men there."
"The thing will be for you to feign ignorance of the man, and then you will be able to get him seized, and placed in the mines, for such men as he are dangerous, and carry poisoned weapons."
"Would he not be better out of the world at once; there would be no escape, and no future contingencies?"
"No—no. I will have no more lives taken; and he will be made useful; and, moreover, he will have time to reflect upon the mistake he had made in threatening me."
"He was paid for the job, and he had no future claim. But what about the child?"
"Oh, he may remain for some time longer here with us."
"It will be dangerous to do so," said the count; "he is now ten years old, and there is no knowing what may be done for him by his relatives."
"They dare not enter the gates of this castle Morven."
"Well, well; but you know he might have travelled the same road as his father, and all would be settled."
"No more lives, as I told you; but we can easily secure him some other way, and we shall be equally as free from him and them."
"That is enough—there are dungeons, I know, in this castle, and he can be kept there safe enough."
"He can; but that is not what I propose. We can put him into the mines and confine him as a lunatic."
"You see, we must make those mines more productive somehow or other; they would be so, but the count would not hear of it; he said it was so inhuman, they were so destructive of life."
"Paha! what were the mines intended for if not for use?"
"Exactly—I often said so, but he always put a negative to it."
"We'll make use of an affirmative, my dear countess, and see what will be the result in a change of policy. By the way, when will our marriage be celebrated?"
"Not for some months."
"How, so long? I am impatient."
"You must restrain your impatience—but we must have the boy settled first, and the count will have been dead a longer time then, and we shall not give so much scandal to the weak-minded fools that were his friends, for it will be dangerous to have so many events happen about the same period."
"You shall act as you think proper—but the first thing to be done will be, to get this cunning doctor quietly out of the way."
"I must contrive to have him seized, and carried to the mines."
"Beneath the tower in which he lives is a trap-door and a vault, from which, by means of another trap and vault, is a long subterranean passage that leads to a door that opens into one end of the mines; near this end live several men whom you must give some reward to, and they will, by concert, seize him, and set him to work."
"And if he will not work?"
"Why, they will scourge him in such a manner, that he would be afraid even of a threat of a repetition of the same treatment."
"That will do. But I think the worthy doctor will split himself with rage and malice, he will be like a caged tiger."
"But he will be denuded of his teeth and claws," replied the countess, smiling "therefore he will have leisure to repent of having threatened his employers."
Some weeks passed over, and the Count of Morven contrived to become acquainted with the doctor. They appeared to be utter strangers to each other, though each knew the other; the doctor having disguised himself, he believed the disguise impenetrable and therefore sat at ease.
"Worthy doctor," said the count to him, one day; "you have, no doubt, in your studies, become acquainted with many of the secrets of science."
"I have, my lord count; I may say there are few that are not known to Father Aldrovani. I have spent many years in research."
"Yes; the midnight lamp has burned till the glorious sun has reached the horizon, and brings back the day, and yet have I been found beside my books."
"'Tis well; men like you should well know the value of the purest and most valuable metals the earth produces?"
"I know of but one—that is gold!"
"'Tis what I mean."
"But 'tis hard to procure from the bowels of the earth—from the heart of these mountains by which we are surrounded."
"Yes, that is true. But know you not the owners of this castle and territory possess these mines and work them?"
"I believe they do; but I thought they had discontinued working them some years."
"Oh, no! that was given out to deceive the government, who claimed so much out of its products."
"Oh! ah! aye, I see now."
"And ever since they have been working it privately, and storing bars of gold up in the vaults of this—"
"Here, in this castle?"
"Yes; beneath this very tower—it being the least frequented—the strongest, and perfectly inaccessible from all sides, save the castle—it was placed there for the safest deposit."
"I see; and there is much gold deposited in the vaults?"
"I believe there is an immense quantity in the vaults."
"And what is your motive for telling me of this hoard of the precious metal?"
"Why, doctor, I thought that you or I could use a few bars; and that, if we acted in concert, we might be able to take away, at various times, and secrete, in some place or other, enough to make us rich men for all our lives."
"I should like to see this gold before I said anything about it," replied the doctor, thoughtfully.
"As you please; do you find a lamp that will not go out by the sudden draughts of air, or have the means of relighting it, and I will accompany you."
"This very night, good doctor, when you shall see such a golden harvest you never yet hoped for, or even believed in."
"To-night be it, then," replied the doctor. "I will have a lamp that will answer our purpose, and some other matters."
"Do, good doctor," and the count left the philosopher's cell.
"The plan takes," said the count to the countess, "give me the keys, and the worthy man will be in safety before daylight."
"Is he not suspicious?"
"Not at all."
That night, about an hour before midnight,—the Count Morven stole towards the philosopher's room. He tapped at the door.
"Enter," said the philosopher.
The count entered, and saw the philosopher seated, and by him a lamp of peculiar construction, and incased in gauze wire, and a cloak.
"Are you ready?" inquired the count.
"Quite," he replied.
"Is that your lamp?"
"Follow me, then, and hold the lamp tolerably high, as the way is strange, and the steps steep."
"You have made up your mind, I dare say, as to what share of the undertaking you will accept of with me."
"And what if I will not?" said the philosopher, coolly.
"It falls to the ground, and I return the keys to their place."
"I dare say I shall not refuse, if you have not deceived me as to the quantity and purity of the metal they have stored up."
"I am no judge of these metals, doctor. I am no assayest; but I believe you will find what I have to show you will far exceed your expectations on that head."
"'Tis well: proceed."
They had now got to the first vault, in which stood the first door, and, with some difficulty, they opened the vault door.
"It has not been opened for some time," said the philosopher.
"I dare say not, they seldom used to go here, from what I can learn, though it is kept a great secret."
"And we can keep it so, likewise."
They now entered the vault, and came to the second door, which opened into a kind of flight of steps, cut out of the solid rock, and then along a passage cut out of the mountain, of some kind of stone, but not so hard as the rock itself.
"You see," said the count, "what care has been taken to isolate the place, and detach it from the castle, so that it should not be dependent upon the possessor of the castle. This is the last door but one, and now prepare yourself for a surprise, doctor, this will be an extraordinary one."
So saying, the count opened the door, and stepped on one side, when the doctor approached the place, and was immediately thrust forward by the count and he rolled down some steps into the mine, and was immediately seized by some of the miners, who had been stationed there for that purpose, and carried to a distant part of the mine, there to work for the remainder of his life.
The count, seeing all secure, refastened the doors, and returned to the castle. A few weeks after this the body of a youth, mangled and disfigured, was brought to the castle, which the countess said was her son's body.
The count had immediately secured the real heir, and thrust him into the mines, there to pass a life of labour and hopeless misery.
There was a high feast held. The castle gates were thrown open, and everybody who came were entertained without question.
This was on the occasion of the count's and countess's marriage. It seemed many months after the death of her son, whom she affected to mourn for a long time.
However, the marriage took place, and in all magnificence and splendour. The countess again appeared arrayed in splendour and beauty: she was proud and haughty, and the count was imperious.
In the mean time, the young Count de Hugo de Verole was confined in the mines, and the doctor with him.
By a strange coincidence, the doctor and the young count became companions, and the former, meditating projects of revenge, educated the young count as well as he was able for several years in the mines, and cherished in the young man a spirit of revenge. They finally escaped together, and proceeded to Leyden, where the doctor had friends, and where he placed his pupil at the university, and thus made him a most efficient means of revenge, because the education of the count gave him a means of appreciating the splendour and rank he had been deprived of. He, therefore, determined to remain at Leyden until he was of age, and then apply to his father's friends, and then to his sovereign, to dispossess and punish them both for their double crime.
The count and countess lived on in a state of regal splendour. The immense revenue of his territory, and the treasure the late count had amassed, as well as the revenue that the mines brought in, would have supported a much larger expenditure than even their tastes disposed them to enjoy.
They had heard nothing of the escape of the doctor and the young count. Indeed, those who knew of it held their peace and said nothing about it, for they feared the consequences of their negligence. The first intimation they received was at the hands of a state messenger, summoning them to deliver up the castle revenues and treasure of the late count.
This was astounding to them, and they refused to do so, but were soon after seized upon by a regiment of cuirassiers sent to take them, and they were accused of the crime of murder at the instance of the doctor.
They were arraigned and found guilty, and, as they were of the patrician order, their execution was delayed, and they were committed to exile. This was done out of favour to the young count, who did not wish to have his family name tainted by a public execution, or their being confined like convicts.
The count and countess quitted Hungary, and settled in Italy, where they lived upon the remains of the Count of Morven's property, shorn of all their splendour but enough to keep them from being compelled to do any menial office.
The young count took possession of his patrimony and his treasure at last, such as was left by his mother and her paramour.
The doctor continued to hide his crime from the young count, and the perpetrators denying all knowledge of it, he escaped; but he returned to his native place, Leyden, with a reward for his services from the young count.
Flora rose from her perusal of the manuscript, which here ended, and even as she did so, she heard a footstep approaching her chamber door.
THE DREADFUL MISTAKE.—THE TERRIFIC INTERVIEW IN THE CHAMBER.—THE ATTACK OF THE VAMPYRE.
The footstep which Flora, upon the close of the tale she had been reading, heard approaching her apartment, came rapidly along the corridor.
"It is Henry, returned to conduct me to an interview with Charles's uncle," she said. "I wonder, now, what manner of man he is. He should in some respects resemble Charles; and if he do so, I shall bestow upon him some affection for that alone."
Tap—tap came upon the chamber door. Flora was not at all alarmed now, as she had been when Henry brought her the manuscript. From some strange action of the nervous system, she felt quite confident, and resolved to brave everything. But then she felt quite sure that it was Henry, and before the knocking had taken her by surprise.
"Come in," she said, in a cheerful voice. "Come in."
The door opened with wonderful swiftness—a figure stepped into the room, and then closed it as rapidly, and stood against it. Flora tried to scream, but her tongue refused its office; a confused whirl of sensations passed through her brain—she trembled, and an icy coldness came over her. It was Sir Francis Varney, the vampyre!
He had drawn up his tall, gaunt frame to its full height, and crossed his arms upon his breast; there was a hideous smile upon his sallow countenance, and his voice was deep and sepulchral, as he said,—
"Flora Bannerworth, hear that which I have to say, and hear it calmly. You need have nothing to fear. Make an alarm—scream, or shout for help, and, by the hell beneath us, you are lost!"
There was a death-like, cold, passionless manner about the utterance of these words, as if they were spoken mechanically, and came from no human lips.
Flora heard them, and yet scarcely comprehended them; she stepped slowly back till she reached a chair, and there she held for support. The only part of the address of Varney that thoroughly reached her ears, was that if she gave any alarm some dreadful consequences were to ensue. But it was not on account of these words that she really gave no alarm; it was because she was utterly unable to do so.
"Answer me," said Varney. "Promise that you will hear that which I have to say. In so promising you commit yourself to no evil, and you shall hear that which shall give you much peace."
It was in vain she tried to speak; her lips moved, but she uttered no sound.
"You are terrified," said Varney, "and yet I know not why. I do not come to do you harm, although harm have you done me. Girl, I come to rescue you from a thraldom of the soul under which you now labour."
There was a pause of some moments' duration, and then, faintly, Flora managed to say,—
"Help! help! Oh, help me, Heaven!"
Varney made a gesture of impatience, as he said,—
"Heaven works no special matters now. Flora Bannerworth, if you have as much intellect as your nobility and beauty would warrant the world in supposing, you will listen to me."
"I—I hear," said Flora, as she still, dragging the chair with her, increased the distance between them.
"'Tis well. You are now more composed."
She fixed her eyes upon the face of Varney with a shudder. There could be no mistake. It was the same which, with the strange, glassy looking eyes, had glared upon her on that awful night of the storm when she was visited by the vampyre. And Varney returned that gaze unflinchingly There was a hideous and strange contortion of his face now as he said,—
"You are beautiful. The most cunning statuary might well model some rare work of art from those rounded limbs, that were surely made to bewitch the gazer. Your skin rivals the driven snow—what a face of loveliness, and what a form of enchantment."
She did not speak, but a thought came across her mind, which at once crimsoned her cheek—she knew she had fainted on the first visit of the vampyre, and now he, with a hideous reverence, praised beauties which he might have cast his demoniac eyes over at such a time.
"You understand me," he said. "Well, let that pass. I am something allied to humanity yet."
"Speak your errand," gasped Flora, "or come what may, I scream for help to those who will not be slow to render it."
"I know it."
"You know I will scream?"
"No; you will hear me. I know they would not be slow to tender help to you, but you will not call for it; I will present to you no necessity."
"Say on—say on."
"You perceive I do not attempt to approach you; my errand is one of peace."
"Peace from you! Horrible being, if you be really what even now my appalled imagination shrinks from naming you, would not even to you absolute annihilation be a blessing?"
"Peace, peace. I came not here to talk on such a subject. I must be brief, Flora Bannerworth, for time presses. I do not hate you. Wherefore should I? You are young, and you are beautiful, and you bear a name which should command, and does command, some portion of my best regard."
"There is a portrait," said Flora, "in this house."
"No more—no more. I know what you would say."
"It is yours."
"The house, and all within, I covet," he said, uneasily. "Let that suffice. I have quarrelled with your brother—I have quarrelled with one who just now fancies he loves you."
"Charles Holland loves me truly."
"It does not suit me now to dispute that point with you. I have the means of knowing more of the secrets of the human heart than common men. I tell you, Flora Bannerworth, that he who talks to you of love, loves you not but with the fleeting fancy of a boy; and there is one who hides deep in his heart a world of passion, one who has never spoken to you of love, and yet who loves you with a love as far surpassing the evanescent fancy of this boy Holland, as does the mighty ocean the most placid lake that ever basked in idleness beneath a summer's sun."
There was a wonderful fascination in the manner now of Varney. His voice sounded like music itself. His words flowed from his tongue, each gently and properly accented, with all the charm of eloquence.
Despite her trembling horror of that man—despite her fearful opinion, which might be said to amount to a conviction of what he really was, Flora felt an irresistible wish to hear him speak on. Ay, despite too, the ungrateful theme to her heart which he had now chosen as the subject of his discourse, she felt her fear of him gradually dissipating, and now when he made a pause, she said,—
"You are much mistaken. On the constancy and truth of Charles Holland, I would stake my life."
"No doubt, no doubt."
"Have you spoken now that which you had to say?"
"No, no. I tell you I covet this place, I would purchase it, but having with your bad-tempered brothers quarrelled, they will hold no further converse with me."
"And well they may refuse."
"Be, that as it may, sweet lady, I come to you to be my mediator. In the shadow of the future I can see many events which are to come."
"It is so. Borrowing some wisdom from the past, and some from resources I would not detail to you, I know that if I have inflicted much misery upon you, I can spare you much more. Your brother or your lover will challenge me."
"Oh, no, no."
"I say such will happen, and I can kill either. My skill as well as my strength is superhuman."
"Mercy! mercy!" gasped Flora. "I will spare either or both on a condition."
"What fearful condition?"
"It is not a fearful one. Your terrors go far before the fact. All I wish, maiden, of you is to induce these imperious brothers of yours to sell or let the Hall to me."
"Is that all?"
"It is. I ask no more, and, in return, I promise you not only that I will not fight with them, but that you shall never see me again. Rest securely, maiden, you will be undisturbed by me."
"Oh, God! that were indeed an assurance worth the striving for," said Flora.
"It is one you may have. But—"
"Oh, I knew—my heart told me there was yet some fearful condition to come."
"You are wrong again. I only ask of you that you keep this meeting a secret."
"No, no, no—I cannot."
"Nay, what so easy?"
"I will not; I have no secrets from those I love."
"Indeed, you will find soon the expediency of a few at least; but if you will not, I cannot urge it longer. Do as your wayward woman's nature prompts you."
There was a slight, but a very slight, tone of aggravation in these words, and the manner in which they were uttered.
As he spoke, he moved from the door towards the window, which opened into a kitchen garden. Flora shrunk as far from him as possible, and for a few moments they regarded each other in silence.
"Young blood," said Varney, "mantles in your veins."
She shuddered with terror.
"Be mindful of the condition I have proposed to you. I covet Bannerworth Hall."
"And I must have it. I will have it, although my path to it be through a sea of blood. You understand me, maiden? Repeat what has passed between us or not, as you please. I say, beware of me, if you keep not the condition I have proposed."
"Heaven knows that this place is becoming daily more hateful to us all," said Flora.
"You well might know so much. It is no sacrifice to urge it now. I will urge my brother."
"Thanks—a thousand thanks. You may not live to regret even having made a friend of Varney—"
"The vampyre!" said Flora.
He advanced towards her a step, and she involuntarily uttered a scream of terror.
In an instant his hand clasped her waist with the power of an iron vice; she felt hit hot breath flushing on her cheek. Her senses reeled, and she found herself sinking. She gathered all her breath and all her energies into one piercing shriek, and then she fell to the floor. There was a sudden crash of broken glass, and then all was still.