Varney, The Vampyre or, The Feast of Blood (3. Teil)
VARNEY, THE VAMPYRE:
THE FEAST OF BLOOD.
(Chapter XXI - XXX)
THE CONFERENCE BETWEEN THE UNCLE AND NEPHEW, AND THE ALARM.
Meanwhile Charles Holland had taken his uncle by the arm, and led him into a private room.
"Dear uncle," he said, "be seated, and I will explain everything without reserve."
"Seated!—nonsense! I'll walk about," said the admiral. "D—n me! I've no patience to be seated, and very seldom had or have. Go on now, you young scamp."
"Well—well; you abuse me, but I am quite sure, had you been in my situation, you would have acted precisely as I have done."
"No, I shouldn't."
"Well, but, uncle—"
"Don't think to come over me by calling me uncle. Hark you, Charles—from this moment I won't be your uncle any more."
"Very well, sir."
"It ain't very well. And how dare you, you buccaneer, call me sir, eh? I say, how dare you?"
"I will call you anything you like."
"But I won't be called anything I like. You might as well call me at once Morgan, the Pirate, for he was called anything he liked. Hilloa, sir! how dare you laugh, eh? I'll teach you to laugh at me. I wish I had you on board ship—that's all, you young rascal. I'd soon teach you to laugh at your superior officer, I would."
"Oh, uncle, I did not laugh at you."
"What did you laugh at, then?"
"At the joke."
"Joke. D—n me, there was no joke at all!"
"Oh, very good."
"And it ain't very good."
Charles knew very well that, this sort of humour, in which was the old admiral, would soon pass away, and then that he would listen to him comfortably enough; so he would not allow the least exhibition of petulance or mere impatience to escape himself, but contented himself by waiting until the ebullition of feeling fairly worked itself out.
"Well, well," at length said the old man, "you have dragged me here, into a very small and a very dull room, under pretence of having something to tell me, and I have heard nothing yet."
"Then I will now tell you," said Charles. "I fell in love—"
"With Flora Bannerworth, abroad; she is not only the most beautiful of created beings—"
"But her mind is of the highest order of intelligence, honour, candour, and all amiable feelings—"
"Really, uncle, if you say 'Bah!' to everything, I cannot go on."
"And what the deuce difference, sir, does it make to you, whether I say 'Bah!' or not?"
"Well, I love her. She came to England, and, as I could not exist, but was getting ill, and should, no doubt, have died if I had not done so, I came to England."
"But d——e, I want to know about the mermaid."
"The vampyre, you mean, sir?"
"Well, well, the vampyre."
"Then, uncle, all I can tell you is, that it is supposed a vampyre came one night and inflicted a wound upon Flora's neck with his teeth, and that he is still endeavouring to renew his horrible existence from the young, pure blood that flows through her veins."
"The devil he is!"
"Yes. I am bewildered, I must confess, by the mass of circumstances that have combined to give the affair a horrible truthfulness. Poor Flora is much injured in health and spirits; and when I came home, she, at once, implored me to give her up, and think of her no more, for she could not think of allowing me to unite my fate with hers, under such circumstances."
"Such were her words, uncle. She implored me—she used that word, 'implore'—to fly from her, to leave her to her fate, to endeavour to find happiness with some one else."
"But I saw her heart was breaking."
"What o' that?"
"Much of that, uncle. I told her that when I deserted her in the hour of misfortune that I hoped Heaven would desert me. I told her that if her happiness was wrecked, to cling yet to me, and that with what power and what strength God had given me, I would stand between her and all ill."
"And what then?"
"She—she fell upon my breast and wept and blessed me. Could I desert her—could I say to her, 'My dear girl, when you were full of health and beauty, I loved you, but now that sadness is at your heart I leave you?' Could I tell her that, uncle, and yet call myself a man?"
"No!" roared the old admiral, in a voice that made the room echo again; "and I tell you what, if you had done so, d—n you, you puppy, I'd have braced you, and—and married the girl myself. I would, d——e, but I would."
"Don't dear me, sir. Talk of deserting a girl when the signal of distress, in the shape of a tear, is in her eye!"
"You are a wretch—a confounded lubberly boy—a swab—a d——d bad grampus."
"You mistake, uncle."
"No, I don't. God bless you, Charles, you shall have her—if a whole ship's crew of vampyres said no, you shall have her. Let me see her—just let me see her."
The admiral gave his lips a vigorous wipe with his sleeve, and Charles said hastily,—
"My dear uncle, you will recollect that Miss Bannerworth is quite a young lady."
"I suppose she is."
"Well, then, for God's sake, don't attempt to kiss her."
"Not kiss her! d——e, they like it. Not kiss her, because she's a young lady! D——e, do you think I'd kiss a corporal of marines?"
"No, uncle; but you know young ladies are very delicate."
"And ain't I delicate—shiver my timbers, ain't I delicate? Where is she? that's what I want to know."
"Then you approve of what I have done?"
"You are a young scamp, but you have got some of the old admiral's family blood in you, so don't take any credit for acting like an honest man—you couldn't help it."
"But if I had not so acted," said Charles, with a smile, "what would have become of the family blood, then?"
"What's that to you? I would have disowned you, because that very thing would have convinced me you were an impostor, and did not belong to the family at all."
"Well, that would have been one way of getting over the difficulty."
"No difficulty at all. The man who deserts the good ship that carries him through the waves, or the girl that trusts her heart to him, ought to be chopped up into meat for wild monkeys."
"Well, I think so to."
"Of course you do."
"Why, of course?"
"Because it's so d——d reasonable that, being a nephew of mine, you can't possibly help it."
"Bravo, uncle! I had no idea you were so argumentative."
"Hadn't you, spooney; you'd be an ornament to the gun-room, you would; but where's the 'young lady' who is so infernal delicate—where is she, I say?"
"I will fetch her, uncle."
"Ah, do; I'll be bound, now, she's one of the right build—a good figure-head, and don't make too much stern-way."
"Well, well, whatever you do, now don't pay her any compliments, for your efforts in that line are of such a very doubtful order, that I shall dread to hear you."
"You be off, and mind your own business; I haven't been at sea forty years without picking up some out-and-out delicate compliments to say to a young lady."
"But do you really imagine, now, that the deck of a man-of-war is a nice place to pick up courtly compliments in?"
"Of course I do. There you hear the best of language, d——e! You don't know what you are talking about, you fellows that have stuck on shore all your lives; it's we seamen who learn life."
"A cry—did you not hear a cry?"
"A signal of distress, by G—d!"
In their efforts to leave the room, the uncle and nephew for about a minute actually blocked up the door-way, but the superior bulk of the admiral prevailed, and after nearly squeezing poor Charles flat, he got out first.
But this did not avail him, for he knew not where to go. Now, the second scream which Flora had uttered when the vampyre had clasped her waist came upon their ears, and, as they were outside the room, it acted well as a guide in which direction to come.
Charles fancied correctly enough at once that it proceeded from the room which was called "Flora's own room," and thitherward accordingly he dashed at tremendous speed.
Henry, however, happened to be nearer at hand, and, moreover, he did not hesitate a moment, because he knew that Flora was in her own room; so he reached it first, and Charles saw him rush in a few moments before he could reach the room.
The difference of time, however, was very slight, and Henry had only just raised Flora from the floor as Charles appeared.
"God of Heaven!" cried the latter, "what has happened?"
"I know not," said Henry; "as God is my judge, I know not. Flora, Flora, speak to us! Flora! Flora!"
"She has fainted!" cried Charles. "Some water may restore her. Oh, Henry, Henry, is not this horrible?"
"Courage! courage!" said Henry although his voice betrayed what a terrible state of anxiety he was himself in; "you will find water in that decanter, Charles. Here is my mother, too! Another visit! God help us!"
Mrs. Bannerworth sat down on the edge of the sofa which was in the room, and could only wring her hands and weep.
"Avast!" cried the admiral, making his appearance. "Where's the enemy, lads?"
"Uncle," said Charles, "uncle, uncle, the vampyre has been here again—the dreadful vampyre!"
"D—n me, and he's gone, too, and carried half the window with him. Look there!"
It was literally true; the window, which was a long latticed one, was smashed through.
"Help! oh, help!" said Flora, as the water that was dashed in her face began to recover her.
"You are safe!" cried Henry, "you are safe!"
"Flora," said Charles; "you know my voice, dear Flora? Look up, and you will see there are none here but those who love you."
Flora opened her eyes timidly as the said,—
"Has it gone?"
"Yes, yes, dear," said Charles. "Look around you; here are none but true friends."
"And tried friends, my dear," said Admiral Bell, "excepting me; and whenever you like to try me, afloat or ashore, d—n me, shew me Old Nick himself, and I won't shrink—yard arm and yard arm—grapnel to grapnel—pitch pots and grenades!"
"This is my uncle, Flora," said Charles.
"I thank you, sir," said Flora, faintly.
"All right!" whispered the admiral to Charles; "what a figure-head, to be sure! Poll at Swansea would have made just about four of her, but she wasn't so delicate, d—n me!"
"I should think not."
"You are right for once in a way, Charley."
"What was it that alarmed you?" said Charles, tenderly, as he now took one of Flora's hands in his.
"Varney—Varney, the vampyre."
"Varney!" exclaimed Henry; "Varney here!"
"Yes, he came in at that door: and when I screamed, I suppose—for I hardly was conscious—he darted out through the window."
"This," said Henry, "is beyond all human patience. By Heaven! I cannot and will not endure it."
"It shall be my quarrel," said Charles; "I shall go at once and defy him. He shall meet me."
"Oh, no, no, no," said Flora, as she clung convulsively to Charles. "No, no; there is a better way."
"The place has become full of terrors. Let us leave it. Let him, as he wishes, have it."
"Let him have it?"
"Yes, yes. God knows, if it purchase an immunity from these visits, we may well be overjoyed. Remember that we have ample reason to believe him more than human. Why should you allow yourselves to risk a personal encounter with such a man, who might be glad to kill you that he might have an opportunity of replenishing his own hideous existence from your best heart's blood?"
The young men looked aghast.
"Besides," added Flora, "you cannot tell what dreadful powers of mischief he may have, against which human courage might be of no avail."
"There is truth and reason," said Mr. Marchdale, stepping forward, "in what Flora says."
"Only let me come across him, that's all," said Admiral Bell, "and I'll soon find out what he is. I suppose he's some long slab of a lubber after all, ain't he, with no strength."
"His strength is immense," said Marchdale. "I tried to seize him, and I fell beneath his arm as if I had been struck by the hammer of a Cyclops."
"A what?" cried the admiral.
"D—n me, I served aboard the Cyclops eleven years, and never saw a very big hammer aboard of her."
"What on earth is to be done?" said Henry."
"Oh," chimed in the admiral, "there's always a bother about what's to be done on earth. Now, at sea, I could soon tell you what was to be done."
"We must hold a solemn consultation over this matter," said Henry. "You are safe now, Flora."
"Oh, be ruled by me. Give up the Hall."
"I do tremble, brother, for what may yet ensue. I implore you to give up the Hall. It is but a terror to us now—give it up. Have no more to do with it. Let us make terms with Sir Francis Varney. Remember, we dare not kill him."
"He ought to be smothered," said the admiral.
"It is true," remarked Henry, "we dare not, even holding all the terrible suspicions we do, take his life."
"By foul means certainly not," said Charles, "were he ten times a vampyre. I cannot, however, believe that he is so invulnerable as he is represented."
"No one represents him here," said Marchdale. "I speak, sir, because I saw you glance at me. I only know that, having made two unsuccessful attempts to seize him, he eluded me, once by leaving in my grasp a piece of his coat, and the next time he struck me down, and I feel yet the effects of the terrific blow."
"You hear?" said Flora.
"Yes, I hear," said Charles.
"For some reason," added Marchdale, in a tone of emotion, "what I say seems to fall always badly upon Mr. Holland's ear. I know not why; but if it will give him any satisfaction, I will leave Bannerworth Hall to-night."
"No, no, no," said Henry; "for the love of Heaven, do not let us quarrel."
"Hear, hear," cried the admiral. "We can never fight the enemy well if the ship's crew are on bad terms. Come now, you Charles, this appears to be an honest, gentlemanly fellow—give him your hand."
"If Mr. Charles Holland," said Marchdale, "knows aught to my prejudice in any way, however slight, I here beg of him to declare it at once, and openly."
"I cannot assert that I do," said Charles.
"Then what the deuce do you make yourself so disagreeable for, eh?" cried the admiral.
"One cannot help one's impression and feelings," said Charles; "but I am willing to take Mr. Marchdale's hand."
"And I yours, young sir," said Marchdale, "in all sincerity of spirit, and with good will towards you."
They shook hands; but it required no conjuror to perceive that it was not done willingly or cordially. It was a handshaking of that character which seemed to imply on each side, "I don't like you, but I don't know positively any harm of you."
"There now," said the admiral, "that's better."
"Now, let us hold counsel about this Varney," said Henry. "Come to the parlour all of you, and we will endeavour to come to some decided arrangement."
"Do not weep, mother," said Flora. "All may yet be well. We will leave this place."
"We will consider that question, Flora," said Henry; "and believe me your wishes will go a long way with all of us, as you may well suppose they always would."
They left Mrs. Bannerworth with Flora, and proceeded to the small oaken parlour, in which were the elaborate and beautiful carvings which have been before mentioned.
Henry's countenance, perhaps, wore the most determined expression of all. He appeared now as if he had thoroughly made up his mind to do something which should have a decided tendency to put a stop to the terrible scenes which were now day by day taking place beneath that roof.
Charles Holland looked serious and thoughtful, as if he were revolving some course of action in his mind concerning which he was not quite clear.
Mr. Marchdale was more sad and depressed, to all appearance, than any of them.
At for the admiral, he was evidently in a state of amazement, and knew not what to think. He was anxious to do something, and yet what that was to be he had not the most remote idea, any more than as if he was not at all cognisant of any of those circumstances, every one of which was so completely out of the line of his former life and experience.
George had gone to call on Mr. Chillingworth, so he was not present at the first part of this serious council of war.
THE CONSULTATION.—THE DETERMINATION TO LEAVE THE HALL.
This was certainly the most seriously reasonable meeting which had been held at Bannerworth Hall on the subject of the much dreaded vampyre. The absolute necessity for doing something of a decisive character was abundantly apparent, and when Henry promised Flora that her earnest wish to leave the house should not be forgotten as an element in the discussion which was about to ensue, it was with a rapidly growing feeling on his own part, to the effect that that house, associated even as it was with many endearing recollections, was no home for him.
Hence he was the more inclined to propose a departure from the Hall if it could possibly be arranged satisfactorily in a pecuniary point of view. The pecuniary point of view, however, in which Henry was compelled to look at the subject, was an important and a troublesome one.
We have already hinted at the very peculiar state of the finances of the family; and, in fact, although the income derivable from various sources ought to have been amply sufficient to provide Henry, and those who were dependent upon him, with a respectable livelihood, yet it was nearly all swallowed up by the payment of regular instalments upon family debts incurred by his father. And the creditors took great credit to themselves that they allowed of such an arrangement, instead of sweeping off all before them, and leaving the family to starve.
The question, therefore, or, at all events, one of the questions, now was, how far would a departure from the Hall of him, Henry, and the other branches of the family, act upon that arrangement?
During a very few minutes' consideration, Henry, with the frank and candid disposition which was so strong a characteristic of his character, made up his mind to explain all this fully to Charles Holland and his uncle.
When once he formed such a determination he was not likely to be slow in carrying it into effect, and no sooner, then, were the whole of them seated in the small oaken parlour than he made an explicit statement of his circumstances.
"But," said Mr. Marchdale, when he had done, "I cannot see what right your creditors have to complain of where you live, so long as you perform your contract to them."
"True; but they always expected me, I knew, to remain at the Hall, and if they chose, why, of course, at any time, they could sell off the whole property for what it would fetch, and pay themselves as far as the proceeds would go. At all events, I am quite certain there could be nothing at all left for me."
"I cannot imagine," added Mr. Marchdale, "that any men could be so unreasonable."
"It is scarcely to be borne," remarked Charles Holland, with more impatience than he usually displayed, "that a whole family are to be put to the necessity of leaving their home for no other reason than the being pestered by such a neighbour as Sir Francis Varney. It makes one impatient and angry to reflect upon such a state of things."
"And yet they are lamentably true," said Henry. "What can we do?"
"Surely there must be some sort of remedy."
"There is but one that I can imagine, and that is one we all alike revolt from. We might kill him."
"That is out of the question."
"Of course my impression is that he bears the same name really as myself, and that he is my ancestor, from whom was painted the portrait on the panel."
"Have circumstances really so far pressed upon you," said Charles Holland, "as at length to convince you that this man is really the horrible creature we surmise he may be?"
"Dare we longer doubt it?" cried Henry, in a tone of excitement. "He is the vampyre."
"I'll be hanged if I believe it," said Admiral Bell! "Stuff and nonsense! Vampyre, indeed! Bother the vampyre."
"Sir," said Henry, "you have not had brought before you, painfully, as we have, all the circumstances upon which we, in a manner, feel compelled to found this horrible belief. At first incredulity was a natural thing. We had no idea that ever we could be brought to believe in such a thing."
"That is the case," added Marchdale. "But, step by step, we have been driven from utter disbelief in this phenomenon to a trembling conviction that it must be true."
"Unless we admit that, simultaneously, the senses of a number of persons have been deceived."
"That is scarcely possible."
"Then do you mean really to say there are such fish?" said the admiral.
"We think so."
"Well, I'm d——d! I have heard all sorts of yarns about what fellows have seen in one ocean and another; but this does beat them all to nothing."
"It is monstrous," exclaimed Charles.
There was a pause of some few moments' duration, and then Mr. Marchdale said, in a low voice,—
"Perhaps I ought not to propose any course of action until you, Henry, have yourself done so; but even at the risk of being presumptuous, I will say that I am firmly of opinion you ought to leave the Hall."
"I am inclined to think so, too," said Henry.
"But the creditors?" interposed Charles.
"I think they might be consulted on the matter beforehand," added Marchdale, "when no doubt they would acquiesce in an arrangement which could do them no harm."
"Certainly, no harm," said Henry, "for I cannot take the estate with me, as they well know."
"Precisely. If you do not like to sell it, you can let it."
"Why, under the existing circumstances, it is not likely you would get any tenant for it than the one who has offered himself."
"Sir Francis Varney?"
"Yes. It seems to be a great object with him to live here, and it appears to me, that notwithstanding all that has occurred, it is most decidedly the best policy to let him."
Nobody could really deny the reasonableness of this advice, although it seemed strange, and was repugnant to the feelings of them all, as they heard it. There was a pause of some seconds' duration, and then Henry said,—
"It does, indeed, seem singular, to surrender one's house to such a being."
"Especially," said Charles, "after what has occurred."
"Well," said Mr. Marchdale, "if any better plan of proceeding, taking the whole case into consideration, can be devised, I shall be most happy."
"Will you consent to put off all proceedings for three days?" said Charles Holland, suddenly.
"Have you any plan, my dear sir?" said Mr. Marchdale.
"I have, but it is one which I would rather say nothing about for the present."
"I have no objection," said Henry, "I do not know that three days can make any difference in the state of affairs. Let it be so, if you wish, Charles."
"Then I am satisfied," said Charles. "I cannot but feel that, situated as I am regarding Flora, this is almost more my affair than even yours, Henry."
"I cannot see that," said Henry. "Why should you take upon yourself more of the responsibility of these affairs than I, Charles? You induce in my mind a suspicion that you have some desperate project in your imagination, which by such a proposition you would seek to reconcile me to."
Charles was silent, and Henry then added,—
"Now, Charles, I am quite convinced that what I have hinted at is the fact. You have conceived some scheme which you fancy would be much opposed by us?"
"I will not deny that I have," said Charles. "It is one, however, which you must allow me for the present to keep locked in my own breast."
"Why will you not trust us?"
"For two reasons."
"The one is, that I have not yet thoroughly determined upon the course I project; and the other is, that it is one in which I am not justified in involving any one else."
"Charles, Charles," said Henry, despondingly; "only consider for a moment into what new misery you may plunge poor Flora, who is, Heaven knows, already sufficiently afflicted, by attempting an enterprise which even we, who are your friends, may unwittingly cross you in the performance of."
"This is one in which I fear no such result. It cannot so happen. Do not urge me."
"Can't you say at once what you think of doing?" said the old admiral. "What do you mean by turning your sails in all sorts of directions so oddly? You sneak, why don't you be what do you call it—explicit?"
"I cannot, uncle."
"What, are you tongue-tied?"
"All here know well," said Charles, "that if I do not unfold my mind fully, it is not that I fear to trust any one present, but from some other most special reason."
"Charles, I forbear to urge you further," said Henry, "and only implore you to be careful."
At this moment the room door opened, and George Bannerworth, accompanied by Mr. Chillingworth, came in.
"Do not let me intrude," said the surgeon; "I fear, as I see you seated, gentlemen, that my presence must be a rudeness and a disturbance to some family consultation among yourselves?"
"Not at all, Mr. Chillingworth," said Henry. "Pray be seated; we are very glad indeed to see you. Admiral Bell, this is a friend on whom we can rely—Mr. Chillingworth."
"And one of the right sort, I can see," said the admiral, as he shook Mr. Chillingworth by the hand.
"Sir, you do me much honour," said the doctor.
"None at all, none at all; I suppose you know all about this infernal odd vampyre business?"
"I believe I do, sir."
"And what do you think of it?"
"I think time will develop the circumstances sufficiently to convince us all that such things cannot be."
"D—n me, you are the most sensible fellow, then, that I have yet met with since I have been in this neighbourhood; for everybody else is so convinced about the vampyre, that they are ready to swear by him."
"It would take much more to convince me. I was coming over here when I met Mr. George Bannerworth coming to my house."
"Yes," said George, "and Mr. Chillingworth has something to tell us of a nature confirmatory of our own suspicions."
"It is strange," said Henry; "but any piece of news, come it from what quarter it may, seems to be confirmatory, in some degree or another, of that dreadful belief in vampyres."
"Why," said the doctor, "when Mr. George says that my news is of such a character, I think he goes a little too far. What I have to tell you, I do not conceive has anything whatever to do with the fact, or one fact of there being vampyres."
"Let us hear it," said Henry.
"It is simply this, that I was sent for by Sir Francis Varney myself."
"You sent for?"
"Yes; he sent for me by a special messenger to come to him, and when I went, which, under the circumstances, you may well guess, I did with all the celerity possible, I found it was to consult me about a flesh wound in his arm, which was showing some angry symptoms."
"Yes, it was so. When I was introduced to him I found him lying on a couch, and looking pale and unwell. In the most respectful manner, he asked me to be seated, and when I had taken a chair, he added,—
"'Mr. Chillingworth, I have sent for you in consequence of a slight accident which has happened to my arm. I was incautiously loading some fire-arms, and discharged a pistol so close to me that the bullet inflicted a wound on my arm.'
"'If you will allow me," said I, 'to see the wound, I will give you my opinion.'
"He then showed me a jagged wound, which had evidently been caused by the passage of a bullet, which, had it gone a little deeper, must have inflicted serious injury. As it was, the wound was but trifling.
"He had evidently been attempting to dress it himself, but finding some considerable inflammation, he very likely got a little alarmed."
"You dressed the wound?"
"And what do you think of Sir Francis Varney, now that you have had so capital an opportunity," said Henry, "of a close examination of him?"
"Why, there is certainly something odd about him which I cannot well define, but, take him altogether, he can be a very gentlemanly man indeed."
"So he can."
"His manners are easy and polished; he has evidently mixed in good society, and I never, in all my life, heard such a sweet, soft, winning voice."
"That is strictly him. You noticed, I presume, his great likeness to the portrait on the panel?"
"I did. At some moments, and viewing his face in some particular lights, it showed much more strongly than at others. My impression was that he could, when he liked, look much more like the portrait on the panel than when he allowed his face to assume its ordinary appearance."
"Probably such an impression would be produced upon your mind," said Charles, "by some accidental expression of the countenance which even he was not aware of, and which often occurs in families."
"It may be so."
"Of course you did not hint, sir, at what has passed here with regard to him?" said Henry.
"I did not. Being, you see, called in professionally, I had no right to take advantage of that circumstance to make any remarks to him about his private affairs."
"It was all one to me whether he was a vampyre or not, professionally, and however deeply I might feel, personally, interested in the matter, I said nothing to him about it, because, you see, if I had, he would have had a fair opportunity of saying at once, 'Pray, sir, what is that to you?' and I should have been at a loss what to reply."
"Can we doubt," said Henry, "but that this very wound has been inflicted upon Sir Francis Varney, by the pistol-bullet which was discharged at him by Flora?"
"Everything leads to such an assumption certainly," said Charles Holland.
"And yet you cannot even deduce from that the absolute fact of Sir Francis Varney being a vampyre?"
"I do not think, Mr. Chillingworth," said Marchdale, "anything would convince you but a visit from him, and an actual attempt to fasten upon some of your own veins."
"That would not convince me," said Chillingworth.
"Then you will not be convinced?"
"I certainly will not. I mean to hold out to the last. I said at the first, and I say so still, that I never will give way to this most outrageous superstition."
"I wish I could think with you," said Marchdale, with a shudder; "but there may be something in the very atmosphere of this house which has been rendered hideous by the awful visits that have been made to it, which forbids me to disbelieve in those things which others more happily situated can hold at arm's length, and utterly repudiate."
"There may be," said Henry; "but as to that, I think, after the very strongly expressed wish of Flora, I will decide upon leaving the house."
"Will you sell it or let it?"
"The latter I should much prefer," was the reply.
"But who will take it now, except Sir Francis Varney? Why not at once let him have it? I am well aware that this does sound odd advice, but remember, we are all the creatures of circumstances, and that, in some cases where we least like it, we must swim with the stream."
"That you will not decide upon, however, at present," said Charles Holland, as he rose.
"Certainly not; a few days can make no difference."
"None for the worse, certainly, and possibly much for the better."
"Be it so; we will wait."
"Uncle," said Charles, "will you spare me half an hour of your company?"
"An hour, my boy, if you want it," said the admiral, rising from his chair.
"Then this consultation is over," said Henry, "and we quite understand that to leave the Hall is a matter determined on, and that in a few days a decision shall be come to as to whether Varney the Vampyre shall be its tenant or not."
THE ADMIRAL'S ADVICE TO CHARLES HOLLAND.—THE CHALLENGE TO THE VAMPYRE.
When Charles Holland got his uncle into a room by themselves, he said,—
"Uncle, you are a seaman, and accustomed to decide upon matters of honour. I look upon myself as having been most grievously insulted by this Sir Francis Varney. All accounts agree in representing him as a gentleman. He goes openly by a title, which, if it were not his, could easily be contradicted; therefore, on the score of position in life, there is no fault to find with him. What would you do if you were insulted by a gentleman?"
The old admiral's eyes sparkled, and he looked comically in the face of Charles, as he said,—
"I know now where you are steering."
"What would you do, uncle?"
"I knew you would say so, and that's just what I want to do as regards Sir Francis Varney."
"Well, my boy, I don't know that you can do better. He must be a thundering rascal, whether he is a vampyre or not; so if you feel that he has insulted you, fight him by all means, Charles."
"I am much pleased, uncle, to find that you take my view of the subject," said Charles. "I knew that if I mentioned such a thing to the Bannerworths, they would endeavour all in their power to pursuade me against it."
"Yes, no doubt; because they are all impressed with a strange fear of this fellow's vampyre powers. Besides, if a man is going to fight, the fewer people he mentions it to most decidedly the better, Charles."
"I believe that is the fact, uncle. Should I overcome Varney, there will most likely be at once an end to the numerous and uncomfortable perplexities of the Bannerworths as regards him; and if he overcome me, why, then, at all events, I shall have made an effort to rescue Flora from the dread of this man."
"And then he shall fight me," added the admiral, "so he shall have two chances, at all events, Charles."
"Nay, uncle, that would, you know, scarcely be fair. Besides, if I should fall, I solemnly bequeath Flora Bannerworth to your good offices. I much fear that the pecuniary affairs of poor Henry,—from no fault of his, Heaven knows,—are in a very bad state, and that Flora may yet live to want some kind and able friend."
"Never fear, Charles. The young creature shall never want while the old admiral has got a shot in the locker."
"Thank you, uncle, thank you. I have ample cause to know, and to be able to rely upon your kind and generous nature. And now about the challenge?"
"You write it, boy, and I'll take it."
"Will you second me, uncle?"
"To be sure I will. I wouldn't trust anybody else to do so on any account. You leave all the arrangements with me, and I'll second you as you ought to be seconded."
"Then I will write it at once, for I have received injuries at the hands of that man, or devil, be he what he may, that I cannot put up with. His visit to the chamber of her whom I love would alone constitute ample ground of action."
"I should say it rather would, my boy."
"And after this corroborative story of the wound, I cannot for a moment doubt that Sir Francis Varney is the vampyre, or the personifier of the vampyre."
"That's clear enough, Charles. Come, just you write your challenge, my boy, at once, and let me have it."
"I will, uncle."
Charles was a little astonished, although pleased, at his uncle's ready acquiescence in his fighting a vampyre, but that circumstance he ascribed to the old man's habits of life, which made him so familiar with strife and personal contentions of all sorts, that he did not ascribe to it that amount of importance which more peaceable people did. Had he, while he was writing the note to Sir Francis Varney, seen the old admiral's face, and the exceedingly cunning look it wore, he might have suspected that the acquiescence in the duel was but a seeming acquiescence. This, however, escaped him, and in a few moments he read to his uncle the following note:—
"To SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.
"Sir,—The expressions made use of towards me by you, as well as general circumstances, which I need not further allude to here, induce me to demand of you that satisfaction due from one gentleman to another. My uncle, Admiral Bell, is the bearer of this note, and will arrange preliminaries with any friend you may choose to appoint to act in your behalf. I am, sir, yours, &c.
"Will that do?" said Charles.
"Capital!" said the admiral.
"I am glad you like it."
"Oh, I could not help liking it. The least said and the most to the purpose, always pleases me best; and this explains nothing, and demands all you want—which is a fight; so it's all right, you see, and nothing can be possibly better."
Charles did glance in his uncle's face, for he suspected, from the manner in which these words were uttered, that the old man was amusing himself a little at his expense. The admiral, however, looked so supernaturally serious that Charles was foiled.
"I repeat, it's a capital letter," he said.
"Yes, you said so."
"Well, what are you staring at?"
"Do you doubt my word?"
"Not at all, uncle; only I thought there was a degree of irony in the manner in which you spoke."
"None at all, my boy. I never was more serious in all my life."
"Very good. Then you will remember that I leave my honour in this affair completely in your hands."
"Depend upon me, my boy."
"I will, and do."
"I'll be off and see the fellow at once."
The admiral bustled out of the room, and in a few moments Charles heard him calling loudly,—
"Jack—Jack Pringle, you lubber, where are you?—Jack Pringle, I say."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Jack, emerging from the kitchen, where he had been making himself generally useful in assisting Mrs. Bannerworth, there being no servant in the house, to cook some dinner for the family.
"Come on, you rascal, we are going for a walk."
"The rations will be served out soon," growled Jack.
"We shall be back in time, you cormorant, never fear. You are always thinking of eating and drinking, you are, Jack; and I'll be hanged if I think you ever think of anything else. Come on, will you; I'm going on rather a particular cruise just now, so mind what you are about."
"Aye, aye, sir," said the tar, and these two originals, who so perfectly understood each other, walked away, conversing as they went, and their different voices coming upon the ear of Charles, until distance obliterated all impression of the sound.
Charles paced to and fro in the room where he had held this brief and conclusive conversation with his uncle. He was thoughtful, as any one might well be who knew not but that the next four-and-twenty hours would be the limit of his sojourn in this world.
"Oh, Flora—Flora!" he at length said, "how happy we might to have been together—how happy we might have been! but all is past now, and there seems nothing left us but to endure. There it but one chance, and that is in my killing this fearful man who is invested with so dreadful an existence. And if I do kill him in fair and in open fight, I will take care that his mortal frame has no power again to revisit the glimpses of the moon."
It was strange to imagine that such was the force of many concurrent circumstances, that a young man like Charles Holland, of first-rate abilities and education, should find it necessary to give in so far to a belief which was repugnant to all his best feelings and habits of thought, as to be reasoning with himself upon the best means of preventing the resuscitation of the corpse of a vampyre. But so it was. His imagination had yielded to a succession of events which very few persons indeed could have held out against.
"I have heard and read," he said, as he continued his agitated and uneasy walk, "of how these dreadful beings are to be in their graves. I have heard of stakes being driven through the body so as to pin it to the earth until the gradual progress of decay has rendered its revivification a thing of utter and total impossibility. Then, again," he added, after a slight pause, "I have heard of their being burned, and the ashes gathered to the winds of Heaven to prevent them from ever again uniting or assuming human form."
These were disagreeable and strange fancies, and he shuddered while he indulged in them. He felt a kind of trembling horror come over him even at the thought of engaging in conflict with a being, who perhaps, had lived more than a hundred years.
"That portrait," he thought, "on the panel, is the portrait of a man in the prime of life. If it be the portrait of Sir Francis Varney, by the date which the family ascribe to it he must be nearly one hundred and fifty years of age now."
This was a supposition which carried the imagination to a vast amount of strange conjectures.
"What changes he must have witnessed about him in that time," thought Charles. "How he must have seen kingdoms totter and fall, and how many changes of habits, of manners, and of customs must he have become a spectator of. Renewing too, ever and anon, his fearful existence by such fearful means."
This was a wide field of conjecture for a fertile imagination, and now that he was on the eve of engaging with such a being in mortal combat, on behalf of her he loved, the thoughts it gave rise to came more strongly and thickly upon him than ever they had done before.
"But I will fight him," he suddenly said, "for Flora's sake, were he a hundred times more hideous a being than so many evidences tend to prove him. I will fight with him, and it may be my fate to rid the world of such a monster in human form."
Charles worked himself up to a kind of enthusiasm by which he almost succeeded in convincing himself that, in attempting the destruction of Sir Francis Varney, he was the champion of human nature.
It would be aside from the object of these pages, which is to record facts as they occurred, to enter into the metaphysical course of reasoning which came across Charles's mind; suffice it to say that he felt nothing shaken as regarded his resolve to meet Varney the Vampyre, and that he made up his mind the conflict should be one of life or death.
"It must be so," he said. "It must be so. Either he or I must fall in the fight which shall surely be."
He now sought Flora, for how soon might he now be torn from her for ever by the irresistible hand of death. He felt that, during the few brief hours which now would only elapse previous to his meeting with Sir Francis Varney, he could not enjoy too much of the society of her who reigned supreme in his heart, and held in her own keeping his best affections.
But while Charles is thus employed, let us follow his uncle and Jack Pringle to the residence of Varney, which, as the reader is aware, was so near at hand that it required not many minutes' sharp walking to reach it.
The admiral knew well he could trust Jack with any secret, for long habits of discipline and deference to the orders of superiors takes off the propensity to blabbing which, among civilians who are not accustomed to discipline, is so very prevalent. The old man therefore explained to Jack what he meant to do, and it received Jack's full approval; but as in the enforced detail of other matters it must come out, we will not here prematurely enter into the admiral's plans.
When they reached the residence of Sir Francis Varney, they were received courteously enough, and the admiral desired Jack to wait for him in the handsome hall of the house, while he was shewn up stairs to the private room of the vampyre.
"Confound the fellow!" muttered the old admiral, "he is well lodged at all events. I should say he was not one of those sort of vampyres who have nowhere to go to but their own coffins when the evening comes."
The room into which the admiral was shewn had green blinds to it, and they were all drawn down. It is true that the sun was shining brightly outside, although transiently, but still a strange green tinge was thrown over everything in the room, and more particularly did it appear to fall upon the face of Varney, converting his usually sallow countenance into a still more hideous and strange colour. He was sitting upon a couch, and, when the admiral came in, he rose, and said, in a deep-toned voice, extremely different to that he usually spoke in,—
"My humble home is much honoured, sir, by your presence in it."
"Good morning," said the admiral. "I have come to speak to you, sir, rather seriously."
"However abrupt this announcement may sound to me," said Varney, "I am quite sure I shall always hear, with the most profound respect, whatever Admiral Bell may have to say."
"There is no respect required," said the admiral, "but only a little attention."
Sir Francis bowed in a stately manner, saying,—
"I shall be quite unhappy if you will not be seated, Admiral Bell."
"Oh, never mind that, Sir Francis Varney, if you be Sir Francis Varney; for you may be the devil himself, for all I know. My nephew, Charles Holland, considers that, one way and another, he has a very tolerable quarrel with you."
"I much grieve to hear it."
"Believe me, I do. I am most scrupulous in what I say; and an assertion that I am grieved, you may thoroughly and entirely depend upon."
"Well, well, never mind that; Charles Holland is a young man just entering into life. He loves a girl who is, I think, every way worthy of him."
"Oh, what a felicitous prospect!"
"Just hear me out, if you please."
"With pleasure, sir—with pleasure."
"Well, then, when a young, hot-headed fellow thinks he has a good ground of quarrel with anybody, you will not be surprised at his wanting to fight it out."
"Not at all."
"Well, then, to come to the point, my nephew, Charles Holland, has a fancy for fighting with you."
"You take it d——d easy."
"My dear sir, why should I be uneasy? He is not my nephew, you know. I shall have no particular cause, beyond those feelings of common compassion which I hope inhabit my breast as well as every one else's."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, he is a young man just, as you say, entering into life, and I cannot help thinking it would be a pity to cut him off like a flower in the bud, so very soon."
"Oh, you make quite sure, then, of settling him, do you?"
"My dear sir, only consider; he might be very troublesome, indeed; you know young men are hot-headed and troublesome. Even if I were only to maim him, he might be a continual and never-ceasing annoyance to me. I think I should be absolutely, in a manner of speaking, compelled to cut him off."
"The devil you do!"
"As you say, sir."
"D—n your assurance, Mr. Vampyre, or whatever odd fish you may be."
"Admiral Bell, I never called upon you and received a courteous reception, and then insulted you."
"Then why do you talk of cutting off a better man than yourself? D—n it, what would you say to him cutting you off?"
"Oh, as for me, my good sir, that's quite another thing. Cutting me off is very doubtful."
Sir Francis Varney gave a strange smile as he spoke, and shook his head, as if some most extraordinary and extravagant proposition had been mooted, which it was scarcely worth the while of anybody possessed of common sense to set about expecting.
Admiral Bell felt strongly inclined to get into a rage, but he repressed the idea as much as he could, although, but for the curious faint green light that came through the blinds, his heightened colour would have sufficiently proclaimed what state of mind he was in.
"Mr. Varney," he said, "all this is quite beside the question; but, at all events, if it have any weight at all, it ought to have a considerable influence in deciding you to accept of what terms I propose."
"What are they, sir?"
"Why, that you permit me to espouse my nephew Charles's quarrel, and meet you instead of him."
"You meet me?"
"Yes; I've met a better man more than once before. It can make no difference to you."
"I don't know that, Admiral Bell. One generally likes, in a duel, to face him with whom one has had the misunderstanding, be it on what grounds it may."
"There's some reason, I know, in what you say; but, surely, if I am willing, you need not object."
"And is your nephew willing thus to shift the danger and the job of resenting his own quarrels on to your shoulders?"
"No; he knows nothing about it. He has written you a challenge, of which I am the bearer, but I voluntarily, and of my own accord, wish to meet you instead."
"This is a strange mode of proceeding."
"If you will not accede to it, and fight him first, and any harm comes to him, you shall fight me afterwards."
"Yes, indeed you shall, however surprised you may look."
"As this appears to be quite a family affair, then," said Sir Francis Varney, "it certainly does appear immaterial which of you I fight with first."
"Quite so; now you take a sensible view of the question. Will you meet me?"
"I have no particular objection. Have you settled all your affairs, and made your will?"
"What's that to you?"
"Oh, I only asked, because there is generally so much food for litigation if a man dies intestate, and is worth any money."
"You make devilish sure," said the admiral, "of being the victor. Have you made your will?"
"Oh, my will," smiled Sir Francis; "that, my good sir, is quite an indifferent affair."
"Well, make it or not, as you like. I am old, I know, but I can pull a trigger as well as any one."
"Pull a trigger."
"Why, you don't suppose I resort to any such barbarous modes of fighting?"
"Barbarous! Why, how do you fight then?"
"As a gentleman, with my sword."
"Swords! Oh, nonsense! nobody fights with swords now-a-days. That's all exploded."
"I cling to the customs and the fashions of my youth," said Varney. "I have been, years ago, accustomed always to wear a sword, and to be without one now vexes me."
"Pray, how many years ago?"
"I am older than I look, but that is not the question. I am willing to meet you with swords if you like. You are no doubt aware that, as the challenged party, I am entitled to the choice of weapons."
"Then you cannot object to my availing myself of the one in the use of which I am perfectly unequalled."
"Yes, I am, I think, the first swordsman in Europe; I have had immense practice."
"Well, sir, you have certainly made a most unexpected choice of weapons. I can use a sword still, but am by no means a master of fencing. However, it shall not be said that I went back from my word, and let the chances be as desperate as they may, I will meet you."
"Ay, with swords; but I must have everything properly arranged, so that no blame can rest on me, you know. As you will be killed, you are safe from all consequences, but I shall be in a very different position; so, if you please, I must have this meeting got up in such a manner as shall enable me to prove, to whoever may question me on the subject, that you had fair play."
"Oh, never fear that."
"But I do fear it. The world, my good sir, is censorious, and you cannot stop people from saying extremely ill-natured things."
"What do you require, then?"
"I require you to send me a friend with a formal challenge."
"Then I shall refer him to a friend of mine, and they two must settle everything between them."
"Is that all?"
"Not quite. I will have a surgeon on the ground, in case, when I pink you, there should be a chance of saving your life. It always looks humane."
"When you pink me?"
"Upon my word, you take these affairs easy. I suppose you have had a few of them?"
"Oh, a good number. People like yourself worry me into them, I don't like the trouble, I assure you; it is no amusement to me. I would rather, by a great deal, make some concession than fight, because I will fight with swords, and the result is then so certain that there is no danger in the matter to me."
"Hark you, Sir Francis Varney. You are either a very clever actor, or a man, as you say, of such skill with your sword, that you can make sure of the result of a duel. You know, therefore, that it is not fair play on your part to fight a duel with that weapon."
"Oh, I beg your pardon there. I never challenge anybody, and when foolish people will call me out, contrary to my inclination, I think I am bound to take what care of myself I can."
"D—n me, there's some reason in that, too," said the admiral; "but why do you insult people?"
"People insult me first."
"How should you like to be called a vampyre, and stared at as if you were some hideous natural phenomenon?"
"I say, Admiral Bell, how should you like it? I am a harmless country gentleman, and because, in the heated imaginations of some member of a crack-brained family, some housebreaker has been converted into a vampyre, I am to be pitched upon as the man, and insulted and persecuted accordingly."
"But you forget the proofs."
"The portrait, for one."
"What! Because there is an accidental likeness between me and an old picture, am I to be set down as a vampyre? Why, when I was in Austria last, I saw an old portrait of a celebrated court fool, and you so strongly resemble it, that I was quite struck when I first saw you with the likeness; but I was not so unpolite as to tell you that I considered you were the court fool turned vampyre."
"D—n your assurance!"
"And d—n yours, if you come to that."
The admiral was fairly beaten. Sir Francis Varney was by far too long-headed and witty for him. After now in vain endeavouring to find something to say, the old man buttoned up his coat in a great passion, and looking fiercely at Varney, he said,—"I don't pretend to a gift of the gab. D—n me, it ain't one of my peculiarities; but though you may talk me down, you sha'n't keep me down."
"Very good, sir."
"It is not very good. You shall hear from me."
"I am willing."
"I don't care whether you are willing or not. You shall find that when once I begin to tackle an enemy, I don't so easily leave him. One or both of us, sir, is sure to sink."
"So say I. You shall find that I'm a tar for all weathers, and if you were a hundred and fifty vampires all rolled into one, I'd tackle you somehow."
The admiral walked to the door in high dudgeon; when he was near to it, Varney said, in some of his most winning and gentle accents,—
"Will you not take some refreshment, sir before you go from my humble house?"
"No!" roared the admiral.
"Very good, sir. A hospitable host can do no more than offer to entertain his guests."
Admiral Bell turned at the door, and said, with some degree of intense bitterness,
"You look rather poorly. I suppose, to-night, you will go and suck somebody's blood, you shark—you confounded vampyre! You ought to be made to swallow a red-hot brick, and then let dance about till it digests."
Varney smiled as he rang the bell, and said to a servant,—
"Show my very excellent friend Admiral Bell out. He will not take any refreshments."
The servant bowed, and preceded the admiral down the staircase; but, to his great surprise, instead of a compliment in the shape of a shilling or half-a-crown for his pains, he received a tremendous kick behind, with a request to go and take it to his master, with his compliments.
The fume that the old admiral was in beggars all description. He walked to Bannerworth Hall at such a rapid pace, that Jack Pringle had the greatest difficulty in the world to keep up with him, so as to be at all within speaking distance.
"Hilloa, Jack," cried the old man, when they were close to the Hall. "Did you see me kick that fellow?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Well, that's some consolation, at any rate, if somebody saw it. It ought to have been his master, that's all I can say to it, and I wish it had."
"How have you settled it, sir?"
"The fight, sir."
"D—n me, Jack, I haven't settled it at all."
"That's bad, sir."
"I know it is; but it shall be settled for all that, I can tell him, let him vapour as much as he may about pinking me, and one thing and another."
"Pinking you, sir?"
"Yes. He wants to fight with cutlasses, or toasting-forks, d—n me, I don't know exactly which, and then he must have a surgeon on the ground, for fear when he pinks me I shouldn't slip my cable in a regular way, and he should be blamed."
Jack gave a long whistle, as he replied,—
"Going to do it, sir?"
"I don't know now what I'm going to do. Mind, Jack, mum is the word."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"I'll turn the matter over in my mind, and then decide upon what had best be done. If he pinks me, I'll take d——d good care he don't pink Charles."
"No, sir, don't let him do that. A wamphigher, sir, ain't no good opponent to anybody. I never seed one afore, but it strikes me as the best way to settle him, would be to shut him up in some little bit of a cabin, and then smoke him with brimstone, sir."
"Well, well, I'll consider, Jack, I'll consider. Something must be done, and that quickly too. Zounds, here's Charles—what the deuce shall I say to him, by way of an excuse, I wonder, for not arranging his affair with Varney? Hang me, if I ain't taken aback now, and don't know where to place a hand."
THE LETTER TO CHARLES.—THE QUARREL.—THE ADMIRAL'S NARRATIVE.—THE MIDNIGHT MEETING.
It was Charles Holland who now advanced hurriedly to meet the admiral. The young man's manner was anxious. He was evidently most intent upon knowing what answer could be sent by Sir Francis Varney to his challenge.
"Uncle," he said, "tell me at once, will he meet me? You can talk of particulars afterwards, but now tell me at once if he will meet me?"
"Why, as to that," said the admiral, with a great deal of fidgetty hesitation, "you see, I can't exactly say."
"No. He's a very odd fish. Don't you think he's a very odd fish, Jack Pringle'?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"There, you hear, Charles, that Jack is of my opinion that your opponent is an odd fish."
"But, uncle, why trifle with my impatience thus? Have you seen Sir Francis Varney?"
"Seen him. Oh, yes."
"And what did he say?"
"Why, to tell the truth, my lad, I advise you not to fight with him at all."
"Uncle, is this like you? This advice from you, to compromise my honour, after sending a man a challenge?"
"D—n it all, Jack, I don't know how to get out of it," said the admiral. "I tell you what it is, Charles, he wants to fight with swords; and what on earth is the use of your engaging with a fellow who has been practising at his weapon for more than a hundred years?"
"Well, uncle, if any one had told me that you would be terrified by this Sir Francis Varney into advising me not to fight, I should have had no hesitation whatever in saying such a thing was impossible."
"Why, you advise me not to meet this man, even after I have challenged him."
"Jack," said the admiral, "I can't carry it on, you see. I never could go on with anything that was not as plain as an anchor, and quite straightforward. I must just tell all that has occurred."
"Ay, ay, sir. The best way."
"You think so, Jack?"
"I know it is, sir, always axing pardon for having a opinion at all, excepting when it happens to be the same as yourn, sir."
"Hold your tongue, you libellous villain! Now, listen to me, Charles. I got up a scheme of my own."
Charles gave a groan, for he had a very tolerable appreciation of his uncle's amount of skill in getting up a scheme of any kind or description.
"Now here am I," continued the admiral, "an old hulk, and not fit for use anymore. What's the use of me, I should like to know? Well, that's settled. But you are young and hearty, and have a long life before you. Why should you throw away your life upon a lubberly vampyre?"
"I begin to perceive now, uncle," said Charles, reproachfully, "why you, with such apparent readiness, agreed to this duel taking place."
"Well, I intended to fight the fellow myself, that's the long and short of it, boy."
"How could you treat me so?"
"No nonsense, Charles. I tell you it was all in the family. I intended to fight him myself. What was the odds whether I slipped my cable with his assistance, or in the regular course a little after this? That's the way to argufy the subject; so, as I tell you, I made up my mind to fight him myself."
Charles looked despairingly, but said,—
"What was the result?"
"Oh, the result! D—n me, I suppose that's to come. The vagabond won't fight like a Christian. He says he's quite willing to fight anybody that calls him out, provided it's all regular."
"And he, being the party challenged—for he says he never himself challenges anybody, as he is quite tired of it—must have his choice of weapons."
"He is entitled to that; but it is generally understood now-a-days that pistols are the weapons in use among gentlemen for such purposes."
"Ah, but he won't understand any such thing, I tell you. He will fight with swords."
"I suppose he is, then, an adept at the use of the sword?"
"He says he is."
"No doubt—no doubt. I cannot blame a man for choosing, when he has the liberty of choice, that weapon in the use of which he most particularly, from practice, excels."
"Yes; but if he be one half the swordsman he has had time enough, according to all accounts, to be, what sort of chance have you with him?"
"Do I hear you reasoning thus?"
"Yes, to be sure you do. I have turned wonderfully prudent, you see: so I mean to fight him myself, and mind, now, you have nothing whatever to do with it."
"An effort of prudence that, certainly."
"Well, didn't I say so?"
"Come—come, uncle, this won't do. I have challenged Sir Francis Varney, and I must meet him with any weapon he may, as the challenged party, choose to select. Besides, you are not, I dare say, aware that I am a very good fencer, and probably stand as fair a chance as Varney in a contest with swords."
"Yes, uncle. I could not be so long on the continent as I have been without picking up a good knowledge of the sword, which is so popular all over Germany."
"Humph! but only consider, this d——d fellow is no less than a hundred and fifty years old."
"I care not."
"Yes, but I do."
"Uncle, uncle, I tell you I will fight with him; and if you do not arrange matters for me so that I can have the meeting with this man, which I have myself sought, and cannot, even if I wished, now recede from with honour, I must seek some other less scrupulous friend to do so."
"Give me an hour or two to think of it, Charles," said the admiral. "Don't speak to any one else, but give me a little time. You shall have no cause of complaint. Your honour cannot suffer in my hands."
"I will wait your leisure, uncle; but remember that such affairs as these, when once broached, had always better be concluded with all convenient dispatch."
"I know that, boy—I know that."
The admiral walked away, and Charles, who really felt much fretted at the delay which had taken place, returned to the house.
He had not been there long, when a lad, who had been temporarily hired during the morning by Henry to answer the gate, brought him a note, saying,—
"A servant, sir, left this for you just now."
"For me?" said Charles, as he glanced at the direction. "This is strange, for I have no acquaintance about here. Does any one wait?"
The note was properly directed to him, therefore Charles Holland at once opened it. A glance at the bottom of the page told him that it came from his enemy, Sir Francis Varney, and then he read it with much eagerness. It ran thus:—
"SIR,—Your uncle, as he stated himself to be, Admiral Bell, was the bearer to me, as I understood him this day, of a challenge from you. Owing to some unaccountable hallucination of intellect, he seemed to imagine that I intended to set myself up as a sort of animated target, for any one to shoot at who might have a fancy so to do.
"According to this eccentric view of the case, the admiral had the kindness to offer to fight me first, when, should he not have the good fortune to put me out of the world, you were to try your skill, doubtless.
"I need scarcely say that I object to these family arrangements. You have challenged me, and, fancying the offence sufficient, you defy me to mortal combat. If, therefore, I fight with any one at all, it must be with you.
"You will clearly understand me, sir, that I do not accuse you of being at all party to this freak of intellect of your uncle's. He, no doubt, alone conceived it, with a laudable desire on his part of serving you. If, however, to meet me, do so to-night, in the middle of the park surrounding your own friends estate.
"There is a pollard oak growing close to a small pool; you, no doubt, have noticed the spot often. Meet me there, if you please, and any satisfaction you like I will give you, at twelve o'clock this night.
"Come alone, or you will not see me. It shall be at your own option entirely, to convert the meeting into a hostile one or not. You need send me no answer to this. If you are at the place I mention at the time I have named, well and good. If you an not, I can only, if I please, imagine that you shrink from a meeting with
Charles Holland read this letter twice over carefully, and then folding it up, and placing it in his pocket, he said,—
"Yes, I will meet him; he may be assured that I will meet him. He shall find that I do not shrink from Francis Varney In the name of honour, love, virtue, and Heaven, I will meet this man, and it shall go hard with me but I will this night wring from him the secret of what he really is. For the sake of her who is so dear to me—for her sake, I will meet this man, or monster, be he what he may."
It would have been far more prudent had Charles informed Henry Bannerworth or George of his determination to meet the vampyre that evening, but he did not do so. Somehow he fancied it would be some reproach against his courage if he did not go, and go alone, too, for he could not help suspecting that, from the conduct of his uncle, Sir Francis Varney might have got up an opinion inimical to his courage.
With all the eager excitement of youth, there was nothing that arrayed itself to his mind in such melancholy and uncomfortable colours as an imputation upon his courage.
"I will show this vampyre, if he be such," he said, "that I am not afraid to meet him, and alone, too, at his own hour—at midnight, even when, if his preternatural powers be of more avail to him than at any other time, be can attempt, if he dare, to use them."
Charles resolved upon going armed, and with the greatest care he loaded his pistols, and placed them aside ready for action, when the time should come to set out to meet the vampyre at the spot in the park which had been particularly alluded to in his letter.
This spot was perfectly well known to Charles; indeed, no one could be a single day at Bannerworth Hall without noticing it, so prominent an object was that pollard oak, standing, as it did, alone, with the beautiful green sward all around it. Near to it was the pool which hid been mentioned, which was, in reality, a fish-pond, and some little distance off commenced the thick plantation, among the intricacies of which Sir Francis Varney, or the vampyre, had been supposed to disappear, after the revivification of his body at the full of the moon.
This spot was in view of several of the windows of the house, so that if the night should happen to be a very light one, and any of the inhabitants of the Hall should happen to have the curiosity to look from those particular windows, no doubt the meeting between Charles Holland and the vampyre would be seen.
This, however, was a contingency which was nothing to Charles, whatever it might be to Sir Francis Varney, and he scarcely at all considered it as worth consideration. He felt more happy and comfortable now that everything seemed to be definitively arranged by which he could come to some sort of explanation with that mysterious being who had so effectually, as yet, succeeded in destroying his peace of mind and his prospects of happiness.
"I will this night force him to declare himself," thought Charles. "He shall tell me who and what he really is, and by some means I will endeavour to put an end to those frightful persecutions which Flora has suffered."
This was a thought which considerably raised Charles's spirits, and when he sought Flora again, which he now did, she was surprised to see him so much more easy and composed in his mind, which was sufficiently shown by his manner, than he had been but so short a time before.
"Charles," she said, "what has happened to give such an impetus to your spirits?"
"Nothing, dear Flora, nothing; but I have been endeavouring to throw from my mind all gloomy thoughts, and to convince myself that in the future you and I, dearest, may yet be very happy."
"Oh, Charles, if I could but think so."
"Endeavour, Flora, to think so. Remember how much our happiness is always in our own power, Flora, and that, let fate do her worst, so long as we are true to each other, we have a recompense for every ill."
"Oh, indeed, Charles, that is a dear recompense."
"And it is well that no force of circumstances short of death itself can divide us."
"True, Charles, true, and I am more than ever now bound to look upon you with a loving heart; for have you not clung to me generously under circumstances which, if any at all could have justified you in rending asunder every tie which bound us together, surely would have done so most fully."
"It is misfortune and distress that tries love," said Charles. "It is thus that the touchstone is applied to see if it be current gold indeed, or some base metal, which by a superficial glitter imitates it."
"And your love is indeed true gold."
"I am unworthy of one glance from those dear eyes if it were not."
"Oh, if we could but go from here I think then we might be happy. A strong impression is upon my mind, and has been so for some time, that these persecutions to which I have been subjected are peculiar to this house."
"Think you so?"
"I do, indeed!"
"It may be so, Flora. You are aware that your brother has made up his mind that he will leave the Hall."
"And that only in deference to an expressed wish of mine he put off the carrying such a resolve into effect for a few days."
"He said so much."
"Do not, however, imagine, dearest Flora, that those few days will be idly spent."
"Nay, Charles, I could not imagine so."
"Believe me, I have some hopes that in that short space of time I shall be able to accomplish yet something which shall have a material effect upon the present posture of affairs."
"Do not run into danger, Charles."
"I will not. Believe me, Flora, I have too much appreciation of the value of an existence which is blessed by your love, to encounter any needless risks."
"You say needless. Why do you not confide in me, and tell me if the object you have in view to accomplish in the few days delay is a dangerous one at all."
"Will you forgive me, Flora, if for once I keep a secret from you?"
"Then, Charles, along with the forgiveness I must conjure up a host of apprehensions."
"Nay, why so?"
"You would tell me if there were no circumstances that you feared would fill me with alarm."
"Now, Flora, your fears and not your judgment condemn me. Surely you cannot think me so utterly heedless as to court danger for danger's sake."
"No, not so—"
"And yet you have a sense of what you call honour, which, I fear, would lead you into much risk."
"I have a sense of honour; but not that foolish one which hangs far more upon the opinions of others than my own. If I thought a course of honour lay before me, and all the world, in a mistaken judgment, were to condemn it as wrong, I would follow it."
"You are right, Charles; you are right. Let me pray of you to be careful, and, at all events, to interpose no more delay to our leaving this house than you shall feel convinced is absolutely necessary for some object of real and permanent importance."
Charles promised Flora Bannerworth that for her sake, as well as his own, he would be most specially careful of his safety; and then in such endearing conversation as may be well supposed to be dictated by such hearts as theirs another happy hour was passed away.
They pictured to themselves the scene where first they met, and with a world of interest hanging on every word they uttered, they told each other of the first delightful dawnings of that affection which had sprung up between them, and which they fondly believed neither time nor circumstance would have the power to change or subvert.
In the meantime the old admiral was surprised that Charles was so patient, and had not been to him to demand the result of his deliberation.
But he knew not on what rapid pinions time flies, when in the presence of those whom we love. What was an actual hour, was but a fleeting minute to Charles Holland, as he sat with Flora's hand clasped in his, and looking at her sweet face.
At length a clock striking reminded him of his engagement with his uncle, and he reluctantly rose.
"Dear Flora," he said, "I am going to sit up to watch to-night, so be under no sort of apprehension."
"I will feel doubly safe," she said.
"I have now something to talk to my uncle about, and must leave you."
Flora smiled, and held out her hand to him. He pressed it to his heart. He knew not what impulse came over him then, but for the first time he kissed the cheek of the beautiful girl.
With a heightened colour she gently repulsed him. He took a long lingering look at her as he passed out of the room, and when the door was closed between them, the sensation he experienced was as if some sudden cloud had swept across the face of the sun, dimming to a vast extent its precious lustre.
A strange heaviness came across his spirits, which before had been so unaccountably raised. He felt as if the shadow of some coming evil was resting on his soul—as if some momentous calamity was preparing for him, which would almost be enough to drive him to madness, and irredeemable despair.
"What can this be," he exclaimed, "that thus oppresses me? What feeling is this that seems to tell me, I shall never again see Flora Bannerworth?"
Unconsciously he uttered these words, which betrayed the nature of his worst forebodings.
"Oh, this is weakness," he then added. "I must fight out against this; it is mere nervousness. I must not endure it, I will not suffer myself thus to become the sport of imagination. Courage, courage, Charles Holland. There are real evils enough, without your adding to them by those of a disordered fancy. Courage, courage, courage."
THE ADMIRAL'S OPINION.—THE REQUEST OF CHARLES.
Charles then sought the admiral, whom he found with his hands behind him, pacing to and fro in one of the long walks of the garden, evidently in a very unsettled state of mind. When Charles appeared, he quickened his pace, and looked in such a state of unusual perplexity that it was quite ridiculous to observe him.
"I suppose, uncle, you have made up your mind thoroughly by this time?"
"Well, I don't know that."
"Why, you have had long enough surely to think over it. I have not troubled you soon."
"Well, I cannot exactly say you have, but, somehow or another, I don't think very fast, and I have an unfortunate propensity after a time of coming exactly round to where I began."
"Then, to tell the truth, uncle, you can come to no sort of conclusion."
"And what may that be?"
"Why, that you are right in one thing, Charles, which is, that having sent a challenge to this fellow of a vampyre, you must fight him."
"I suspect that that is a conclusion you had from the first, uncle?"
"Because it is an obvious and a natural one. All your doubts, and trouble, and perplexities, have been to try and find some excuse for not entertaining that opinion, and now that you really find it in vain to make it, I trust that you will accede as you first promised to do, and not seek by any means to thwart me."
"I will not thwart you, my boy, although in my opinion you ought not to fight with a vampyre."
"Never mind that. We cannot urge that as a valid excuse, so long as he chooses to deny being one. And after all, if he be really wrongfully suspected, you must admit that he is a very injured man."
"Injured!—nonsense. If he is not a vampyre, he's some other out-of-the-way sort of fish, you may depend. He's the oddest-looking fellow ever I came across in all my born days, ashore or afloat."
"Yes, he is: and yet, when I come to look at the thing again in my mind, some droll sights that I have seen come across my memory. The sea is the place for wonders and for mysteries. Why, we see more in a day and a night there, than you landsmen could contrive to make a whole twelvemonth's wonder of."
"But you never saw a vampyre, uncle?"
"Well, I don't know that. I didn't know anything about vampyres till I came here; but that was my ignorance, you know. There might have been lots of vampyres where I've been, for all I know."
"Oh, certainly; but as regards this duel, will you wait now until to-morrow morning, before you take any further steps in the matter?"
"Till to-morrow morning?"
"Why, only a little while ago, you were all eagerness to have something done off-hand."
"Just so; but now I have a particular reason for waiting until to-morrow morning."
"Have you? Well, as you please, boy—as you please. Have everything your own way."
"You are very kind, uncle; and now I have another favour to ask of you."
"What is it?"
"Why, you know that Henry Bannerworth receives but a very small sum out of the whole proceeds of the estate here, which ought, but for his father's extravagance, to be wholly at his disposal."
"So I have heard."
"I am certain he is at present distressed for money, and I have not much. Will you lend me fifty pounds, uncle, until my own affairs are sufficiently arranged to enable you to pay yourself again?"
"Will I! of course I will."
"I wish to offer that sum as an accommodation to Henry. From me, I dare say he will receive it freely, because he must be convinced how freely it is offered; and, besides, they look upon me now almost as a member of the family in consequence of my engagement with Flora."
"Certainly, and quite correct too: there's a fifty-pound note, my boy; take it, and do what you like with it, and when you want any more, come to me for it."
"I knew I could trespass thus far on your kindness, uncle."
"Trespass! It's no trespass at all."
"Well, we will not fall out about the terms in which I cannot help expressing my gratitude to you for many favours. To-morrow, you will arrange the duel for me."
"As you please. I don't altogether like going to that fellow's house again."
"Well, then, we can manage, I dare say, by note."
"Very good. Do so. He puts me in mind altogether of a circumstance that happened a good while ago, when I was at sea, and not so old a man as I am now."
"Puts you in mind of a circumstance, uncle?"
"Yes; he's something like a fellow that figured in an affair that I know a good deal about; only I do think as my chap was more mysterious by a d——d sight than this one."
"Oh, dear, yes. When anything happens in an odd way at sea, it is as odd again as anything that occurs on land, my boy, you may depend."
"Oh, you only fancy that, uncle, because you have spent so long a time at sea."
"No, I don't imagine it, you rascal. What can you have on shore equal to what we have at sea? Why, the sights that come before us would make you landsmen's hairs stand up on end, and never come down again."
"In the ocean, do you mean, that you see those sights, uncle?"
"To be sure. I was once in the southern ocean, in a small frigate, looking out for a seventy-four we were to join company with, when a man at the mast-head sung out that he saw her on the larboard bow. Well, we thought it was all right enough, and made away that quarter, when what do you think it turned out to be?"
"I really cannot say."
"The head of a fish."
"Yes! a d——d deal bigger than the hull of a vessel. He was swimming along with his head just what I dare say he considered a shaving or so out of the water."
"But where were the sails, uncle?"
"Yes; your man at the mast-head must have been a poor seaman not to have missed the sails."
"All, that's one of your shore-going ideas, now. You know nothing whatever about it. I'll tell you where the sails were, master Charley."
"Well, I should like to know."
"The spray, then, that he dashed up with a pair of fins that were close to his head, was in such a quantity, and so white, that they looked just like sails."
"Ah! you may say 'oh!' but we all saw him—the whole ship's crew; and we sailed alongside of him for some time, till he got tired of us, and suddenly dived down, making such a vortex in the water, that the ship shook again, and seemed for about a minute as if she was inclined to follow him to the bottom of the sea."
"And what do you suppose it was, uncle?"
"How should I know?"
"Did you ever see it again?"
"Never; though others have caught a glimpse of him now and then in the same ocean, but never came so near him as we did, that ever I heard of, at all events. They may have done so."
"It is singular!"
"Singular or not, it's a fool to what I can tell you. Why, I've seen things that, if I were to set about describing them to you, you would say I was making up a romance."
"Oh, no; it's quite impossible, uncle, any one could ever suspect you of such a thing."
"You'd believe me, would you?"
"Of course I would."
"Then here goes. I'll just tell you now of a circumstance that I haven't liked to mention to anybody yet."
"Indeed! why so?"
"Because I didn't want to be continually fighting people for not believing it; but here you have it:—"
We were outward bound; a good ship, a good captain, and good messmates, you know, go far towards making a prosperous voyage a pleasant and happy one, and on this occasion we had every reasonable prospect of all.
Our hands were all tried men—they had been sailors from infancy; none of your French craft, that serve an apprenticeship and then become land lubbers again. Oh, no, they were stanch and true, and loved the ocean as the sluggard loves his bed, or the lover his mistress.
Ay, and for the matter of that, the love was a more enduring and a more healthy love, for it increased with years, and made men love one another, and they would stand by each other while they had a limb to lift—while they were able to chew a quid or wink an eye, leave alone wag a pigtail.
We were outward bound for Ceylon, with cargo, and were to bring spices and other matters home from the Indian market. The ship was new and good—a pretty craft; she sat like a duck upon the water, and a stiff breeze carried her along the surface of the waves without your rocking, and pitching, and tossing, like an old wash-tub at a mill-tail, as I have had the misfortune to sail in more than once afore.
No, no, we were well laden, and well pleased, and weighed anchor with light hearts and a hearty cheer.
Away we went down the river, and soon rounded the North Foreland, and stood out in the Channel. The breeze was a steady and stiff one, and carried us through the water as though it had been made for us.
"Jack," said I to a messmate of mine, as he stood looking at the skies, then at the sails, and finally at the water, with a graver air than I thought was at all consistent with the occasion or circumstances.
"Well," he replied.
"What ails you? You seem as melancholy as if we were about to cast lots who should be eaten first. Are you well enough?"
"I am hearty enough, thank Heaven," he said, "but I don't like this breeze."
"Don't like the breeze!" said I; "why, mate, it is as good and kind a breeze as ever filled a sail. What would you have, a gale?"
"No, no; I fear that."
"With such a ship, and such a set of hearty able seamen, I think we could manage to weather out the stiffest gale that ever whistled through a yard."
"That may be; I hope it is, and I really believe and think so."
"Then what makes you so infernally mopish and melancholy?"
"I don't know, but can't help it. It seems to me as though there was something hanging over us, and I can't tell what."
"Yes, there are the colours, Jack, at the masthead; they are flying over us with a hearty breeze."
"Ah! ah!" said Jack, looking up at the colours, and then went away without saying anything more, for he had some piece of duty to perform.
I thought my messmate had something on his mind that caused him to feel sad and uncomfortable, and I took no more notice of it; indeed, in the course of a day or two he was as merry as any of the rest, and had no more melancholy that I could perceive, but was as comfortable as anybody.
We had a gale off the coast of Biscay, and rode it out without the loss of a spar or a yard; indeed, without the slightest accident or rent of any kind.
"Now, Jack, what do you think of our vessel?" said I.
"She's like a duck upon water, rises and falls with the waves, and doesn't tumble up and down like a hoop over stones."
"No, no; she goes smoothly and sweetly; she is a gallant craft, and this is her first voyage, and I predict a prosperous one."
"I hope so," he said.
Well, we went on prosperously enough for about three weeks; the ocean was as calm and as smooth as a meadow, the breeze light but good, and we stemmed along majestically over the deep blue waters, and passed coast after coast, though all around was nothing but the apparently pathless main in sight.
"A better sailer I never stepped into," said the captain one day; "it would be a pleasure to live and die in such a vessel."
Well, as I said, we had been three weeks or thereabouts, when one morning, after the sun was up and the decks washed, we saw a strange man sitting on one of the water-casks that were on deck, for, being full, we were compelled to stow some of them on deck.
You may guess those on deck did a little more than stare at this strange and unexpected apparition. By jingo, I never saw men open their eyes wider in all my life, nor was I any exception to the rule. I stared, as well I might; but we said nothing for some minutes, and the stranger looked calmly on us, and then cocked his eye with a nautical air up at the sky, as if he expected to receive a twopenny-post letter from St. Michael, or a billet doux from the Virgin Mary.
"Where has he come from?" said one of the men in a low tone to his companion, who was standing by him at that moment.
"How can I tell?" replied his companion. "He may have dropped from the clouds; he seems to be examining the road; perhaps he is going back."
The stranger sat all this time with the most extreme and provoking coolness and unconcern; he deigned us but a passing notice, but it was very slight.
He was a tall, spare man—what is termed long and lathy—but he was evidently a powerful man. He had a broad chest, and long, sinewy arms, a hooked nose, and a black, eagle eye. His hair was curly, but frosted by age; it seemed as though it had been tinged with white at the extremities, but he was hale and active otherwise, to judge from appearances.
Notwithstanding all this, there was a singular repulsiveness about him that I could not imagine the cause, or describe; at the same time there was an air of determination in his wild and singular-looking eyes, and over their whole there was decidedly an air and an appearance so sinister as to be positively disagreeable.
"Well," said I, after we had stood some minutes, "where did you come from, shipmate?"
He looked at me and then up at the sky, in a knowing manner.
"Come, come, that won't do; you have none of Peter Wilkins's wings, and couldn't come on the aerial dodge; it won't do; how did you get here?"
He gave me an awful wink, and made a sort of involuntary movement, which jumped him up a few inches, and he bumped down again on the water-cask.
"That's as much as to say," thought I, "that he's sat himself on it."
"I'll go and inform the captain," said I, "of this affair; he'll hardly believe me when I tell him, I am sure."
So saying, I left the deck and went to the cabin, where the captain was at breakfast, and related to him what I had seen respecting the stranger. The captain looked at me with an air of disbelief, and said,—
"What?—do you mean to say there's a man on board we haven't seen before?"
"Yes, I do, captain. I never saw him afore, and he's sitting beating his heels on the water-cask on deck."
"He is, I assure you, sir; and he won't answer any questions."
"I'll see to that. I'll see if I can't make the lubber say something, providing his tongue's not cut out. But how came he on board? Confound it, he can't be the devil, and dropped from the moon."
"Don't know, captain," said I. "He is evil-looking enough, to my mind, to be the father of evil, but it's ill bespeaking attentions from that quarter at any time."
"Go on, lad; I'll come up after you."
I left the cabin, and I heard the captain coming after me. When I got on deck, I saw he had not moved from the place where I left him. There was a general commotion among the crew when they beard of the occurrence, and all crowded round him, save the man at the wheel, who had to remain at his post.
The captain now came forward, and the men fell a little back as he approached. For a moment the captain stood silent, attentively examining the stranger, who was excessively cool, and stood the scrutiny with the same unconcern that he would had the captain been looking at his watch.
"Well, my man," said the captain, "how did you come here?"
"I'm part of the cargo," he said, with an indescribable leer.
"Part of the cargo be d——d!" said the captain, in sudden rage, for he thought the stranger was coming his jokes too strong. "I know you are not in the bills of lading."
"I'm contraband," replied the stranger; "and my uncle's the great chain of Tartary."
The captain stared, as well he might, and did not speak for some minutes; all the while the stranger kept kicking his heels against the water-casks and squinting up at the skies; it made us feel very queer.
"Well, I must confess you are not in the regular way of trading."
"Oh, no," said the stranger; "I am contraband—entirely contraband."
"And how did you come on board?"
At this question the stranger again looked curiously up at the skies, and continued to do so for more than a minute; he then turned his gaze upon the captain.
"No, no," said the captain; "eloquent dumb show won't do with me; you didn't come, like Mother Shipton, upon a birch broom. How did you come on board my vessel?"
"I walked on board," said the stranger.
"You walked on board; and where did you conceal yourself?"
"Very good; and why didn't you stay below altogether?"
"Because I wanted fresh air. I'm in a delicate state of health, you see; it doesn't do to stay in a confined place too long."
"Confound the binnacle!" said the captain; it was his usual oath when anything bothered him, and he could not make it out. "Confound the binnacle!—what a delicate-looking animal you are. I wish you had stayed where you were; your delicacy would have been all the same to me. Delicate, indeed!"
"Yes, very," said the stranger, coolly.
There was something so comic in the assertion of his delicateness of health, that we should all have laughed; but we were somewhat scared, and had not the inclination.
"How have you lived since you came on board?" inquired the captain.
"But how? What have you eaten? and what have you drank?"
"Nothing, I assure you. All I did while was below was—"
"Why, I sucked my thumbs like a polar bear in its winter quarters."
And as he spoke the stranger put his two thumbs into his mouth, and extraordinary thumbs they were, too, for each would have filled an ordinary man's mouth.
"These," said the stranger, pulling them out, and gazing at them wistfully, and with a deep sigh he continued,—
"These were thumbs at one time; but they are nothing now to what they were."
"Confound the binnacle!" muttered the captain to himself, and then he added, aloud,—
"It's cheap living, however; but where are you going to, and why did you come aboard?"
"I wanted a cheap cruise, and I am going there and back."
"Why, that's where we are going," said the captain.
"Then we are brothers," exclaimed the stranger, hopping off the water-cask like a kangaroo, and bounding towards the captain, holding out his hand as though he would have shaken hands with him.
"No, no," said the captain; "I can't do it."
"Can't do it!" exclaimed the stranger, angrily. "What do you mean?"
"That I can't have anything to do with contraband articles; I am a fair trader, and do all above board. I haven't a chaplain on board, or he should offer up prayers for your preservation, and the recovery of your health, which seems so delicate."
The stranger didn't finish the sentence; he merely screwed his mouth up into an incomprehensible shape, and puffed out a lot of breath, with some force, and which sounded very much like a whistle: but, oh, what thick breath he had, it was as much like smoke as anything I ever saw, and so my shipmate said.
"I say, captain," said the stranger, as he saw him pacing the deck.
"Just send me up some beef and biscuit, and some coffee royal—be sure it's royal, do you hear, because I'm partial to brandy, it's the only good thing there is on earth."
I shall not easily forget the captain's look as he turned towards the stranger, and gave his huge shoulders a shrug, as much as to say,—
"Well, I can't help it now; he's here, and I can't throw him overboard."
The coffee, beef, and biscuit were sent him, and the stranger seemed to eat them with great gout, and drank the coffee with much relish, and returned the things, saying,
"Your captain is an excellent cook; give him my compliments."
I thought the captain would think that was but a left-handed compliment, and look more angry than pleased, but no notice was taken of it.
It was strange, but this man had impressed upon all in the vessel some singular notion of his being more than he should be—more than a mere mortal, and not one endeavoured to interfere with him; the captain was a stout and dare-devil a fellow as you would well met with, yet he seemed tacitly to acknowledge more than he would say, for he never after took any further notice of the stranger nor he of him.
They had barely any conversation, simply a civil word when they first met, and so forth; but there was little or no conversation of any kind between them.
The stranger slept upon deck, and lived upon deck entirely; he never once went below after we saw him, and his own account of being below so long.
This was very well, but the night-watch did not enjoy his society, and would have willingly dispensed with it at that hour so particularly lonely and dejected upon the broad ocean, and perhaps a thousand miles away from the nearest point of land.
At this dread and lonely hour, when no sound reaches the ear and disturbs the wrapt stillness of the night, save the whistling of the wind through the cordage, or an occasional dash of water against the vessel's side, the thoughts of the sailor are fixed on far distant objects—his own native land and the friends and loved ones he has left behind him.
He then thinks of the wilderness before, behind, and around him; of the immense body of water, almost in places bottomless; gazing upon such a scene, and with thoughts as strange and indefinite as the very boundless expanse before him, it is no wonder if he should become superstitious; the time and place would, indeed unbidden, conjure up thoughts and feelings of a fearful character and intensity.
The stranger at such times would occupy his favourite seat on the water cask, and looking up at the sky and then on the ocean, and between whiles he would whistle a strange, wild, unknown melody.
The flesh of the sailors used to creep up in knots and bumps when they heard it; the wind used to whistle as an accompaniment and pronounce fearful sounds to their ears.
The wind had been highly favourable from the first, and since the stranger had been discovered it had blown fresh, and we went along at a rapid rate, stemming the water, and dashing the spray off from the bows, and cutting the water like a shark.
This was very singular to us, we couldn't understand it, neither could the captain, and we looked very suspiciously at the stranger, and wished him at the bottom, for the freshness of the wind now became a gale, and yet the ship came through the water steadily, and away we went before the wind, as if the devil drove us; and mind I don't mean to say he didn't.
The gale increased to a hurricane, and though we had not a stitch of canvass out, yet we drove before the gale as if we had been shot out of the mouth of a gun.
The stranger still sat on the water casks, and all night long he kept up his infernal whistle. Now, sailors don't like to hear any one whistle when there's such a gale blowing over their heads—it's like asking for more; but he would persist, and the louder and stronger the wind blew, the louder he whistled.
At length there came a storm of rain, lightning, and wind. We were tossed mountains high, and the foam rose over the vessel, and often entirely over our heads, and the men were lashed to their posts to prevent being washed away.
But the stranger still lay on the water casks, kicking his heels and whistling his infernal tune, always the same. He wasn't washed away nor moved by the action of the water; indeed, we heartily hoped and expected to see both him and the water cask floated overboard at every minute; but, as the captain said,—
"Confound the binnacle! the old water tub seems as if it were screwed on to the deck, and won't move off and he on the top of it."
There was a strong inclination to throw him overboard, and the men conversed in low whispers, and came round the captain, saying,—
"We have come, captain, to ask you what you think of this strange man who has come so mysteriously on board?"
"I can't tell what to think, lads; he's past thinking about—he's something above my comprehension altogether, I promise you."
"Well, then, we are thinking much of the same thing, captain."
"What do you mean?"
"That he ain't exactly one of our sort."
"No, he's no sailor, certainly; and yet, for a land lubber, he's about as rum a customer as ever I met with."
"So he is, sir."
"He stands salt water well; and I must say that I couldn't lay a top of those water casks in that style very well."
"Nor nobody amongst us, sir."
"Well, then, he's in nobody's way, it he?—nobody wants to take his berth, I suppose?"
The men looked at each other somewhat blank; they didn't understand the meaning at all—far from it; and the idea of any one's wanting to take the stranger's place on the water casks was so outrageously ludicrous, that at any other time they would have considered it a devilish good joke and have never ceased laughing at it.
He paused some minutes, and then one of them said,—
"It isn't that we envy him his berth, captain, 'cause nobody else could live there for a moment. Any one amongst us that had been there would have been washed overboard a thousand times over."
"So they would," said the captain.
"Well, sir, he's more than us."
"Very likely; but how can I help that?"
"We think he's the main cause of all this racket in the heavens—the storm and hurricane; and that, in short, if he remains much longer we shall all sink."
"I am sorry for it. I don't think we are in any danger, and had the strange being any power to prevent it, he would assuredly do so, lest he got drowned."
"But we think if he were thrown overboard all would be well."
"Yes, captain, you may depend upon it he's the cause of all the mischief. Throw him overboard and that's all we want."
"I shall not throw him overboard, even if I could do such a thing; and I am by no means sure of anything of the kind."
"We do not ask it, sir."
"What do you desire?"
"Leave to throw him overboard—it is to save our own lives."
"I can't let you do any such thing; he's in nobody's way."
"But he's always a whistling. Only hark now, and in such a hurricane as this, it is dreadful to think of it. What else can we do, sir?—he's not human."
At this moment, the stranger's whistling came clear upon their ears; there was the same wild, unearthly notes as before, but the cadences were stronger, and there was a supernatural clearness in all the tones.
"There now," said another, "he's kicking the water cask with his heels."
"Confound the binnacle!" said the captain; "it sounds like short peals of thunder. Go and talk to him, lads."
"And if that won't do, sir, may we—"
"Don't ask me any questions. I don't think a score of the best men that were ever born could move him."
"I don't mind trying," said one.
Upon this the whole of the men moved to the spot where the water casks were standing and the stranger lay.
There was he, whistling like fury, and, at the same time, beating his heels to the tune against the empty casks. We came up to him, and he took no notice of us at all, but kept on in the same way.
"Hilloa!" shouted one.
"Hilloa!" shouted another.
No notice, however, was taken of us, and one of our number, a big, herculean fellow, an Irishman, seized him by the leg, either to make him get up, or, as we thought, to give him a lift over our heads into the sea.
However, he had scarcely got his fingers round the calf of the leg, when the stranger pinched his leg so tight against the water cask, that he could not move, and was as effectually pinned as if he had been nailed there. The stranger, after he had finished a bar of the music, rose gradually to a sitting posture, and without the aid of his hands, and looking the unlucky fellow in the face, he said,—
"Well, what do you want?"
"My hand," said the fellow.
"Take it then," he said.
He did take it, and we saw that there was blood on it.
The stranger stretched out his left hand, and taking him by the breech, he lifted him, without any effort, upon the water-cask beside him.
We all stared at this, and couldn't help it; and we were quite convinced we could not throw him overboard, but he would probably have no difficulty in throwing us overboard.
"Well, what do you want?" he again exclaimed to us all.
We looked at one another, and had scarce courage to speak; at length I said,—
"We wish you to leave off whistling."
"Leave off whistling!" he said. "And why should I do anything of the kind?"
"Because it brings the wind."
"Ha! ha! why, that's the very reason I am whistling, to bring the wind."
"But we don't want so much."
"Pho! pho! you don't know what's good for you—it's a beautiful breeze, and not a bit too stiff."
"It's a hurricane."
"But it is."
"Now you see how I'll prove you are wrong in a minute. You see my hair, don't you?" he said, after he took off his cap. "Very well, look now."
He got up on the water-cask, and stood bolt upright; and running his fingers through his hair, made it all stand straight on end.
"Confound the binnacle!" said the captain, "if ever I saw the like."
"There," said the stranger, triumphantly, "don't tell me there's any wind to signify; don't you see, it doesn't even move one of my grey hairs; and if it blew as hard as you say, I am certain it would move a hair."
"Confound the binnacle!" muttered the captain as he walked away. "D—n the cabouse, if he ain't older than I am—he's too many for me and everybody else."
"Are you satisfied?"
What could we say?—we turned away and left the place, and stood at our quarters—there was no help for it—we were impelled to grin and abide by it.
As soon as we had left the place he put his cap on again and sat down on the water-casks, and then took leave of his prisoner, whom he set free, and there lay at full length on his back, with his legs hanging down. Once more he began to whistle most furiously, and beat time with his feet.
For full three weeks did he continue at this game night and day, without any interruption, save such as he required to consume enough coffee royal, junk, and biscuit, as would have served three hearty men.
Well, about that time, one night the whistling ceased and he began to sing—oh! it was singing—such a voice! Gog and Magog in Guildhall, London, when they spoke were nothing to him—it was awful; but the wind calmed down to a fresh and stiff breeze. He continued at this game for three whole days and nights, and on the fourth it ceased, and when we went to take his coffee royal to him he was gone.
We hunted about everywhere, but he was entirely gone, and in three weeks after we safely cast anchor, having performed our voyage in a good month under the usual time; and had it been an old vessel she would have leaked and stinted like a tub from the straining; however, we were glad enough to get in, and were curiously inquisitive as to what was put in our vessel to come back with, for as the captain said,—
"Confound the binnacle! I'll have no more contraband articles if I can help it."
THE MEETING BY MOONLIGHT IN THE PARK.—THE TURRET WINDOW IN THE HALL.—THE LETTERS.
The old admiral showed such a strong disposition to take offence at Charles if he should presume, for a moment, to doubt the truth of the narrative that was thus communicated to him, that the latter would not anger him by so doing, but confined his observations upon it to saying that he considered it was very wonderful, and very extraordinary, and so on, which very well satisfied the old man.
The day was now, however, getting far advanced, and Charles Holland began to think of his engagement with the vampyre. He read and read the letter over and over again, but he could not come to a correct conclusion as to whether it intended to imply that he, Sir Francis Varney, would wish to fight him at the hour and place mentioned, or merely give him a meeting as a preliminary step.
He was rather, on the whole, inclined to think that some explanation would be offered by Varney, but at all events he persevered in his determination of going well armed, lest anything in the shape of treachery should be intended.
As nothing of any importance occurred now in the interval of time till nearly midnight, we will at once step to that time, and our readers will suppose it to be a quarter to twelve o'clock at night, and young Charles Holland on the point of leaving the house, to keep his appointment by the pollard oak, with the mysterious Sir Francis Varney.
He placed his loaded pistols conveniently in his pocket, so that at a moment's notice he could lay hands on them, and then wrapping himself up in a travelling cloak he had brought with him to Bannerworth Hall, he prepared to leave his chamber.
The moon still shone, although now somewhat on the wane, and although there were certainly many clouds in the sky they were but of a light fleecy character, and very little interrupted the rays of light that came from the nearly full disc of the moon.
From his window he could not perceive the spot in the park where he was to meet Varney, because the room in which he was occupied not a sufficiently high place in the house to enable him to look over a belt of trees that stopped the view. From almost any of the upper windows the pollard oak could be seen.
It so happened now that the admiral had been placed in a room immediately above the one occupied by his nephew, and, as his mind was full of how he should manage with regard to arranging the preliminaries of the duel between Charles and Varney on the morrow, he found it difficult to sleep; and after remaining in bed about twenty minutes, and finding that each moment he was only getting more and more restless, he adopted a course which he always did under such circumstances.
He rose and dressed himself again, intending to sit up for an hour and then turn into bed and try a second time to get to sleep. But he had no means of getting a light, so he drew the heavy curtain from before the window, and let in as much of the moonlight as he could.
This window commanded a most beautiful and extensive view, for from it the eye could carry completely over the tops of the tallest trees, so that there was no interruption whatever to the prospect, which was as extensive as it was delightful.
Even the admiral, who never would confess to seeing much beauty in scenery where water formed not a large portion of it, could not resist opening his window and looking out, with a considerable degree of admiration, upon wood and dale, as they were illuminated by the moon's rays, softened, and rendered, if anything, more beautiful by the light vapours, through which they had to struggle to make their way.
Charles Holland, in order to avoid the likelihood of meeting with any one who would question him as to where he was going, determined upon leaving his room by the balcony, which, as we are aware, presented ample facilities for his so doing.
He cast a glance at the portrait in the panel before he left the apartment, and then saying,—
"For you, dear Flora, for you I essay this meeting with the fearful original of that portrait," he immediately opened his window, and stepped out on to the balcony.
Young and active as was Charles Holland, to descend from that balcony presented to him no difficulty whatever, and he was, in a very few moments, safe in the garden of Bannerworth Hall.
He never thought, for a moment, to look up, or he would, in an instant, have seen the white head of his old uncle, as it was projected over the sill of the window of his chamber.
The drop of Charles from the balcony of his window, just made sufficient noise to attract the admiral's attention, and, then, before he could think of making any alarm, he saw Charles walking hastily across a grass plot, which was sufficiently in the light of the moon to enable the admiral at once to recognise him, and leave no sort of doubt as to his positive identity.
Of course, upon discovering that it was Charles, the necessity for making an alarm no longer existed, and, indeed, not knowing what it was that had induced him to leave his chamber, a moment's reflection suggested to him the propriety of not even calling to Charles, lest he should defeat some discovery which he might be about to make.
"He has heard something, or seen something," thought the admiral, "and is gone to find out what it is. I only wish I was with him; but up here I can do nothing at all, that's quite clear."
Charles, he saw, walked very rapidly, and like a man who has some fixed destination which he wishes to reach as quickly as possible.
When he dived among the trees which skirted one side of the flower gardens, the admiral was more puzzled than ever, and he said—
"Now where on earth is he off to? He is fully dressed, and has his cloak about him."
After a few moments' reflection he decided that, having seen something suspicious, Charles must have got up, and dressed himself, to fathom it.
The moment this idea became fairly impressed upon his mind, he left his bedroom, and descended to where one of the brothers he knew was sitting up, keeping watch during the night. It was Henry who was so on guard; and when the admiral came into the room, he uttered an expression of surprise to find him up, for it was now some time past twelve o'clock.
"I have come to tell you that Charles has left the house," said the admiral.
"Left the house?"
"Yes; I saw him just now go across the garden."
"And you are sure it was he?"
"Quite sure. I saw him by the moonlight cross the green plot."
"Then you may depend he has seen or heard something, and gone alone to find out what it is rather than give any alarm."
"That is just what I think."
"It must be so. I will follow him, if you can show me exactly which way he went."
"That I can easily. And in case I should have made any mistake, which it is not at all likely, we can go to his room first and see if it is empty."
"A good thought, certainly; that will at once put an end to all doubt upon the question."
They both immediately proceeded to Charles's room, and then the admiral's accuracy of identification of his nephew was immediately proved by finding that Charles was not there, and that the window was wide open.
"You see I am right," said the admiral.
"You are," cried Henry; "but what have we here?"
"Here on the dressing-table. Here are no less than three letters, all laid as it on purpose to catch the eye of the first one who might enter the room."
"You perceive them?"
Henry held them to the light, and after a moment's inspection of them, he said, in a voice of much surprise,—
"Good God! what is the meaning of this?"
"The meaning of what?"
"The letters are addressed to parties in the house here. Do you not see?"
"One to Admiral Bell—"
"Another to me, and the third to my sister Flora. There is some new mystery here."
The admiral looked at the superscription of one of the letters which was handed to him in silent amazement. Then he cried,—
"Set down the light, and let us read them."
Henry did so, and then they simultaneously opened the epistles which were severally addressed to them. There was a silence, as of the very grave, for some moments, and then the old admiral staggered to a seat, as he exclaimed,—
"Am I dreaming—am I dreaming?"
"Is this possible?" said Henry, in a voice of deep emotion, as he allowed the note addressed to him to drop on to the floor.
"D—n it, what does yours say?" cried the old admiral, in a louder tone.
"Read it—what says yours?"
"Read it—I'm amazed."
The letters were exchanged, and read by each with the same breathless attention they had bestowed upon their own; after which, they both looked at each other in silence, pictures of amazement, and the most absolute state of bewilderment.
Not to keep our readers in suspense, we at once transcribe each of these letters.
The one to the admiral contained these words,—
"MY DEAR UNCLE,
"Of course you will perceive the prudence of keeping this letter to yourself, but the fact is, I have now made up my mind to leave Bannerworth Hall.
"Flora Bannerworth is not now the person she was when first I knew her and loved her. Such being the case, and she having altered, not I, she cannot accuse me of fickleness.
"I still love the Flora Bannerworth I first knew, but I cannot make my wife one who is subject to the visitations of a vampyre.
"I have remained here long enough now to satisfy myself that this vampyre business is no delusion. I am quite convinced that it is a positive fact, and that, after death, Flora will herself become one of the horrible existences known by that name.
"I will communicate to you from the first large city on the continent whither I am going, at which I make any stay, and in the meantime, make what excuses you like at Bannerworth Hall, which I advise you to leave as quickly as you can, and believe me to be, my dear uncle, yours truly,
Henry's letter was this:—
"MY DEAR SIR,
"If you calmly and dispassionately consider the painful and distressing circumstances in which your family are placed, I am sure that, far from blaming me for the step which this note will announce to you I have taken, you will be the first to give me credit for acting with an amount of prudence and foresight which was highly necessary under the circumstances.
"If the supposed visits of a vampyre to your sister Flora had turned out, as first I hoped they would, a delusion and been in any satisfactory manner explained away I should certainly have felt pride and pleasure in fulfilling my engagement to that young lady.
"You must, however, yourself feel that the amount of evidence in favour of a belief that an actual vampyre has visited Flora, enforces a conviction of its truth.
"I cannot, therefore, make her my wife under such very singular circumstances.
"Perhaps you may blame me for not taking at once advantage of the permission given me to forego my engagement when first I came to your house; but the fact is, I did not then in the least believe in the existence of the vampyre, but since a positive conviction of that most painful fact has now forced itself upon me, I beg to decline the honour of an alliance which I had at one time looked forward to with the most considerable satisfaction.
"I shall be on the continent as fast as conveyances can take me, therefore, should you entertain any romantic notions of calling me to an account for a course of proceeding I think perfectly and fully justifiable, you will not find me.
"Accept the assurances of my respect for yourself and pity for your sister, and believe me to be, my dear sir, your sincere friend,
These two letters might well make the admiral stare at Henry Bannerworth, and Henry stare at him.
An occurrence so utterly and entirely unexpected by both of them, was enough to make them doubt the evidence of their own senses. But there were the letters, as a damning evidence of the outrageous fact, and Charles Holland was gone.
It was the admiral who first recovered from the stunning effect of the epistles, and he, with a gesture of perfect fury, exclaimed,—
"The scoundrel—the cold-blooded villain! I renounce him for ever! he is no nephew of mine; he is some d——d imposter! Nobody with a dash of my family blood in his veins would have acted so to save himself from a thousand deaths."
"Who shall we trust now," said Henry, "when those whom we take to our inmost hearts deceive us thus? This is the greatest shock I have yet received. If there be a pang greater than another, surely it is to be found in the faithlessness and heartlessness of one we loved and trusted."
"He is a scoundrel!" roared the admiral. "D—n him, he'll die on a dunghill, and that's too good a place for him. I cast him off—I'll find him out, and old as I am, I'll fight him—I'll wring his neck, the rascal; and, as for poor dear Miss Flora, God bless her! I'll—I'll marry her myself, and make her an admiral.—I'll marry her myself. Oh, that I should be uncle to such a rascal!"
"Calm yourself," said Henry, "no one can blame you."
"Yes, you can; I had no right to be his uncle, and I was an old fool to love him."
The old man sat down, and his voice became broken with emotion as he said,—
"Sir, I tell you I would have died willingly rather than this should have happened. This will kill me now,—I shall die now of shame and grief."
Tears gushed from the admiral's eyes and the sight of the noble old man's emotion did much to calm the anger of Henry which, although he said but little, was boiling at his heart like a volcano.
"Admiral Bell," he said, "you have nothing to do with this business; we can not blame you for the heartlessness of another. I have but one favour to ask of you."
"What—what can I do?"
"Say no more about him at all."
"I can't help saying something about him. You ought to turn me out of the house."
"Heaven forbid! What for?"
"Because I'm his uncle—his d——d old fool of an uncle, that always thought so much of him."
"Nay, my good sir, that was a fault on the right side, and cannot discredit you. I thought him the most perfect of human beings."
"Oh, if I could but have guessed this."
"It was impossible. Such duplicity never was equalled in this world—it was impossible to foresee it."
"Hold—hold! did he give you fifty pounds?"
"Did he give you fifty pounds?"
"Give me fifty pounds! Most decidedly not; what made you think of such a thing?"
"Because to-day he borrowed fifty pounds of me, he said, to lend to you."
"I never heard of the transaction until this moment."
"No, doubt, sir, he wanted that amount to expedite his progress abroad."
"Well, now, damme, if an angel had come to me and said 'Hilloa! Admiral Bell, your nephew, Charles Holland, is a thundering rogue,' I should have said 'You're a liar!'"
"This is fighting against facts, my dear sir. He is gone—mention him no more; forget him, as I shall endeavour myself to do, and persuade my poor sister to do."
"Poor girl! what can we say to her?"
"Nothing, but give her all the letters, and let her be at once satisfied of the worthlessness of him she loved."
"The best way. Her woman's pride will then come to her help."
"I hope it will. She is of an honourable race, and I am sure she will not condescend to shed a tear for such a man as Charles Holland has proved himself to be."
"D—n him, I'll find him out, and make him fight you. He shall give you satisfaction."
"No? But he shall."
"I cannot fight with him."
"Certainly not. He is too far beneath me now. I cannot fight on honourable terms with one whom I despise as too dishonourable to contend with. I have nothing now but silence and contempt."
"I have though, for I'll break his neck when I see him, or he shall break mine. The villain! I'm ashamed to stay here, my young friend."
"How mistaken a view you take of this matter, my dear sir. As Admiral Bell, a gentleman, a brave officer, and a man of the purest and most unblemished honour, you confer a distinction upon us by your presence here."
The admiral wrung Henry by the hand, as he said,—
"To-morrow—wait till to-morrow; we will talk over this matter to morrow—I cannot to-night, I have not patience; but to-morrow, my dear boy, we will have it all out. God bless you. Good night."
THE NOBLE CONFIDENCE OF FLORA BANNERWORTH IN HER LOVER.—HER OPINION OF THE THREE LETTERS.—THE ADMIRAL'S ADMIRATION.
To describe the feelings of Henry Bannerworth on the occasion of this apparent defalcation from the path of rectitude and honour by his friend, as he had fondly imagined Charles Holland to be, would be next to impossible.
If, as we have taken occasion to say, it be a positive fact, that a noble and a generous mind feels more acutely any heartlessness of this description from one on whom it has placed implicit confidence, than the most deliberate and wicked of injuries from absolute strangers, we can easily conceive that Henry Bannerworth was precisely the person to feel most acutely the conduct which all circumstances appeared to fix upon Charles Holland, upon whose faith, truth, and honour, he would have staked his very existence but a few short hours before.
With such a bewildered sensation that he scarcely knew where he walked or whither to betake himself, did he repair to his own chamber, and there he strove, with what energy he was able to bring to the task, to find out some excuses, if he could, for Charles's conduct. But he could find none. View it in what light he would, it presented but a picture of the most heartless selfishness it had ever been his lot to encounter.
The tone of the letters, too, which Charles had written, materially aggravated the moral delinquency of which he had been guilty; belief, far better, had he not attempted an excuse at all than have attempted such excuses as were there put down in those epistles.
A more cold blooded, dishonourable proceeding could not possibly be conceived.
It would appear, that while he entertained a doubt with regard to the reality of the visitation of the vampyre to Flora Bannerworth, he had been willing to take to himself abundance of credit for the most honourable feelings, and to induce a belief in the minds of all that an exalted feeling of honour, as well as a true affection that would know no change, kept him at the feet of her whom he loved.
Like some braggart, who, when there is no danger, is a very hero, but who, the moment he feels convinced he will be actually and truly called upon for an exhibition of his much-vaunted prowess, had Charles Holland deserted the beautiful girl who, if anything, had now certainly, in her misfortunes, a far higher claim upon his kindly feeling than before.
Henry could not sleep, although, at the request of George, who offered to keep watch for him the remainder of the night he attempted to do so.
He in vain said to himself, "I will banish from my mind this most unworthy subject. I have told Admiral Bell that contempt is the only feeling I can now have for his nephew, and yet I now find myself dwelling upon him, and upon his conduct, with a perseverance which is a foe to my repose."
At length came the welcome and beautiful light of day, and Henry rose fevered and unrefreshed.
His first impulse now was to hold a consultation with his brother George, as to what was to be done, and George advised that Mr. Marchdale, who as yet knew nothing of the matter, should be immediately informed of it, and consulted, as being probably better qualified than either of them to come to a just, a cool, and a reasonable opinion upon the painful circumstance, which it could not be expected that either of them would be able to view calmly.
"Let it be so, then," said Henry; "Mr. Marchdale shall decide for us."
They at once sought this friend of the family, who was in his own bed-room, and when Henry knocked at the door, Marchdale opened it hurriedly, eagerly inquiring what was the matter.
"There is no alarm," said Henry. "We have only come to tell you of a circumstance which has occurred during the night, and which will somewhat surprise you."
"Nothing calamitous, I hope?"
"Vexatious; and yet, I think it is a matter upon which we ought almost to congratulate ourselves. Read those two letters, and give us your candid opinion upon them."
Henry placed in Mr. Marchdale's hands the letter addressed to himself, as well as that to the admiral.
Marchdale read them both with marked attention, but he did not exhibit in his countenance so much surprise as regret.
When he had finished, Henry said to him,—
"Well, Marchdale, what think you of this new and extraordinary episode in our affairs?"
"My dear young friends," said Marchdale, in a voice of great emotion, "I know not what to say to you. I have no doubt but that you are both of you much astonished at the receipt of these letters, and equally so at the sudden absence of Charles Holland."
"And are not you?"
"Not so much as you, doubtless, are. The fact is, I never did entertain a favourable opinion of the young man, and he knew it. I have been accustomed to the study of human nature under a variety of aspects; I have made it a matter of deep, and I may add, sorrowful, contemplation, to study and remark those minor shades of character which commonly escape observation wholly. And, I repeat, I always had a bad opinion of Charles Holland, which he guessed, and hence he conceived a hatred to me, which more than once, as you cannot but remember, showed itself in little acts of opposition and hostility."
"You much surprise me."
"I expected to do so. But you cannot help remembering that at one time I was on the point of leaving here solely on his account."
"You were so."
"Indeed I should have done so, but that I reasoned with myself upon the subject, and subdued the impulse of the anger which some years ago, when I had not seen so much of the world, would have guided me."
"But why did you not impart to us your suspicions? We should at least, then, have been prepared for such a contingency as has occurred."
"Place yourself in my position, and then yourself what you would have done. Suspicion is one of those hideous things which all men should be most specially careful not only how they entertain at all, but how they give expression to. Besides, whatever may be the amount of one's own internal conviction with regard to the character of any one, there is just a possibility that one may be wrong."
"That possibility ought to keep any one silent who has nothing but suspicion to go upon, however cautious it may make him, as regards his dealings with the individual. I only suspected from little minute shades of character, that would peep out in spite of him, that Charles Holland was not the honourable man he would fain have had everybody believe him to be."
"And had you from the first such a feeling?"
"It is very strange."
"Yes; and what is more strange still, is that he from the first seemed to know it; and despite a caution which I could see he always kept uppermost in his thoughts, he could not help speaking tartly to me at times."
"I have noticed that," said George.
"You may depend it is a fact," added Marchdale, "that nothing so much excites the deadly and desperate hatred of a man who is acting a hypocritical part, as the suspicion, well grounded or not, that another sees and understands the secret impulses of his dishonourable heart."
"I cannot blame you, or any one else, Mr. Marchdale," said Henry, "that you did not give utterance to your secret thoughts, but I do wish that you had done so."
"Nay, dear Henry," replied Mr. Marchdale, "believe me, I have made this matter a subject of deep thought, and have abundance of reasons why I ought not to have spoken to you upon the subject."
"Indeed I have, and not among the least important is the one, that if I had acquainted you with my suspicions, you would have found yourself in the painful position of acting a hypocritical part yourself towards this Charles Holland, for you must either have kept the secret that he was suspected, or you must have shewn it to him by your behaviour."
"Well, well. I dare say, Marchdale, you acted for the best. What shall we do now?"
"Can you doubt?"
"I was thinking of letting Flora at once know the absolute and complete worthlessness of her lover, so that she could have no difficulty in at once tearing herself from him by the assistance of the natural pride which would surely come to her aid, upon finding herself so much deceived."
"The test may be possible."
"You think so?"
"I do, indeed."
"Here is a letter, which of course remains unopened, addressed to Flora by Charles Holland. The admiral rather thought it would hurt her feelings to deliver her such an epistle, but I must confess I am of a contrary opinion upon that point, and think now the more evidence she has of the utter worthlessness of him who professed to love her with so much disinterested affection, the better it will be for her."
"You could not, possibly, Henry, have taken a more sensible view of the subject."
"I am glad you agree with me."
"No reasonable man could do otherwise, and from what I have seen of Admiral Bell, I am sure, upon reflection, he will be of the same opinion."
"Then it shall be so. The first shock to poor Flora may be severe, but we shall then have the consolation of knowing that it is the only one, and that in knowing the very worst, she has no more on that score to apprehend. Alas, alas! the hand of misfortune now appears to have pressed heavily upon us indeed. What in the name of all that is unlucky and disastrous, will happen next, I wonder?"
"What can happen?" said Marchdale; "I think you have now got rid of the greatest evil of all—a false friend."
"We have, indeed."
"Go, then, to Flora; assure her that in the affection of others who know no falsehood, she will find a solace from every ill. Assure her that there are hearts that will place themselves between her and every misfortune."
Mr. Marchdale was much affected as he spoke. Probably he felt deeper than he chose to express the misfortunes of that family for whom he entertained so much friendship. He turned aside his head to hide the traces of emotion which, despite even his great powers of self-command, would shew themselves upon his handsome and intelligent countenance. Then it appeared as if his noble indignation had got, for a few brief moments, the better of all prudence, and he exclaimed,—
"The villain! the worse than villain! who would, with a thousand artifices, make himself beloved by a young, unsuspecting, and beautiful girl, but then to leave her to the bitterness of regret, that she had ever given such a man a place in her esteem. The heartless ruffian!"
"Be calm, Mr. Marchdale, I pray you be calm," said George; "I never saw you so much moved."
"Excuse me," he said, "excuse me; I am much moved, and I am human. I cannot always, let me strive my utmost, place a curb upon my feelings."
"They are feelings which do you honour."
"Nay, nay, I am foolish to have suffered myself to be led away into such a hasty expression of them. I am accustomed to feel acutely and to feel deeply, but it is seldom I am so much overcome as this."
"Will you accompany us to the breakfast room at once, Mr. Marchdale, where we will make this communication to Flora; you will then be able to judge by her manner of receiving it, what it will be best to say to her."
"Come, then, and pray be calm. The least that is said upon this painful and harassing subject, after this morning, will be the best."
"You are right—you are right."
Mr. Marchdale hastily put on his coat. He was dressed, with the exception of that one article of apparel, when the brothers came to his chamber, and then he came to the breakfast-parlour where the painful communication was to be made to Flora of her lover's faithlessness.
Flora was already seated in that apartment. Indeed, she had been accustomed to meet Charles Holland there before others of the family made their appearance, but, alas! this morning the kind and tender lover was not there.
The expression that sat upon the countenances of her brothers, and of Mr. Marchdale, was quite sufficient to convince her that something more serious than usual had occurred, and she at the moment turned very pale. Marchdale observed this change of change of countenance in her, and he advanced towards her, saying,—
"Calm yourself, Flora, we have something to communicate to you, but it is a something which should excite indignation, and no other feeling, in your breast."
"Brother, what is the meaning of this?" said Flora, turning aside from Marchdale, and withdrawing the hand which he would have taken.
"I would rather have Admiral Bell here before I say anything," said Henry, "regarding a matter in which he cannot but feel much interested personally."
"Here he is," said the admiral, who at that moment had opened the door of the breakfast room. "Here he is, so now fire away, and don't spare the enemy."
"And Charles?" said Flora, "where is Charles?"
"D—n Charles!" cried the admiral, who had not been much accustomed to control his feelings.
"Hush! hush!" said Henry; "my dear sir, bush! do not indulge now in any invectives. Flora, here are three letters; you will see that the one which is unopened is addressed to yourself. However, we wish you to read the whole three of them, and then to form your own free and unbiased opinion."
Flora looked as pale as a marble statue, when she took the letters into her hands. She let the two that were open fall on the table before her, while she eagerly broke the seal of that which was addressed to herself.
Henry, with an instinctive delicacy, beckoned every one present to the window, so that Flora had not the pain of feeling that any eyes were fixed upon her but those of her mother, who had just come into the room, while she was perusing those documents which told such a tale of heartless dissimulation.
"My dear child," said Mrs. Bannerworth, "you are ill."
"Hush! mother—hush!" said Flora, "let me know all."
She read the whole of the letters through, and then, as the last one dropped from her grasp, she exclaimed,—
"Oh, God! oh, God! what is all that has occurred compared to this? Charles—Charles—Charles!"
"Flora!" exclaimed Henry, suddenly turning from the window. "Flora, is this worthy of you?"
"Heaven now support me!"
"Is this worthy of the name you bear Flora? I should have thought, and I did hope, that woman's pride would have supported you."
"Let me implore you," added Marchdale, "to summon indignation to your aid, Miss Bannerworth."
"Charles—Charles—Charles!" she again exclaimed, as she wrung her hands despairingly.
"Flora, if anything could add a sting to my already irritated feelings," said Henry, "this conduct of yours would."
"Henry—brother, what mean you? Are you mad?"
"Are you, Flora?"
"God, I wish now that I was."
"You have read those letters, and yet you call upon the name of him who wrote them with frantic tenderness."
"Yes, yes," she cried; "frantic tenderness is the word. It is with frantic tenderness I call upon his name, and ever will.—Charles! Charles!—dear Charles!"
"This surpasses all belief," said Marchdale.
"It is the frenzy of grief," added George; "but I did not expect it of her. Flora—Flora, think again."
"Think—think—the rush of thought distracts. Whence came these letters?—where did you find these most disgraceful forgeries?"
"Forgeries!" exclaimed Henry; and he staggered back, as if some one bad struck him a blow.
"Yes, forgeries!" screamed Flora. "What has become of Charles Holland? Has he been murdered by some secret enemy, and then these most vile fabrications made up in his name? Oh, Charles, Charles, are you lost to me for ever?"
"Good God!" said Henry; "I did not think of that"
"Madness!—madness!" cried Marchdale.
"Hold!" shouted the admiral. "Let me speak to her."
He pushed every one aside, and advanced to Flora. He seized both her hands in his own, and in a tone of voice that was struggling with feeling, he cried,—
"Look at me, my dear; I'm an old man old enough to be your grandfather, so you needn't mind looking me steadily in the face. Look at me, I want to ask you a question."
Flora raised her beautiful eyes, and looked the old weather-beaten admiral full in the face.
Oh! what a striking contrast did those two persons present to each other. That young and beautiful girl, with her small, delicate, childlike hands clasped, and completely hidden in the huge ones of the old sailor, the white, smooth skin contrasting wonderfully with his wrinkled, hardened features.
"My dear," he cried, "you have read those—those d——d letters, my dear?"
"I have, sir."
"And what do you think of them?"
"They were not written by Charles Holland, your nephew."
A choking sensation seemed to come over the old man, and he tried to speak, but in vain. He shook the hands of the young girl violently, until he saw that he was hurting her, and then, before she could be aware of what he was about, he gave her a kiss on the cheek, as he cried,—
"God bless you—God bless you! You are the sweetest, dearest little creature that ever was, or that ever will be, and I'm a d——d old fool, that's what I am. These letters were not written by my nephew, Charles. He is incapable of writing them, and, d—n me, I shall take shame to myself as long as I live for ever thinking so."
"Dear sir," said Flora, who somehow or another did not seem at all offended at the kiss which the old man had given her; "dear sir, how could you believe, for one moment, that they came from him? There has been some desperate villany on foot. Where is he?—oh, find him, if he be yet alive. If they who have thus striven to steal from him that honour, which is the jewel of his heart, have murdered him, seek them out, sir, in the sacred name of justice, I implore you."
"I will—I will. I don't renounce him; he is my nephew still—Charles Holland—my own dear sister's son; and you are the best girl, God bless you, that ever breathed. He loved you—he loves you still; and if he's above ground, poor fellow, he shall yet tell you himself he never saw those infamous letters."
"You—you will seek for him?" sobbed Flora, and the tears gushed from her eyes. "Upon you, sir, who, as I do, feel assured of his innocence, I alone rely. If all the world say he is guilty, we will not think so."
"I'm d——d if we do."
Henry had sat down by the table, and, with his hands clasped together, seemed in an agony of thought.
He was now roused by a thump on the back by the admiral, who cried,—
"What do you think, now, old fellow? D—n it, things look a little different now."
"As God is my judge," said Henry, holding up his hands, "I know not what to think, but my heart and feelings all go with you and with Flora, in your opinion of the innocence of Charles Holland."
"I knew you would say that, because you could not possibly help it, my dear boy. Now we are all right again, and all we have got to do is to find out which way the enemy has gone, and then give chase to him."
"Mr. Marchdale, what do you think of this new suggestion," said George to that gentleman.
"Pray, excuse me," was his reply; "I would much rather not be called upon to give an opinion."
"Why, what do you mean by that?" said the admiral.
"Precisely what I say, sir."
"D—n me, we had a fellow once in the combined fleets, who never had an opinion till after something had happened, and then he always said that was just what he thought."
"I was never in the combined, or any other fleet, sir," said Marchdale, coldly.
"Who the devil said you were?" roared the admiral.
Marchdale merely hawed.
"However," added the admiral, "I don't care, and never did, for anybody's opinion, when I know I am right. I'd back this dear girl here for opinions, and good feelings, and courage to express them, against all the world, I would, any day. If I was not the old hulk I am, I would take a cruise in any latitude under the sun, if it was only for the chance of meeting with just such another."
"Oh, lose no time!" said Flora. "If Charles is not to be found in the house, lose no time in searching for him, I pray you; seek him, wherever there is the remotest probability he may chance to be. Do not let him think he is deserted."
"Not a bit of it," cried the admiral. "You make your mind easy, my dear. If he's above ground, we shall find him out, you may depend upon it. Come along master Henry, you and I will consider what had best be done in this uncommonly ugly matter."
Henry and George followed the admiral from the breakfast-room, leaving Marchdale there, who looked serious and full of melancholy thought.
It was quite clear that he considered Flora had spoken from the generous warmth of her affection as regarded Charles Holland, and not from the convictions which reason would have enforced her to feel.
When he was now alone with her and Mrs. Bannerworth, he spoke in a feeling and affectionate tone regarding the painful and inexplicable events which had transpired.
MR. MARCHDALE'S EXCULPATION OF HIMSELF.—THE SEARCH THROUGH THE GARDENS.—THE SPOT OF THE DEADLY STRUGGLE.—THE MYSTERIOUS PAPER.
It was, perhaps, very natural that, with her feelings towards Charles Holland, Flora should shrink from every one who seemed to be of a directly contrary impression, and when Mr. Marchdale now spoke, she showed but little inclination to hear what he had to say in explanation.
The genuine and unaffected manner, however, in which he spoke, could not but have its effect upon her, and she found herself compelled to listen, as well as, to a great extent, approve of the sentiments that fell from his lips.
"Flora," he said, "I beg that you will here, in the presence of your mother, give me a patient hearing. You fancy that, because I cannot join so glibly as the admiral in believing that these letters are forgeries, I must be your enemy."
"Those letters," said Flora, "were not written by Charles Holland."
"That is your opinion."
"It is more than an opinion. He could not write them."
"Well, then, of course, if I felt inclined, which Heaven alone knows I do not, I could not hope successfully to argue against such a conviction. But I do not wish to do so. All I want to impress upon you is, that I am not to be blamed for doubting his innocence; and, at the same time, I wish to assure you that no one in this house would feel more exquisite satisfaction than I in seeing it established."
"I thank you for so much," said Flora; "but as, to my mind, his innocence has never been doubted, it needs to me no establishing."
"Very good. You believe these letters forgeries?"
"And that the disappearance of Charles Holland is enforced, and not of his own free will?"
"Then you may rely upon my unremitting exertions night and day to find him and any suggestion you can make, which is likely to aid in the search, shall, I pledge myself, be fully carried out."
"I thank you, Mr. Marchdale."
"My dear," said the mother, "rely on Mr. Marchdale."
"I will rely on any one who believe Charles Holland innocent of writing those odious letters, mother—I rely upon the admiral. He will aid me heart and hand."
"And so will Mr. Marchdale."
"I am glad to hear it."
"And yet doubt it, Flora," said Marchdale, dejectedly. "I am very sorry that such should be the case; I will not, however, trouble you any further, nor, give me leave to assure you, will I relax in my honest endeavours to clear up this mystery."
So saying, Mr. Marchdale bowed, and left the room, apparently more vexed than he cared to express at the misconstruction which had been put upon his conduct and motives. He at once sought Henry and the admiral, to whom he expressed his most earnest desire to aid in attempting to unravel the mysterious circumstances which had occurred.
"This strongly-expressed opinion of Flora," he remarked, "is of course amply sufficient to induce us to pause before we say one word more that shall in any way sound like a condemnation of Mr. Holland. Heaven forbid that I should."
"No," said the admiral; "don't."
"I do not intend."
"I would not advise anybody."
"Sir, if you use that as a threat—"
"Yes; I must say, it sounded marvellously like one."
"Oh, dear, no—quite a mistake. I consider that every man has a fair right to the enjoyment of his opinion. All I have to remark is, that I shall, after what has occurred, feel myself called upon to fight anybody who says those letters were written by my nephew."
"You will permit me to say such is a strange mode of allowing every one the free enjoyment of his opinion."
"Not at all."
"Whatever pains and penalties may be the result, Admiral Bell, of differing with so infallible authority as yourself, I shall do so whenever my judgment induces me."
"Indeed I will."
"Very good. You know the consequences."
"As to fighting you, I should refuse to do so."
"Yes; most certainly."
"Upon what ground?"
"Upon the ground that you were a madman."
"Come," now interposed Henry, "let me hope that, for my sake as well as for Flora's, this dispute will proceed no further."
"I have not courted it," said Marchdale. "I have much temper, but I am not a stick or a stone."
"D——e, if I don't think," said the admiral, "you are a bit of both."
"Mr. Henry Bannerworth," said Marchdale, "I am your guest, and but for the duty I feel in assisting in the search for Mr. Charles Holland, I should at once leave your house."
"You need not trouble yourself on my account," said the admiral; "if I find no clue to him in the neighbourhood for two or three days, I shall be off myself."
"I am going," said Henry, rising, "to search the garden and adjoining meadows; if you two gentlemen choose to come with me, I shall of course be happy of your company; if, however, you prefer remaining here to wrangle, you can do so."
This had the effect, at all events, of putting a stop to the dispute for the present, and both the admiral and Mr. Marchdale accompanied Henry on his search. That search was commenced immediately under the balcony of Charles Holland's window, from which the admiral had seen him emerge.
There was nothing particular found there, or in the garden. Admiral Bell pointed out accurately the route he had seen Charles take across the grass plot just before he himself left his chamber to seek Henry.
Accordingly, this route was now taken, and it led to a low part of the garden wall, which any one of ordinary vigour could easily have surmounted.
"My impression is," said the admiral, "that he got over here."
"The ivy appears to be disturbed," remarked Henry.
"Suppose we mark the spot, and then go round to it on the outer side?" suggested George.
This was agreed to; for, although the young man might have chosen rather to clamber over the wall than go round, it was doubtful if the old admiral could accomplish such a feat.
The distance round, however, was not great, and as they had cast over the wall a handful of flowers from the garden to mark the precise spot, it was easily discoverable.
The moment they reached it, they were panic-stricken by the appearances which it presented. The grass was for some yards round about completely trodden up, and converted into mud. There were deep indentations of feet-marks in all directions, and such abundance of evidence that some most desperate struggle had recently taken place there, that the most sceptical person in the world could not have entertained any doubt upon the subject.
Henry was the first to break the silence with which they each regarded the broken ground.
"This is conclusive to my mind," he said, with a deep sigh. "Here has poor Charles been attacked."
"God keep him!" exclaimed Marchdale, "and pardon me my doubts—I am now convinced."
The old admiral gazed about him like one distracted. Suddenly he cried—
"They have murdered him. Some fiends in the shape of men have murdered him, and Heaven only knows for what."
"It seems but too probable," said Henry. "Let us endeavour to trace the footsteps. Oh! Flora, Flora, what terrible news this will be to you."
"A horrible supposition comes across my mind," said George. "What if he met the vampyre?"
"It may have been so," said Marchdale, with a shudder. "It is a point which we should endeavour to ascertain, and I think we may do so."
"By some inquiry as to whether Sir Francis Varney was from home at midnight last night."
"True; that might be done."
"The question, suddenly put to one of his servants, would, most probably, be answered as a thing of course."
"Then that shall be decided upon. And now, my friends, since you have some of you thought me luke-warm in this business, I pledge myself that, should it be ascertained that Varney was from home at midnight last evening, I will defy him personally, and meet him hand to hand."
"Nay, nay," said Henry, "leave that course to younger hands."
"It more befits me to be his challenger."
"No, Henry. You are differently situated to what I am."
"Remember, that I am in the world a lone man; without ties or connexions. If I lose my life, I compromise no one by my death; but you have a mother and a bereaved sister to look to who will deserve your care."
"Hilloa," cried the admiral, "what's this?"
"What?" cried each, eagerly, and they pressed forward to where the admiral was stooping to the ground to pick up something which was nearly completely trodden into the grass.
He with some difficulty raised it. It was a small slip of paper, on which was some writing, but it was so much covered with mud as not to be legible.
"If this be washed," said Henry, "I think we shall be able to read it clearly."
"We can soon try that experiment," said George. "And as the footsteps, by some mysterious means, show themselves nowhere else but in this one particular spot, any further pursuit of inquiry about here appears useless."
"Then we will return to the house," said Henry, "and wash the mud from this paper."
"There is one important point," remarked Marchdale, "which it appears to me we have all overlooked."
"What may that be?"
"It is this. Is any one here sufficiently acquainted with the handwriting of Mr. Charles Holland to come to an opinion upon the letters?"
"I have some letters from him," said Henry, "which we received while on the continent, and I dare say Flora has likewise."
"Then they should be compared with the alleged forgeries."
"I know his handwriting well," said the admiral. "The letters bear so strong a resemblance to it that they would deceive anybody."
"Then you may depend," remarked Henry, "some most deep-laid and desperate plot is going on."
"I begin," added Marchdale, "to dread that such must be the case. What say you to claiming the assistance of the authorities, as well as offering a large reward for any information regarding Mr. Charles Holland?"
"No plan shall be left untried, you may depend."
They had now reached the house, and Henry having procured some clean water, carefully washed the paper which had been found among the trodden grass. When freed from the mixture of clay and mud which had obscured it, they made out the following words,—
"—it be so well. At the next full moon seek a convenient spot, and it can be done. The signature is, to my apprehension, perfect. The money which I hold, in my opinion, is much more in amount than you imagine, must be ours; and as for—"
Here the paper was torn across, and no further words were visible upon it.
Mystery seemed now to be accumulating upon mystery; each one, as it showed itself darkly, seeming to bear some remote relation to what preceded it; and yet only confusing it the more.
That this apparent scrap of a letter had dropped from some one's pocket during the fearful struggle, of which there were such ample evidences, was extremely probable; but what it related to, by whom it was written, or by whom dropped, were unfathomable mysteries.
In fact, no one could give an opinion upon these matters at all; and after a further series of conjectures, it could only be decided, that unimportant as the scrap of paper appeared now to be, it should be preserved, in case it should, as there was a dim possibility that it might become a connecting link in some chain of evidence at another time.
"And here we are," said Henry, "completely at fault, and knowing not what to do."
"Well, it is a hard case," said the admiral, "that, with all the will in the world to be up and doing something, we are lying here like a fleet of ships in a calm, as idle as possible."
"You perceive we have no evidence to connect Sir Francis Varney with this affair, either nearly or remotely," said Marchdale.
"Certainly not," replied Henry.
"But yet, I hope you will not lose sight of the suggestion I proposed, to the effect of ascertaining if he were from home last night."
"But how is that to be carried out?"
"By going at once, I should advise, to his house, and asking the first one of his domestics you may happen to see."
"I will go over," cried George; "on such occasions as these one cannot act upon ceremony."
He seized his hat, and without waiting for a word from any one approving or condemning his going, off he went.
"If," said Henry, "we find that Varney has nothing to do with the matter, we are completely at fault."
"Completely," echoed Marchdale.
"In that case, admiral, I think we ought to defer to your feelings upon the subject, and do whatever you suggest should be done."
"I shall offer a hundred pounds reward to any one who can and will bring any news of Charles."
"A hundred pounds is too much," said Marchdale.
"Not at all; and while I am about it, since the amount is made a subject of discussion, I shall make it two hundred, and that may benefit some rascal who is not so well paid for keeping the secret as I will pay him for disclosing it."
"Perhaps you are right," said Marchdale.
"I know I am, as I always am."
Marchdale could not forbear a smile at the opinionated old man, who thought no one's opinion upon any subject at all equal to his own; but he made no remark, and only waited, as did Henry, with evident anxiety for the return of George.
The distance was not great, and George certainly performed his errand quickly, for he was back in less time than they had thought he could return in. The moment he came into the room, he said, without waiting for any inquiry to be made of him,—
"We are at fault again. I am assured that Sir Francis Varney never stirred from home after eight o'clock last evening."
"D—n it, then," said the admiral, "let us give the devil his due. He could not have had any hand in this business."
"From whom, George, did you get your information?" asked Henry, in a desponding tone.
"From, first of all, one of his servants, whom I met away from the house, and then from one whom I saw at the house."
"There can be no mistake, then?"
"Certainly none. The servants answered me at once, and so frankly that I cannot doubt it."
The door of the room was slowly opened, and Flora came in. She looked almost the shadow of what she had been but a few weeks before. She was beautiful, but she almost realised the poet's description of one who had suffered much, and was sinking into an early grave, the victim of a broken heart:—
"She was more beautiful than death,
And yet as sad to look upon."
Her face was of a marble paleness, and as she clasped her hands, and glanced from face to face, to see if she could gather hope and consolation from the expression of any one, she might have been taken for some exquisite statue of despair.
"Have you found him?" she said. Have you found Charles?"
"Flora, Flora," said Henry, as he approached her.
"Nay, answer me; have you found him? You went to seek him. Dead or alive, have you found him?"
"We have not, Flora."
"Then I must seek him myself. None will search for him as I will search; I must myself seek him. 'Tis true affection that can alone be successful in such a search."
"Believe me, dear Flora, that all has been done which the shortness of the time that has elapsed would permit. Further measures will now immediately be taken. Rest assured, dear sister, that all will be done that the utmost zeal can suggest."
"They have killed him! they have killed him!" she said, mournfully. "Oh, God, they have killed him! I am not now mad, but the time will come when I must surely be maddened. The vampyre has killed Charles Holland—the dreadful vampyre!"
"Nay, now, Flora, this is frenzy."
"Because he loved me has he been destroyed. I know it, I know it. The vampyre has doomed me to destruction. I am lost, and all who loved me will be involved in one common ruin on my account. Leave me all of you to perish. If, for iniquities done in our family, some one must suffer to appease the divine vengeance, let that one be me, and only me."
"Hush, sister, hush!" cried Henry. "I expected not this from you. The expressions you use are not your expressions. I know you better. There is abundance of divine mercy, but no divine vengeance. Be calm, I pray you."
"Yes. Make an exertion of that intellect we all know you to possess. It is too common a thing with human nature, when misfortune overtakes it, to imagine that such a state of things is specially arranged. We quarrel with Providence because it does not interfere with some special miracle in our favour; forgetting that, being denizens of this earth, and members of a great social system; We must be subject occasionally to the accidents which will disturb its efficient working."
"Oh, brother, brother!" she exclaimed, as she dropped into a seat, "you have never loved."
"No; you have never felt what it was to hold your being upon the breath of another. You can reason calmly, because you cannot know the extent of feeling you are vainly endeavouring to combat."
"Flora, you do me less than justice. All I wish to impress upon your mind is, that you are not in any way picked out by Providence to be specially unhappy—that there is no perversion of nature on your account."
"Call you that hideous vampyre form that haunts me no perversion of ordinary nature?"
"What is is natural," said Marchdale.
"Cold reasoning to one who suffers as I suffer. I cannot argue with you; I can only know that I am most unhappy—most miserable."
"But that will pass away, sister, and the sun of your happiness may smile again."
"Oh, if I could but hope!"
"And wherefore should you deprive yourself of that poorest privilege of the most unhappy?"
"Because my heart tells me to despair."
"Tell it you won't, then," cried Admiral Bell. "If you had been at sea as long as I have, Miss Bannerworth, you would never despair of anything at all."
"Providence guarded you," said Marchdale.
"Yes, that's true enough, I dare say, I was in a storm once off Cape Ushant, and it was only through Providence, and cutting away the mainmast myself, that we succeeded in getting into port."
"You have one hope," said Marchdale to Flora, as he looked in her wan face.
"Yes. Recollect you have one hope."
"What is that?"
"You think that, by removing from this place, you may find that peace which is here denied you."
"No, no, no."
"Indeed. I thought that such was your firm conviction."
"It was; but circumstances have altered."
"Charles Holland has disappeared here, and here must I remain to seek for him."
"True he may have disappeared here," remarked Marchdale; "and yet that may be no argument for supposing him still here."
"Where, then, is he?"
"God knows how rejoiced I should be if I were able to answer your question. I must seek him, dead or alive! I must see him yet before I bid adieu to this world, which has now lost all its charms for me."
"Do not despair," said Henry; "I will go to the town now at once, to make known our suspicions that he has met with some foul play. I will set every means in operation that I possibly can to discover him. Mr. Chillingworth will aid me, too; and I hope that not many days will elapse, Flora, before some intelligence of a most satisfactory nature shall be brought to you on Charles Holland's account."
"Go, go, brother; go at once."
"I go now at once."
"Shall I accompany you?" said Marchdale.
"No. Remain here to keep watch over Flora's safety while I am gone; I can alone do all that can be done."
"And don't forget to offer the two hundred pounds reward," said the admiral, "to any one who can bring us news of Charles, on which we can rely."
"I will not."
"Surely—surely something must result from that," said Flora, as she looked in the admiral's face, as if to gather encouragement in her dawning hopes from its expression.
"Of course it will, my dear," he said. "Don't you be downhearted; you and I are of one mind in this affair, and of one mind we will keep. We won't give up our opinions for anybody."
"Our opinions," she said, "of the honour and honesty of Charles Holland. That is what we will adhere to."
"Of course we will."
"Ah, sir, it joys me, even in the midst of this, my affliction, to find one at least who is determined to do him full justice. We cannot find such contradictions in nature as that a mind, full of noble impulses, should stoop to such a sudden act of selfishness as those letters would attribute to Charles Holland. It cannot—cannot be."
"You are right, my dear. And now, Master Henry, you be off, will you, if you please."
"I am off now. Farewell, Flora, for a brief space."
"Farewell, brother; and Heaven speed you on your errand."
"Amen to that," cried the admiral; "and now, my dear, if you have got half an hour to spare, just tuck your arm under mine, and take a walk with me in the garden, for I want to say something to you."
"Most willingly," said Flora.
"I would not advise you to stray far from the house, Miss Bannerworth," said Marchdale.
"Nobody asked you for advice," said the admiral. "D——e, do you want to make out that I ain't capable of taking care of her?"
"No, no; but—"
"Oh, nonsense! Come along, my dear; and if all the vampyres and odd fish that were ever created were to come across our path, we would settle them somehow or another. Come along, and don't listen to anybody's croaking."
A PEEP THROUGH AN IRON GRATING.—THE LONELY PRISONER IN HIS DUNGEON.—THE MYSTERY.
Without forestalling the interest of our story, or recording a fact in its wrong place, we now call our readers' attention to a circumstance which may, at all events, afford some food for conjecture.
Some distance from the Hall, which, from time immemorial, had been the home and the property of the Bannerworth family, was an ancient ruin known by the name of the Monks' Hall.
It was conjectured that this ruin was the remains of some one of those half monastic, half military buildings which, during the middle ages, were so common in almost every commanding situation in every county of England.
At a period of history when the church arrogated to itself an amount of political power which the intelligence of the spirit of the age now denies to it, and when its members were quite ready to assert at any time the truth of their doctrines by the strong arm of power, such buildings as the one, the old grey ruins of which were situated near to Bannerworth Hall, were erected.
Ostensibly for religious purposes, but really as a stronghold for defence, as well as for aggression, this Monks' Hall, as it was called, partook quite as much of the character of a fortress, as of an ecclesiastical building.
The ruins covered a considerable extent, of ground, but the only part which seemed successfully to have resisted the encroaches of time, at least to a considerable extent, was a long, hall in which the jolly monks no doubt feasted and caroused.
Adjoining to this hall, were the walls of other parts of the building, and at several places there were small, low, mysterious-looking doors that led, heaven knows where, into some intricacies and labyrinths beneath the building, which no one had, within the memory of man, been content to run the risk of losing himself in.
It was related that among these subterranean passages and arches there were pitfalls and pools of water; and whether such a statement was true or not, it certainly acted as a considerable damper upon the vigour of curiosity.
This ruin was so well known in the neighbourhood, and had become from earliest childhood so familiar to the inhabitants of Bannerworth Hall, that one would as soon expect an old inhabitant of Ludgate-hill to make some remark about St. Paul's, as any of them to allude to the ruins of Monks' Hall.
They never now thought of going near to it, for in infancy they had spoiled among its ruins, and it had become one of those familiar objects which, almost, from that very familiarity, cease to hold a place in the memories of those who know it so well.
It is, however, to this ruin we would now conduct our readers, premising that what we have to say concerning it now, is not precisely in the form of a connected portion of our narrative.
It is evening—the evening of that first day of heart loneliness to poor Flora Bannerworth. The lingering rays of the setting sun are gilding the old ruins with a wondrous beauty. The edges of the decayed stones seem now to be tipped with gold, and as the rich golden refulgence of light gleams upon the painted glass which still adorned a large window of the hall, a flood of many-coloured beautiful light was cast within, making the old flag-stones, with which the interior was paved, look more like some rich tapestry, laid down to do honour to a monarch.
So picturesque and so beautiful an aspect did the ancient ruin wear, that to one with a soul to appreciate the romantic and the beautiful, it would have amply repaid the fatigue of a long journey now to see it.
And as the sun sank to rest, the gorgeous colours that it cast upon the mouldering wall, deepened from an appearance of burnished gold to a crimson hue, and from that again the colour changed to a shifting purple, mingling with the shadows of the evening, and so gradually fading away into absolute darkness.
The place is as silent as the tomb—a silence far more solemn than could have existed, had there been no remains of a human habitation; because even these time-worn walls were suggestive of what once had been; and the wrapt stillness which now pervaded them brought with them a melancholy feeling for the past.
There was not even the low hum of insect life to break the stillness of these ancient ruins.
And now the last rays of the sun are gradually fading away. In a short time all will be darkness. A low gentle wind is getting up, and beginning slightly to stir the tall blades of grass that have shot up between some of the old stones. The silence is broken, awfully broken, by a sudden cry of despair; such a cry as might come from some imprisoned spirit, doomed to waste an age of horror in a tomb.
And yet it was scarcely to be called a scream, and not all a groan. It might have come from some one on the moment of some dreadful sacrifice, when the judgment had not sufficient time to call courage to its aid, but involuntarily had induced that sound which might not be repeated.
A few startled birds flew from odd holes and corners about the ruins, to seek some other place of rest. The owl hooted from a corner of what had once been a belfry, and a dreamy-looking bat flew out from a cranny and struck itself headlong against a projection.
Then all was still again. Silence resumed its reign, and if there had been a mortal ear to drink in that sudden sound, the mind might well have doubted if fancy had not more to do with the matter than reality.
From out a portion of the ruins that was enveloped in the deepest gloom, there now glides a figure. It is of gigantic height, and it moves along with a slow and measured tread. An ample mantle envelopes the form, which might well have been taken for the spirit of one of the monks who, centuries since, had made that place their home.
It walked the whole length of the ample hall we have alluded to, and then, at the window from which had streamed the long flood of many coloured light, it paused.
For more than ten minutes this mysterious looking figure there stood.
At length there passed something on the outside of the window, that looked like the shadow of a human form.
Then the tall, mysterious, apparition-looking man turned, and sought a side entrance to the hall.
Then he paused, and, in about a minute, he was joined by another who must have been he who had so recently passed the stained glass window on the outer side.
There was a friendly salutation between these two beings, and they walked to the centre of the hall, where they remained for some time in animated conversation.
From the gestures they used, it was evident that the subject of their discourse was one of deep and absorbing interest to both. It was one, too, upon which, after a time, they seemed a little to differ, and more than once they each assumed attitudes of mutual defiance.
This continued until the sun had so completely sunk, that twilight was beginning sensibly to wane, and then gradually the two men appeared to have come to a better understanding, and whatever might be the subject of their discourse, there was some positive result evidently arrived at now.
They spoke in lower tones. They used less animated gestures than before; and, after a time, they both walked slowly down the hull towards the dark spot from whence the first tall figure had so mysteriously emerged.
There it a dungeon—damp and full of the most unwholesome exhalations—deep under ground it seems, and, in its excavations, it would appear as if some small land springs had been liberated, for the earthen floor was one continued extent of moisture.
From the roof, too, came perpetually the dripping of water, which fell with sullen, startling splashes in the pool below.
At one end, and near to the roof,—so near that to reach it, without the most efficient means from the inside, was a matter of positive impossibility—is a small iron grating, and not much larger than might be entirely obscured by any human face that might be close to it from the outside of the dungeon.
That dreadful abode is tenanted. In one corner, on a heap of straw, which appears freshly to have been cast into the place, lies a hopeless prisoner.
It is no great stretch of fancy to suppose, that it is from his lips came the sound of terror and of woe that had disturbed the repose of that lonely spot.
The prisoner is lying on his back; a rude bandage round his head, on which were numerous spots of blood, would seem to indicate that he had suffered personal injury in some recent struggle. His eyes were open. They were fixed desparingly, perhaps unconsciously, upon that small grating which looked into the upper world.
That grating slants upwards, and looks to the west, so that any one confined in that dreary dungeon might be tantalized, on a sweet summer's day, by seeing the sweet blue sky, and occasionally the white clouds flitting by in that freedom which he cannot hope for.
The carol of a bird, too, might reach him there. Alas! sad remembrance of life, and joy, and liberty.
But now all is deepening gloom. The prisoner sees nothing—hears nothing; and the sky is not quite dark. That small grating looks like a strange light-patch in the dungeon wall.
Hark! some footstep sounds upon his ear. The creaking of a door follows—a gleam of light shines into the dungeon, and the tall mysterious-looking figure in the cloak stands before the occupant of that wretched place.
Then comes in the other man, and he carries in his hand writing materials. He stoops to the stone couch on which the prisoner lies, and offers him a pen, as he raises him partially from the miserable damp pallet.
But there is no speculation in the eyes of that oppressed man. In vain the pen is repeatedly placed in his grasp, and a document of some length, written on parchment, spread out before him to sign. In vain is he held up now by both the men, who have thus mysteriously sought him in his dungeon; he has not power to do as they would wish him. The pen falls from his nerveless grasp, and, with a deep sigh, when they cease to hold him up, he falls heavily back upon the stone couch.
Then the two men looked at each other for about a minute silently; after which he who was the shorter of the two raised one hand, and, in a voice of such concentrated hatred and passion as was horrible to hear, he said,—
The reply of the other was a laugh; and then he took the light from the floor, and motioned the one who seemed so little able to control his feelings of bitterness and disappointment to leave the place with him.
With a haste and vehemence, then, which showed how much angered he was, the shorter man of the two now rolled up the parchment, and placed it in a breast-pocket of his coat.
He cast a withering look of intense hatred on the form of the nearly-unconscious prisoner, and then prepared to follow the other.
But when they reached the door of the dungeon, the taller man of the two paused, and appeared for a moment or two to be in deep thought; after which he handed the lamp he carried to his companion, and approached the pallet of the prisoner.
He took from his pocket a small bottle, and, raising the head of the feeble and wounded man, he poured some portion of the contents into his mouth, and watched him swallow it.
The other looked on in silence, and then they both slowly left the dreary dungeon.
The wind rose, and the night had deepened into the utmost darkness. The blackness of a night, unillumined by the moon, which would not now rise for some hours, was upon the ancient ruins. All was calm and still, and no one would have supposed that aught human was within those ancient, dreary looking walls.
Time will show who it was who lay in that unwholesome dungeon, as well as who were they who visited him so mysteriously, and retired again with feelings of such evident disappointment with the document it seemed of such importance, at least to one of them, to get that unconscious man to sign.
THE VISIT OF FLORA TO THE VAMPYRE.—THE OFFER.—THE SOLEMN ASSEVERATION.
Admiral Bell had, of course, nothing particular to communicate to Flora in the walk he induced her to take with him in the gardens of Bannerworth Hall, but he could talk to her upon a subject which was sure to be a welcome one, namely, of Charles Holland.
And not only could he talk to her of Charles, but he was willing to talk of him in the style of enthusiastic commendation which assimilated best with her own feelings. No one but the honest old admiral, who was as violent in his likes and his dislikes as any one could possibly be, could just then have conversed with Flora Bannerworth to her satisfaction of Charles Holland.
He expressed no doubts whatever concerning Charles's faith, and to his mind, now that he had got that opinion firmly fixed in his mind, everybody that held a contrary one he at once denounced as a fool or a rogue.
"Never you mind, Miss Flora," he said; "you will find, I dare say, that all will come right eventually. D—n me! the only thing that provokes me in the whole business is, that I should have been such an old fool as for a moment to doubt Charles."
"You should have known him better, sir."
"I should, my dear, but I was taken by surprise, you see, and that was wrong, too, for a man who has held a responsible command."
"But the circumstances, dear sir, were of a nature to take every one by surprise."
"They were, they were. But now, candidly speaking, and I know I can speak candidly to you; do you really think this Varney is the vampyre?"
"You do? Well, then, somebody must tackle him, that's quite clear; we can't put up with his fancies always."
"What can be done?"
"Ah, that I don't know, but something must be done, you know. He wants this place; Heaven only knows why or wherefore he has taken such a fancy to it; but he has done so, that is quite clear. If it had a good sea view, I should not be so much surprised; but there's nothing of the sort, so it's no way at all better than any other shore-going stupid sort of house, that you can see nothing but land from."
"Oh, if my brother would but make some compromise with him to restore Charles to us and take the house, we might yet be happy."
"D—n it! then you still think that he has a hand in spiriting away Charles?"
"Who else could do so?"
"I'll be hanged if I know. I do feel tolerably sure, and I have good deal of reliance upon your opinion, my dear; I say, I do feel tolerably sure: but, if I was d——d sure, now, I'd soon have it out of him."
"For my sake, Admiral Bell, I wish now to extract one promise from you."
"Say your say, my dear, and I'll promise you."
"You will not then expose yourself to the danger of any personal conflict with that most dreadful man, whose powers of mischief we do not know, and therefore cannot well meet or appreciate."
"Whew! is that what you mean?"
"Yes; you will, I am sure, promise me so much."
"Why, my dear, you see the case is this. In affairs of fighting, the less ladies interfere the better."
"Nay, why so?"
"Because—because, you see, a lady has no reputation for courage to keep up. Indeed, it's rather the other way, for we dislike a bold woman as much as we hold in contempt a cowardly man."
"But if you grant to us females that in consequence of our affections, we are not courageous, you must likewise grant how much we are doomed to suffer from the dangers of those whom we esteem."
"You would be the last person in the world to esteem a coward."
"Certainly. But there is more true courage often in not fighting than in entering into a contest."
"You are right enough there, my dear."
"Under ordinary circumstances, I should not oppose your carrying out the dictates of your honour, but now, let me entreat you not to meet this dreadful man, if man he can be called, when you know not how unfair the contest may be."
"Yes. May he not have some means of preventing you from injuring him, and of overcoming you, which no mortal possesses?"
"Then the supposition of such a case ought to be sufficient ground for at once inducing you to abandon all idea of meeting with him."
"My dear, I'll consider of this matter."
"There is another thing, however, which now you will permit me to ask of you as a favour."
"It is granted ere it is spoken."
"Very good. Now you must not be offended with what I am going to say, because, however it may touch that very proper pride which you, and such as you, are always sure to possess, you are fortunately at all times able to call sufficient judgment to your aid to enable you to see what is really offensive and what is not."
"You alarm me by such a preface."
"Do I? then here goes at once. Your brother Henry, poor fellow, has enough to do, has he not, to make all ends meet."
A flush of excitement came over Flora's cheek as the old admiral thus bluntly broached a subject of which she already knew the bitterness to such a spirit as her brother's.
"You are silent," continued the old man; "by that I guess I am not wrong in my I supposition; indeed it is hardly a supposition at all, for Master Charles told me as much, and no doubt he had it from a correct quarter."
"I cannot deny it, sir."
"Then don't. It ain't worth denying, my dear. Poverty is no crime, but, like being born a Frenchman, it's a d——d misfortune."
Flora could scarcely refuse a smile, as the nationality of the old admiral peeped out even in the midst of his most liberal and best feelings.
"Well," he continued, "I don't intend that he shall have so much trouble as he has had. The enemies of his king and his country shall free him from his embarrassments."
"Yes; who else?"
"You speak in riddles, sir."
"Do I? Then I'll soon make the riddles plain. When I went to sea I was worth nothing—as poor as a ship's cat after the crew had been paid off for a month. Well, I began fighting away as hard and fast as I could, and the more I fought, and the more hard knocks I gave and took, the more money I got."
"Yes; prize after prize we hauled into port, and at last the French vessels wouldn't come out of their harbours."
"What did you do then?"
"What did we do then? Why what was the most natural thing in the whole world for us to do, we did."
"I cannot guess."
"Well, I am surprised at that. Try again."
"Oh, yes; I can guess now. How could I have been so dull? You went and took them out."
"To be sure we did—to be sure we did, my dear; that's how we managed them. And, do you see, at the end of the war I found myself with lots of prize money, all wrung from old England's enemies, and I intend that some of it shall find it's way to your brother's pocket; and you see that will bear out just what I said, that the enemies of his king and his country shall free him from his difficulties—don't you see?"
"I see your noble generosity, admiral."
"Noble fiddlestick! Now I have mentioned this matter to you, my dear, and I don't so much mind talking to you about such matters as I should to your brother, I want you to do me the favour of managing it all for me."
"Why, just this way. You must find out how much money will free your brother just now from a parcel of botherations that beset him, and then I will give it to you, and you can hand it to him, you see, so I need not say anything about it; and if he speaks to me on the subject at all, I can put him down at once by saying, 'avast there, it's no business of mine.'"
"And can you, dear admiral, imagine that I could conceal the generous source from where so much assistance came?"
"Of course; it will come from you. I take a fancy to make you a present of a sum of money; you do with it what you please—it's yours, and I have no right and no inclination to ask you what use you put it to."
Tears gushed from the eyes of Flora as she tried to utter some word, but could not. The admiral swore rather fearfully, and pretended to wonder much what on earth she could be crying for. At length, after the first gush of feeling was over, she said,—
"I cannot accept of so much generosity, sir—I dare not"
"No; I should think meanly of myself were I to take advantage of the boundless munificence of your nature."
"Take advantage! I should like to see anybody take advantage of me, that's all."
"I ought not to take the money of you. I will speak to my brother, and well I know how much he will appreciate the noble, generous offer, my dear sir."
"Well, settle it your own way, only remember I have a right to do what I like with my own money."
"Very good. Then as that is undoubted, whatever I lend to him, mind I give to you, so it's as broad as it's long, as the Dutchman said, when he looked at the new ship that was built for him, and you may as well take it yourself you see, and make no more fuss about it."
"I will consider," said Flora, with much emotion—"between this time and the same hour to-morrow I will consider, sir, and if you can find any words more expressive of heartfelt gratitude than others, pray imagine that I have used them with reference to my own feelings towards you for such an unexampled offer of friendship."
The admiral now at once changed the subject, and began to talk of Charles—a most grateful theme to Flora, as may well be supposed. He related to her many little particulars connected with him which all tended to place his character in a most amiable light, and as her ears drank in the words of commendation of him she loved, what sweeter music could there be to her than the voice of that old weather-beaten rough-spoken man.
"The idea," he added, to a warm eulogium he had uttered concerning Charles—"the idea that he could write those letters my dear, is quite absurd."
"It is, indeed. Oh, that we could know what had become of him!"
"We shall know. I don't think but what he's alive. Something seems to assure me that we shall some of these days look upon his face again."
"I am rejoiced to hear you say so."
"We will stir heaven and earth to find him. If he were killed, do you see, there would have been some traces of him now at hand; besides, he would have been left lying where the rascals attacked him."
"But don't you fret yourself. You may depend that the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft has looked after him."
"I will hope so."
"And now, my dear, Master Henry will soon be home, I am thinking, and as he has quite enough disagreeables on his own mind to be able to spare a few of them, you will take the earliest opportunity, I am sure, of acquainting him with the little matter we have been talking about, and let me know what he says."
"I will—I will."
"That's right. Now, go in doors, for there's a cold air blowing here, and you are a delicate plant rather just now—go in and make yourself comfortable and easy. The worst storm must blow over at last."