Varney, The Vampyre or, The Feast of Blood (6. Teil)
VARNEY, THE VAMPYRE:
THE FEAST OF BLOOD.
(Chapter LI - LX)
THE ATTACK UPON THE VAMPYRE'S HOUSE.—THE STORY OF THE ATTACK.—THE FORCING OF THE DOORS, AND THE STRUGGLE.
A council of war was now called among the belligerents, who were somewhat taken aback by the steady refusal of the servant to admit them, and their apparent determination to resist all endeavours on the part of the mob to get into and obtain possession of the house. It argued that they were prepared to resist all attempts, and it would cost some few lives to get into the vampyre's house. This passed through the minds of many as they retired behind the angle of the wall where the council was to be held.
Here they looked in each others' face, as if to gather from that the general tone of the feelings of their companions; but here they saw nothing that intimated the least idea of going back as they came.
"It's all very well, mates, to take care of ourselves, you know," began one tall, brawny fellow; "but, if we bean't to be sucked to death by a vampyre, why we must have the life out of him."
"Ay, so we must."
"Jack Hodge is right; we must kill him, and there's no sin in it, for he has no right to it; he's robbed some poor fellow of his life to prolong his own."
"Ay, ay, that's the way he does; bring him out, I say, then see what we will do with him."
"Yes, catch him first," said one, "and then we can dispose of him afterwards, I say, neighbours, don't you think it would be as well to catch him first?"
"Haven't we come on purpose?"
"Yes, but do it."
"Ain't we trying it?"
"You will presently, when we come to get into the house."
"Well, what's to be done?" said one; "here we are in a fix, I think, and I can't see our way out very clearly."
"I wish we could get in."
"But how is a question I don't very well see," said a large specimen of humanity.
"The best thing that can be done will be to go round and look over the whole house, and then we may come upon some part where it is far easier to get in at than by the front door."
"But it won't do for us all to go round that way," said one; "a small party only should go, else they will have all their people stationed at one point, and if we can divide them, we shall beat them because they have not enough to defend more than one point at a time; now we are numerous enough to make several attacks."
"Oh! that's the way to bother them all round; they'll give in, and then the place is our own."
"No, no," said the big countryman, "I like to make a good rush and drive all afore us; you know what ye have to do then, and you do it, ye know."
"If you can."
"Ay, to be sure, if we can, as you say; but can't we? that's what I want to know."
"To be sure we can."
"Then we'll do it, mate—that's my mind; we'll do it. Come on, and let's have another look at the street-door."
The big countryman left the main body, and resolutely walked up to the main avenue, and approached the door, accompanied by about a dozen or less of the mob. When they came to the door, they commenced knocking and kicking most violently, and assailing it with all kinds of things they could lay their hands upon.
They continued at this violent exercise for some time—perhaps for five minutes, when the little square hole in the door was again opened, and a voice was heard to say,—
"You had better cease that kind of annoyance."
"We want to get in."
"It will cost you more lives to do so than you can afford to spare. We are well armed, and are prepared to resist any effort you can make."
"Oh! it's all very well; but, an you won't open, why we'll make you; that's all about it."
This was said as the big countryman and his companions were leaving the avenue towards the rest of the body.
"Then, take this, as an earnest of what is to follow," said the man, and he discharged the contents of a blunderbuss through the small opening, and its report sounded to the rest of the mob like the report of a field-piece.
Fortunately for the party retiring the man couldn't take any aim, else it is questionable how many of the party would have got off unwounded. As it was, several of them found stray slugs were lodged in various parts of their persons, and accelerated their retreat from the house of the vampyre.
"What luck?" inquired one of the mob to the others, as they came back; "I'm afraid you had all the honour."
"Ay, ay, we have, and all the lead too," replied a man, as he placed his hand upon a sore part of his person, which bled in consequence of a wound.
"Well, what's to be done?"
"Danged if I know," said one.
"Give it up," said another.
"No, no; have him out. I'll never give in while I can use a stick. They are in earnest, and so are we. Don't let us be frightened because they have a gun or two—they can't have many; and besides, if they have, we are too many for them. Besides, we shall all die in our beds."
"Hurrah! down with the vampyre!"
"So say I, lads. I don't want to be sucked to death when I'm a-bed. Better die like a man than such a dog's death as that, and you have no revenge then."
"No, no; he has the better of us then. We'll have him out—we'll burn him—that's the way we'll do it."
"Ay, so we will; only let us get in."
At that moment a chosen party returned who had been round the house to make a reconnaissance.
"Well, well," inquired the mob, "what can be done now—where can we get in?"
"In several places."
"All right; come along then; the place is our own."
"Stop a minute; they are armed at all points, and we must make an attack on all points, else we may fail. A party must go round to the front-door, and attempt to beat it in; there are plenty of poles and things that could be used for such a purpose."
"There is, besides, a garden-door, that opens into the house—a kind of parlour; a kitchen-door; a window in the flower-garden, and an entrance into a store-room; this place appears strong, and is therefore unguarded."
"The very point to make an attack."
"Because it can easily be defended, and rendered useless to us. We must make an attack upon all places but that, and, while they are being at those points, we can then enter at that place, and then you will find them desert the other places when they see us inside."
"Hurrah! down with the vampyre!" said the mob, as they listened to this advice, and appreciated the plan.
"Down with the vampyre!"
"Now, then, lads, divide, and make the attack; never mind their guns, they have but very few, and if you rush in upon them, you will soon have the guns yourselves."
"Hurrah! hurrah!" shouted the mob.
The mob now moved away in different bodies, each strong enough to carry the house. They seized upon a variety of poles and stones, and then made for the various doors and windows that were pointed out by those who had made the discovery. Each one of those who had formed the party of observation, formed a leader to the others, and at once proceeded to the post assigned him.
The attack was so sudden and so simultaneous that the servants were unprepared; and though they ran to the doors, and fired away, still they did but little good, for the doors were soon forced open by the enraged rioters, who proceeded in a much more systematic operation, using long heavy pieces of timber which were carried on the shoulders of several men, and driven with the force of battering-rams—which, in fact, they were—against the door.
Bang went the battering-ram, crash went the door, and the whole party rushed headlong in, carried forward by their own momentum and fell prostrate, engine and all, into the passage.
"Now, then, we have them," exclaimed the servants, who began to belabour the whole party with blows, with every weapon they could secure.
Loudly did the fallen men shout for assistance, and but for their fellows who came rushing in behind, they would have had but a sorry time of it.
"Hurrah!" shouted the mob; "the house is our own."
"Not yet," shouted the servants.
"We'll try," said the mob; and they rushed forward to drive the servants back, but they met with a stout resistance, and as some of them had choppers and swords, there were a few wounds given, and presently bang went the blunderbuss.
Two or three of the mob reeled and fell.
This produced a momentary panic, and the servants then had the whole of the victory to themselves, and were about to charge, and clear the passage of their enemies, when a shout behind attracted their attention.
That shout was caused by an entrance being gained in another quarter, whence the servants were flying, and all was disorder.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" shouted the mob.
The servants retreated to the stairs, and here united, they made a stand, and resolved to resist the whole force of the rioters, and they succeeded in doing so, too, for some minutes. Blows were given and taken of a desperate character.
Somehow, there were no deadly blows received by the servants; they were being forced and beaten, but they lost no life; this may be accounted for by the fact that the mob used no more deadly weapons than sticks.
The servants of Sir Francis Varney, on the contrary, were mostly armed with deadly weapons, which, however, they did not use unnecessarily. They stood upon the hall steps—the grand staircase, with long poles or sticks, about the size of quarter-staves, and with these they belaboured those below most unmercifully.
Certainly, the mob were by no means cowards, for the struggle to close with their enemies was as great as ever, and as firm as could well be. Indeed, they rushed on with a desperation truly characteristic of John Bull, and defied the heaviest blows; for as fast as one was stricken down another occupied his place, and they insensibly pressed their close and compact front upon the servants, who were becoming fatigued and harassed.
"Fire, again," exclaimed a voice from among the servants.
The mob made no retrogade movement, but still continued to press onwards, and in another moment a loud report rang through the house, and a smoke hung over the heads of the mob.
A long groan or two escaped some of the men who had been wounded, and a still louder from those who had not been wounded, and a cry arose of,—
"Down with the vampyre—pull down—destroy and burn the whole place—down with them all."
A rush succeeded, and a few more discharges took place, when a shout above attracted the attention of both parties engaged in this fierce struggle. They paused by mutual consent, to look and see what was the cause of that shout.
THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE MOB AND SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.—THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.—THE WINE CELLARS.
The shout that had so discomposed the parties who were thus engaged in a terrific struggle came from a party above.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" they shouted a number of times, in a wild strain of delight. "Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
The fact was, a party of the mob had clambered up a verandah, and entered some of the rooms upstairs, whence they emerged just above the landing near the spot where the servants were resisting in a mass the efforts of the mob.
"Hurrah!" shouted the mob below.
"Hurrah!" shouted the mob above.
There was a momentary pause, and the servants divided themselves into two bodies, and one turned to face those above, and the other those who were below.
A simultaneous shout was given by both parties of the mob, and a sudden rush was made by both bodies, and the servants of Sir Francis Varney were broken in an instant. They were instantly separated, and knocked about a good bit, but they were left to shift for themselves, the mob had a more important object in view.
"Down with the vampyre!" they shouted.
"Down with the vampyre!" shouted they, and they rushed helter skelter through the rooms, until they came to one where the door was partially open, and they could see some person very leisurely seated.
"Here he is," they cried.
"Down with him! kill him! burn him!"
"Hurrah! down with the vampire!"
These sounds were shouted out by a score of voices, and they rushed headlong into the room.
But here their violence and headlong precipitancy were suddenly restrained by the imposing and quiet appearance of the individual who was there seated.
The mob entered the room, and there was a sight, that if it did not astonish them, at least, it caused them to pause before the individual who was seated there.
The room was well filled with furniture, and there was a curtain drawn across the room, and about the middle of it there was a table, behind which sat Sir Francis Varney himself, looking all smiles and courtesy.
"Well, dang my smock-frock!" said one, "who'd ha' thought of this? He don't seem to care much about it."
"Well, I'm d——d!" said another; "he seems pretty easy, at all events. What is he going to do?"
"Gentlemen," said Sir Francis Varney, rising, with the blandest smiles, "pray, gentlemen, permit me to inquire the cause of this condescension on your part. The visit is kind."
The mob looked at Sir Francis, and then at each other, and then at Sir Francis again; but nobody spoke. They were awed by this gentlemanly and collected behaviour.
"If you honour me with this visit from pure affection and neighbourly good-will, I thank you."
"Down with the vampyre!" said one, who was concealed behind the rest, and not so much overawed, as he had not seen Sir Francis.
Sir Francis Varney rose to his full height; a light gleamed across his features; they were strongly defined then. His long front teeth, too, showed most strongly when he smiled, as he did now, and said, in a bland voice,—
"Gentlemen, I am at your service. Permit me to say you are welcome to all I can do for you. I fear the interview will be somewhat inconvenient and unpleasant to you. As for myself, I am entirely at your service."
As Sir Francis spoke, he bowed, and folded his hands together, and stepped forwards; but, instead of coming onwards to them, he walked behind the curtain, and was immediately hid from their view.
"Down with the vampyre!" shouted one.
"Down with the vampyre!" rang through the apartment; and the mob now, not awed by the coolness and courtesy of Sir Francis, rushed forward, and, overturning the table, tore down the curtain to the floor; but, to their amazement, there was no Sir Francis Varney present.
"Where is he?"
"Where is the vampyre?"
"Where has he gone?"
These were cries that escaped every one's lips; and yet no one could give an answer to them.
There Sir Francis Varney was not. They were completely thunderstricken. They could not find out where he had gone to. There was no possible means of escape, that they could perceive. There was not an odd corner, or even anything that could, by any possibility, give even a suspicion that even a temporary concealment could take place.
They looked over every inch of flooring and of wainscoting; not the remotest trace could be discovered.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know," said one—"I can't see where he could have gone. There ain't a hole as big as a keyhole."
"My eye!" said one; "I shouldn't be at all surprised, if he were to blow up the whole house."
"You don't say go!"
"I never heard as how vampyres could do so much as that. They ain't the sort of people," said another.
"But if they can do one thing, they can do another."
"That's very true."
"And what's more, I never heard as how a vampyre could make himself into nothing before; yet he has done so."
"He may be in this room now."
"My eyes! what precious long teeth he had!"
"Yes; and had he fixed one on 'em in to your arm, he would have drawn every drop of blood out of your body; you may depend upon that," said an old man.
"He was very tall."
"Yes; too tall to be any good."
"I shouldn't like him to have laid hold of me, though, tall as he is; and then he would have lifted me up high enough to break my neck, when he let me fall."
The mob routed about the room, tore everything out of its place, and as the object of their search seemed to be far enough beyond their reach, their courage rose in proportion, and they shouted and screamed with a proportionate increase of noise and bustle; and at length they ran about mad with rage and vexation, doing all the mischief that was in their power to inflict.
Then they became mischievous, and tore he furniture from its place, and broke it in pieces, and then amused themselves with breaking it up, throwing pieces at the pier-glasses, in which they made dreadful holes; and when that was gone, they broke up the frames.
Every hole and corner of the house was searched, but there was no Sir Francis Varney to be found.
"The cellars, the cellars!" shouted a voice.
"The cellars, the cellars!" re-echoed nearly every pair of lips in the whole place; in another moment, there was crushing an crowding to get down into the cellars.
"Hurray!" said one, as he knocked off the neck of the bottle that first came to hand.
"Here's luck to vampyre-hunting! Success to our chase!"
"So say I, neighbour; but is that your manners to drink before your betters?"
So saying, the speaker knocked the other's elbow, while he was in the act of lifting the wine to his mouth; and thus he upset it over his face and eyes.
"D—n it!" cried the man; "how it makes my eyes smart! Dang thee! if I could see, I'd ring thy neck!"
"Success to vampyre-hunting!" said one.
"May we be lucky yet!" said another.
"I wouldn't be luckier than this," said another, as he, too, emptied a bottle. "We couldn't desire better entertainment, where the reckoning is all paid."
"Capital wine this!"
"I say, Huggins!"
"Well," said Huggins.
"What are you drinking?"
"Danged if I know," was the reply. "It's wine, I suppose; for I know it ain't beer nor spirits; so it must be wine."
"Are you sure it ain't bottled men's blood?"
"Bottled blood, man! Who knows what a vampyre drinks? It may be his wine. He may feast upon that before he goes to bed of a night, drink anybody's health, and make himself cheerful on bottled blood!"
"Oh, danged! I'm so sick; I wish I hadn't taken the stuff. It may be as you say, neighbour, and then we be cannibals."
"There's a pretty thing to think of."
By this time some were drunk, some were partially so, and the remainder were crowding into the cellars to get their share of the wine.
The servants had now slunk away; they were no longer noticed by the rioters, who, having nobody to oppose them, no longer thought of anything, save the searching after the vampyre, and the destruction of the property. Several hours had been spent in this manner, and yet they could not find the object of their search.
There was not a room, or cupboard, or a cellar, that was capable of containing a cat, that they did not search, besides a part of the rioters keeping a very strict watch on the outside of the house and all about the grounds, to prevent the possibility of the escape of the vampyre.
There was a general cessation of active hostilities at that moment; a reaction after the violent excitement and exertion they had made to get in. Then the escape of their victim, and the mysterious manner in which he got away, was also a cause of the reaction, and the rioters looked in each others' countenances inquiringly.
Above all, the discovery of the wine-cellar tended to withdraw them from violent measures; but this could not last long, there must be an end to such a scene, for there never was a large body of men assembled for an evil purpose, who ever were, for any length of time, peaceable.
To prevent the more alarming effects of drunkenness, some few of the rioters, after having taken some small portion of the wine, became, from the peculiar flavour it possessed, imbued with the idea that it was really blood, and forthwith commenced an instant attack upon the wine and liquors, and they were soon mingling in one stream throughout the cellars.
This destruction was loudly declaimed against by a large portion of the rioters, who were drinking; but before they could make any efforts to save the liquor, the work of destruction had not only been begun, but was ended, and the consequence was, the cellars were very soon evacuated by the mob.
THE DESTRUCTION OF SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S HOUSE BY FIRE.—THE ARRIVAL OF THE MILITARY, AND A SECOND MOB.
Thus many moments had not elapsed ere the feelings of the rioters became directed into a different channel from that in which it had so lately flowed. When urged about the house and grounds for the vampyre, they became impatient and angry at not finding him. Many believed that he was yet about the house, while many were of opinion that he had flown away by some mysterious means only possessed by vampyres and such like people.
"Fire the house, and burn him out," said one.
"Fire the house!"
"Burn the den!" now arose in shouts from all present, and then the mob were again animated by the love of mischief that seemed to be the strongest feelings that animated them.
"Burn him out—burn him out!" were the only words that could be heard from any of the mob. The words ran through the house like wildfire, nobody thought of anything else, and all were seen running about in confusion.
There was no want of good will on the part of the mob to the undertaking; far from it, and they proceeded in the work con amore. They worked together with right good will, and the result was soon seen by the heaps of combustible materials that were collected in a short time from all parts of the house.
All the old dry wood furniture that could be found was piled up in a heap, and to these were added a number of faggots, and also some shavings that were found in the cellar.
"All right!" exclaimed one man, in exultation.
"Yes," replied a second; "all right—all right! Set light to it, and he will be smoked out if not burned."
"Let us be sure that all are out of the house," suggested one of the bystanders.
"Ay, ay," shouted several; "give them all a chance. Search through the house and give them a warning."
"Very well; give me the light, and then when I come back I will set light to the fire at once, and then I shall know all is empty, and so will you too."
This was at once agreed to by all, with acclamations, and the light being handed to the man, he ascended the stairs, crying out in a loud voice,—
"Come out—come out! the house is on fire!"
"Fire! fire! fire!" shouted the mob as a chorus, every now and then at intervals.
In about ten minutes more, there came a cry of "all right; the house is empty," from up the stairs, and the man descended in haste to the hall.
"Make haste, lads, and fire away, for I see the red coats are leaving the town."
"Hurra! hurra!" shouted the infuriated mob. "Fire—fire—fire the house! Burn out the vampyre! Burn down the house—burn him out, and see if he can stand fire."
Amidst all this tumult there came a sudden blaze upon all around, for the pile had been fired.
"Hurra!" shouted the mob—"hurra!" and they danced like maniacs round the fire; looking, in fact, like so many wild Indians, dancing round their roasting victims, or some demons at an infernal feast.
The torch had been put to twenty different places, and the flames united into one, and suddenly shot up with a velocity, and roared with a sound that caused many who were present to make a precipitate retreat from the hall.
This soon became a necessary measure of self-preservation, and it required no urging to induce them to quit a place that was burning rapidly and even furiously.
"Get the poles and firewood—get faggots," shouted some of the mob, and, lo, it was done almost by magic. They brought the faggots and wood piled up for winter use, and laid them near all the doors, and especially the main entrance. Nay, every gate or door belonging to the outhouses was brought forward and placed upon the fire, which now began to reach the upper stories.
And a loud shout of triumph came from the mob as they viewed the progress of the flames, as they came roaring and tearing through the house doors and the windows.
Each new victory of the element was a signal to the mob for a cheer; and a hearty cheer, too, came from them.
"Where is the vampyre now?" exclaimed one.
"Ha! where is he?" said another.
"If he be there," said the man, pointing to the flames, "I reckon he's got a warm berth of it, and, at the same time, very little water to boil in his kettle."
"Ha, ha! what a funny old man is Bob Mason; he's always poking fun; he'd joke if his wife were dying."
"There is many a true word spoken in jest," suggested another; "and, to my mind, Bob Mason wouldn't be very much grieved if his wife were to die."
"Die?" said Bob; "she and I have lived and quarrelled daily a matter of five-and-thirty years, and, if that ain't enough to make a man sick of being married, and of his wife, hand me, that's all. I say I am tired."
This was said with much apparent sincerity, and several laughed at the old man's heartiness.
"It's all very well," said the old man; "it's all very well to laugh about matters you don't understand, but I know it isn't a joke—not a bit on it. I tells you what it is, neighbour, I never made but one grand mistake in all my life."
"And what was that?"
"To tie myself to a woman."
"Why, you'd get married to-morrow if your wife were to die to-day," said one.
"If I did, I hope I may marry a vampyre. I should have something then to think about. I should know what's o'clock. But, as for my old woman, lord, lord, I wish Sir Francis Varney had had her for life. I'll warrant when the next natural term of his existence came round again, he wouldn't be in no hurry to renew it; if he did, I should say that vampyres had the happy lot of managing women, which I haven't got."
"No, nor anybody else."
A loud shout now attracted their attention, and, upon looking in the quarter whence it came, they descried a large body of people coming towards them; from one end of the mob could be seen along string of red coats.
"The red coats!" shouted one.
"The military!" shouted another.
It was plain the military who had been placed in the town to quell disturbances, had been made acquainted with the proceedings at Sir Francis Varney's house, and were now marching to relieve the place, and to save the property.
They were, as we have stated, accompanied by a vast concourse of people, who came out to see what they were going to see, and seeing the flames at Sir Francis Varney's house, they determined to come all the way, and be present.
The military, seeing the disturbance in the distance, and the flames issuing from the windows, made the best of their way towards the scene of tumult with what speed they could make.
"Here they come," said one.
"Yes, just in time to see what is done."
"Yes, they can go back and say we have burned the vampyre's house down—hurra!"
"Hurra!" shouted the mob, in prolonged accents, and it reached the ears of the military.
The officer urged the men onwards, and they responded to his words, by exerting themselves to step out a little faster.
"Oh, they should have been here before this; it's no use, now, they are too late."
"Yes, they are too late."
"I wonder if the vampyre can breathe through the smoke, and live in fire," said one.
"I should think he must be able to do so, if he can stand shooting, as we know he can—you can't kill a vampyre; but yet he must be consumed, if the fire actually touches him, but not unless he can bear almost anything."
"So he can."
"Hurra!" shouted the mob, as a tall flame shot through the top windows of the house.
The fire had got the ascendant now, and no hopes could be entertained, however extravagant, of saving the smallest article that had been left in the mansion.
"Hurra!" shouted the mob with the military, who came up with them.
"Hurra!" shouted the others in reply.
"Quick march!" said the officer; and then, in a loud, commanding tone, he shouted, "Clear the way, there! clear the way."
"Ay, there's room enough for you," said old Mason; "what are you making so much noise about?"
There was a general laugh at the officer, who took no notice of the words, but ordered his men up before the burning pile, which was now an immense mass of flame.
The mob who had accompanied the military now mingled with the mob that had set the house of Sir Francis Varney on fire ere the military had come up with them.
"Halt!" cried out the officer; and the men, obedient to the word of command, halted, and drew up in a double line before the house.
There were then some words of command issued, and some more given to some of the subalterns, and a party of men, under the command of a sergeant, was sent off from the main body, to make a circuit of the house and grounds.
The officer gazed for some moments upon the burning pile without speaking; and then, turning to the next in command, he said in low tones, as he looked upon the mob,—
"We have come too late."
"The house is now nearly gutted."
"And those who came crowding along with us are inextricably mingled with the others who have been the cause of all this mischief: there's no distinguishing them one from another."
"And if you did, you could not say who had done it, and who had not; you could prove nothing."
"I shall not attempt to take prisoners, unless any act is perpetrated beyond what has been done."
"It is a singular affair."
"This Sir Francis Varney is represented to be a courteous, gentlemanly man," said the officer.
"No doubt about it, but he's beset by a parcel of people who do not mind cutting a throat if they can get an opportunity of doing so."
"And I expect they will."
"Yes, when there is a popular excitement against any man, he had better leave this part at once and altogether. It is dangerous to tamper with popular prejudices; no man who has any value for his life ought to do so. It is a sheer act of suicide."
THE BURNING OF VARNEY'S HOUSE.—A NIGHT SCENE.—POPULAR SUPERSTITION.
The officer ceased to speak, and then the party whom he had sent round the house and grounds returned, and gained the main body orderly enough, and the sergeant went forward to make his report to his superior officer.
After the usual salutation, he waited for the inquiry to be put to him as to what he had seen.
"Well, Scott, what have you done?"
"I went round the premises, sir, according to your instructions, but saw no one either in the vicinity of the house, or in the grounds around it."
"No strangers, eh?"
"No, sir, none."
"You saw nothing at all likely to lead to any knowledge as to who it was that has caused this catastrophe?"
"Have you learnt anything among the people who are the perpetrators of this fire?"
"Well, then, that will do, unless there is anything else that you can think of."
"Nothing further, sir, unless it is that I heard some of them say that Sir Francis Varney has perished in the flames."
"So I heard, sir."
"That must be impossible, and yet why should it be so? Go back, Scott, and bring me some person who can give me some information upon this point."
The sergeant departed toward the people, who looked at him without any distrust, for he came single-handed, though they thought he came with the intention of learning what they knew of each other, and so stroll about with the intention of getting up accusations against them. But this was not the case, the officer didn't like the work well enough; he'd rather have been elsewhere.
At length the sergeant came to one man, whom he accosted, and said to him,—
"Do you know anything of yonder fire?"
"Yes: I do know it is a fire."
"Yes, and so do I."
"My friend," said the sergeant, "when a soldier asks a question he does not expect an uncivil answer."
"But a soldier may ask a question that may have an uncivil end to it."
"He may; but it is easy to say so."
"I do say so, then, now."
"Then I'll not trouble you any more."
The sergeant moved on a pace or two more, and then, turning to the mob, he said,—
"Is there any one among you who can tell me anything concerning the fate of Sir Francis Varney?"
"Did you see him burnt?"
"No; but I saw him."
"In the flames?"
"No; before the house was on fire."
"In the house?"
"Yes; and he has not been seen to leave it since, and we conclude he must have been burned."
"Will you come and say as much to my commanding officer? It is all I want."
"Shall I be detained?"
"Then I will go," said the man, and he hobbled out of the crowd towards the sergeant. "I will go and see the officer, and tell him what I know, and that is very little, and can prejudice no one."
"Hurrah!" said the crowd, when they heard this latter assertion; for, at first, they began to be in some alarm lest there should be something wrong about this, and some of them get identified as being active in the fray.
The sergeant led the man back to the spot, where the officer stood a little way in advance of his men.
"Well, Scott," he said, "what have we here?"
"A man who has volunteered a statement, sir."
"Oh! Well, my man, can you say anything concerning all this disturbance that we have here?"
"Then what did you come here for?"
"I understood the sergeant to want some one who could speak of Sir Francis Varney."
"I saw him."
"In the house."
"Exactly; but have you not seen him out of it?"
"Not since; nor any one else, I believe."
"Where was he?"
"Upstairs, where he suddenly disappeared, and nobody can tell where he may have gone to. But he has not been seen out of the house since, and they say he could not have gone bodily out if they had not seen him."
"He must have been burnt," said the officer, musingly; "he could not escape, one would imagine, without being seen by some one out of such a mob."
"Oh, dear no, for I am told they placed a watch at every hole, window, or door however high, and they saw nothing of him—not even fly out!"
"Fly out! I'm speaking of a man!"
"And I of a vampire!" said the man carelessly.
"A vampyre! Pooh, pooh!"
"Oh no! Sir Francis Varney is a vampyre! There can be no sort of doubt about it. You have only to look at him, and you will soon be satisfied of that. See his great sharp teeth in front, and ask yourself what they are for, and you will soon find the answer. They are to make holes with in the bodies of his victims, through which he can suck their blood!"
The officer looked at the man in astonishment for a few moments, as if he doubted his own ears, and then he said,—
"Are you serious?"
"I am ready to swear to it."
"Well, I have heard a great deal about popular superstition, and thought I had seen something of it; but this is decidedly the worst case that ever I saw or heard of. You had better go home, my man, than, by your presence, countenance such a gross absurdity."
"For all that," said the man, "Sir Francis Varney is a vampyre—a blood-sucker—a human blood-sucker!"
"Get away with you," said the officer, "and do not repeat such folly before any one."
The man almost jumped when he heard the tone in which this was spoken, for the officer was both angry and contemptuous, when he heard the words of the man.
"These people," he added, turning to the sergeant, "are ignorant in the extreme. One would think we had got into the country of vampires, instead of a civilised community."
The day was going down now; the last rays of the setting sun glimmered upwards, and still shone upon the tree-tops. The darkness of night was still fast closing around them. The mob stood a motley mass of human beings, wedged together, dark and sombre, gazing upon the mischief that had been done—the work of their hands. The military stood at ease before the burning pile, and by their order and regularity, presented a contrast to the mob, as strongly by their bright gleaming arms, as by their dress and order.
The flames now enveloped the whole mansion. There was not a window or a door from which the fiery element did not burst forth in clouds, and forked flames came rushing forth with a velocity truly wonderful.
The red glare of the flames fell upon all objects around for some distance—the more especially so, as the sun had sunk, and a bank of clouds rose from beneath the horizon and excluded all his rays; there was no twilight, and there was, as yet, no moon.
The country side was enveloped in darkness, and the burning house could be seen for miles around, and formed a rallying-point to all men's eyes.
The engines that were within reach came tearing across the country, and came to the fire; but they were of no avail. There was no supply of water, save from the ornamental ponds. These they could only get at by means that were tedious and unsatisfactory, considering the emergency of the case.
The house was a lone one, and it was being entirely consumed before they arrived, and therefore there was not the remotest chance of saving the least article. Had they ever such a supply of water, nothing could have been effected by it.
Thus the men stood idly by, passing their remarks upon the fire and the mob.
Those who stood around, and within the influence of the red glare of the flames, looked like so many demons in the infernal regions, watching the progress of lighting the fire, which we are told by good Christians is the doom of the unfortunate in spirit, and the woefully unlucky in circumstances.
It was a strange sight that; and there were many persons who would, without doubt, have rather been snug by their own fire-side than they would have remained there but it happened that no one felt inclined to express his inclination to his neighbour, and, consequently, no one said anything on the subject.
None would venture to go alone across the fields, where the spirit of the vampyre might, for all they knew to the contrary, be waiting to pounce upon them, and worry them.
No, no; no man would have quitted that mob to go back alone to the village; they would sooner have stood there all night through. That was an alternative that none of the number would very willingly accept.
The hours passed away, and the house that had been that morning a noble and well-furnished mansion, was now a smouldering heap of ruins. The flames had become somewhat subdued, and there was now more smoke than flames.
The fire had exhausted itself. There was now no more material that could serve it for fuel, and the flames began to become gradually enough subdued.
Suddenly there was a rush, and then a bright flame shot upward for an instant, so bright and so strong, that it threw a flash of light over the country for miles; but it was only momentary, and it subsided.
The roof, which had been built strong enough to resist almost anything, after being burning for a considerable time, suddenly gave way, and came in with a tremendous crash, and then all was for a moment darkness.
After this the fire might be said to be subdued, it having burned itself out; and the flames that could now be seen were but the result of so much charred wood, that would probably smoulder away for a day or two, if left to itself to do so. A dense mass of smoke arose from the ruins, and blackened the atmosphere around, and told the spectators the work was done.
THE RETURN OF THE MOB AND MILITARY TO THE TOWN.—THE MADNESS OF THE MOB.—THE GROCER'S REVENGE.
On the termination of the conflagration, or, rather, the fall of the roof, with the loss of grandeur in the spectacle, men's minds began to be free from the excitement that chained them to the spot, watching the progress of that element which has been truly described as a very good servant, but a very bad master; and of the truth of this every one must be well satisfied.
There was now remaining little more than the livid glare of the hot and burning embers; and this did not extend far, for the walls were too strongly built to fall in from their own weight; they were strong and stout, and intercepted the little light the ashes would have given out.
The mob now began to feel fatigued and chilly. It had been standing and walking about many hours, and the approach of exhaustion could not be put off much longer, especially as there was no longer any great excitement to carry it off.
The officer, seeing that nothing was to be done, collected his men together, and they were soon seen in motion. He had been ordered to stop any tumult that he might have seen, and to save any property. But there was nothing to do now; all the property that could have been saved was now destroyed, and the mob were beginning to disperse, and creep towards their own houses.
The order was then given for the men to take close order, and keep together, and the word to march was given, which the men obeyed with alacrity, for they had no good-will in stopping there the whole of the night.
The return to the village of both the mob and the military was not without its vicissitudes; accidents of all kinds were rife amongst them; the military, however, taking the open paths, soon diminished the distance, and that, too, with little or no accidents, save such as might have been expected from the state of the fields, after they had been so much trodden down of late.
Not so the townspeople or the peasantry; for, by way of keeping up their spirits, and amusing themselves on their way home, they commenced larking, as they called it, which often meant the execution of practical jokes, and these sometimes were of a serious nature.
The night was dark at that hour, especially so when there was a number of persons traversing about, so that little or nothing could be seen.
The mistakes and blunders that were made were numerous. In one place there were a number of people penetrating a path that led only to a hedge and deep ditch; indeed it was a brook very deep and muddy.
Here they came to a stop and endeavoured to ascertain its width, but the little reflected light they had was deceptive, and it did not appear so broad as it was.
"Oh, I can jump it," exclaimed one.
"And so can I," said another. "I have done so before, and why should I not do so now."
This was unanswerable, and as there were many present, at least a dozen were eager to jump.
"If thee can do it, I know I can," said a brawny countryman; "so I'll do it at once.
"The sooner the better," shouted some one behind, "or you'll have no room for a run, here's a lot of 'em coming up; push over as quickly as you can."
Thus urged, the jumpers at once made a rush to the edge of the ditch, and many jumped, and many more, from the prevailing darkness, did not see exactly where the ditch was, and taking one or two steps too many, found themselves up above the waist in muddy water.
Nor were those who jumped much better off, for nearly all jumped short or fell backwards into the stream, and were dragged out in a terrible state.
"Oh, lord! oh, lord!" exclaimed one poor fellow, dripping wet and shivering with cold, "I shall die! oh, the rheumatiz, there'll be a pretty winter for me: I'm half dead."
"Hold your noise," said another, "and help me to get the mud out of my eye; I can't see."
"Never mind," added a third, "considering how you jump, I don't think you want to see."
"This comes a hunting vampyres."
"Oh, it's all a judgment; who knows but he may be in the air: it is nothing to laugh at as I shouldn't be surprised if he were: only think how precious pleasant."
"However pleasant it may be to you," remarked one, "it's profitable to a good many."
"Why, see the numbers, of things that will be spoiled, coats torn, hats crushed, heads broken, and shoes burst. Oh, it's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good."
"So it is, but you may benefit anybody you like, so you don't do it at my expence."
In one part of a field where there were some stiles and gates, a big countryman caught a fat shopkeeper with the arms of the stile a terrible poke in the stomach; while the breath was knocked out of the poor man's stomach, and he was gasping with agony, the fellow set to laughing, and said to his companions, who were of the same class—
"I say, Jim, look at the grocer, he hasn't got any wind to spare, I'd run him for a wager, see how he gapes like a fish out of water."
The poor shopkeeper felt indeed like a fish out of water, and as he afterwards declared he felt just as if he had had a red hot clock weight thrust into the midst of his stomach and there left to cool.
However, the grocer would be revenged upon his tormentor, who had now lost sight of him, but the fat man, after a time, recovering his wind, and the pain in his stomach becoming less intense, he gathered himself up.
"My name ain't Jones," he muttered, "if I don't be one to his one for that; I'll do something that shall make him remember what it is to insult a respectable tradesman. I'll never forgive such an insult. It is dark, and that's why it is he has dared to do this."
Filled with dire thoughts and a spirit of revenge, he looked from side to side to see with what he could effect his object, but could espy nothing.
"It's shameful," he muttered; "what would I give for a little retort. I'd plaster his ugly countenance."
As he spoke, he placed his hands on some pales to rest himself, when he found that they stuck to them, the pales had that day been newly pitched.
A bright idea now struck him.
"If I could only get a handful of this stuff," he thought, "I should be able to serve him out for serving me out. I will, cost what it may; I'm resolved upon that. I'll not have my wind knocked out, and my inside set on fire for nothing. No, no; I'll be revenged on him."
With this view he felt over the pales, and found that he could scrape off a little only, but not with his hands; indeed, it only plastered them; he, therefore, marched about for something to scrape it off with.
"Ah; I have a knife, a large pocket knife, that will do, that is the sort of thing I want."
He immediately commenced feeling for it, but had scarcely got his hand into his pocket when he found there would be a great difficulty in either pushing it in further or withdrawing it altogether, for the pitch made it difficult to do either, and his pocket stuck to his hands like a glove.
"D—n it," said the grocer, "who would have thought of that? here's a pretty go, curse that fellow, he is the cause of all this; I'll be revenged upon him, if it's a year hence."
The enraged grocer drew his hand out, but was unable to effect his object in withdrawing the knife also; but he saw something shining, he stooped to pick it up, exclaiming as he did so, in a gratified tone of voice,
"Ah, here's something that will do better."
As he made a grasp at it, he found he had inserted his hand into something soft.
"God bless me! what now?"
He pulled his hand hastily away, and found that it stuck slightly, and then he saw what it was.
"Ay, ay, the very thing. Surely it must have been placed here on purpose by the people."
The fact was, he had placed his hand into a pot of pitch that had been left by the people who had been at work at pitching the pales, but had been attracted by the fire at Sir Francis Varney's, and to see which they had left their work, and the pitch was left on a smouldering peat fire, so that when Mr. Jones, the grocer, accidentally put his hand into it he found it just warm.
When he made this discovery he dabbed his hand again into the pitch-pot, exclaiming,—
"In for a penny, in for a pound."
And he endeavoured to secure as large a handful of the slippery and sticky stuff as he could, and this done he set off to come up with the big countryman who had done him so much indignity and made his stomach uncomfortable.
He soon came up with him, for the man had stopped rather behind, and was larking, as it is called, with some men, to whom he was a companion.
He had slipped down a bank, and was partially sitting down on the soft mud. In his bustle, the little grocer came down with a slide, close to the big countryman.
"Ah—ah! my little grocer," said the countryman, holding out his hand to catch him, and drawing him towards himself. "You will come and sit down by the side of your old friend."
As he spoke, he endeavoured to pull Mr. Jones down, too; but that individual only replied by fetching the countryman a swinging smack across the face with the handful of pitch.
"There, take that; and now we are quits; we shall be old friends after this, eh? Are you satisfied? You'll remember me, I'll warrant."
As the grocer spoke, he rubbed his hands over the face of the fallen man, and then rushed from the spot with all the haste he could make.
The countryman sat a moment or two confounded, cursing, and swearing, and spluttering, vowing vengeance, believing that it was mud only that had been plastered over his face; but when he put his hands up, and found out what it was, he roared and bellowed like a town-bull.
He cried out to his companions that his eyes were pitched: but they only laughed at him, thinking he was having some foolish lark with them.
It was next day before he got home, for he wandered about all night: and it took him a week to wash the pitch off by means of grease; and ever afterwards he recollected the pitching of his face; nor did he ever forget the grocer.
Thus it was the whole party returned a long while after dark across the fields, with all the various accidents that were likely to befal such an assemblage of people.
The vampyre hunting cost many of them dear, for clothes were injured on all sides: hats lost, and shoes missing in a manner that put some of the rioters to much inconvenience. Soon afterwards, the military retired to their quarters; and the townspeople at length became tranquil and nothing more was heard or done that night.
THE DEPARTURE OF THE BANNERWORTHS FROM THE HALL.—THE NEW ABODE.—JACK PRINGLE, PILOT.
During that very evening, on which the house of Sir Francis Varney was fired by the mob, another scene, and one of different character, was enacted at Bannerworth Hall, where the owners of that ancient place were departing from it.
It was towards the latter part of the day, that Flora Bannerworth, Mrs. Bannerworth, and Henry Bannerworth, were preparing themselves to depart from the house of their ancestors. The intended proprietor was, as we have already been made acquainted with, the old admiral, who had taken the place somewhat mysteriously, considering the way in which he usually did business.
The admiral was walking up and down the lawn before the house, and looking up at the windows every now and then; and turning to Jack Pringle, he said,—
"Jack, you dog."
"Mind you convoy these women into the right port; do you hear? and no mistaking the bearings; do you hear?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"These crafts want care; and you are pilot, commander, and all; so mind and keep your weather eye open."
"Ay, ay, sir. I knows the craft well enough, and I knows the roads, too; there'll be no end of foundering against the breakers to find where they lie."
"No, no, Jack; you needn't do that; but mind your bearings. Jack, mind your bearings."
"Never fear; I know 'em, well enough; my eyes ain't laid up in ordinary yet."
"Eh? What do you mean by that, you dog, eh?"
"Nothing; only I can see without helps to read, or glasses either; so I know one place from another."
There was now some one moving within; and the admiral, followed by Jack Pringle, entered the Hall. Henry Bannerworth was there. They were all ready to go when the coach came for them, which the admiral had ordered for them.
"Jack, you lubber; where are you?"
"Ay, ay, sir, here am I."
"Go, and station yourself up in some place where you can keep a good look-out for the coach, and come and report when you see it."
"Ay—ay, sir," said Jack, and away he went from the room, and stationed himself up in one of the trees, that commanded a good view of the main road for some distance.
"Admiral Bell," said Henry, "here we are, trusting implicitly to you; and in doing so, I am sure I am doing right."
"You will see that," said the admiral. "All's fair and honest as yet; and what is to come, will speak for itself."
"I hope you won't suffer from any of these nocturnal visits," said Henry.
"I don't much care about them; but old Admiral Bell don't strike his colours to an enemy, however ugly he may look. No, no; it must be a better craft than his own that'll take him; and one who won't run away, but that will grapple yard-arm and yard-arm, you know."
"Why, admiral, you must have seen many dangers in your time, and be used to all kinds of disturbances and conflicts. You have had a life of experience."
"Yes; and experience has come pretty thick sometimes, I can tell you, when it comes in the shape of Frenchmen's broadsides."
"I dare say, then, it must be rather awkward."
"Death by the law," said the admiral, "to stop one of them with your head, I assure you. I dare not make the attempt myself, though I have often seen it done."
"I dare say; but here are Flora and my mother."
As he spoke, Flora and her mother entered the apartment.
"Well, admiral, we are all ready; and, though I may feel somewhat sorry at leaving the old Hall, yet it arises from attachment to the place, and not any disinclination to be beyond the reach of these dreadful alarms."
"And I, too, shall be by no means sorry," said Flora; "I am sure it is some gratification to know we leave a friend here, rather than some others, who would have had the place, if they could have got it, by any means."
"Ah, that's true enough, Miss Flora," said the admiral; "but we'll run the enemy down yet, depend upon it. But once away, you will be free from these terrors; and now, as you have promised, do not let yourselves be seen any where at all."
"You have our promises, admiral; and they shall be religiously kept, I can assure you."
"Boat, ahoy—ahoy!" shouted Jack.
"What boat?" said the admiral, surprised; and then he muttered, "Confound you for a lubber! Didn't I tell you to mind your bearings, you dog-fish you?"
"Ay, ay, sir—and so I did."
"Yes, here they are. Squint over the larboard bulk-heads, as they call walls, and then atween the two trees on the starboard side of the course, then straight ahead for a few hundred fathoms, when you come to a funnel as is smoking like the crater of Mount Vesuvius, and then in a line with that on the top of the hill, comes our boat."
"Well," said the admiral, "that'll do. Now go open the gates, and keep a bright look out, and if you see anybody near your watch, why douse their glim."
"Ay—ay, sir," said Jack, and he disappeared.
"Rather a lucid description," said Henry, as he thought of Jack's report to the admiral.
"Oh, it's a seaman's report. I know what he means; it's quicker and plainer than the land lingo, to my ears, and Jack can't talk any other, you see."
By this time the coach came into the yard, and the whole party descended into the court-yard, where they came to take leave of the old place.
"Good bye," said the admiral. "I hope the place you are going to will be such as please you—I hope it will."
"I am sure we shall endeavour to be pleased with it, and I am pretty sure we shall."
"Farewell, Admiral Bell," said Henry.
"You remember your promises?"
"I do. Good bye, Mr. Chillingworth."
"Good bye," said Mr. Chillingworth, who came up to bid them farewell; "a pleasant journey, and may you all be the happier for it."
"You do not come with us?"
"No; I have some business of importance to attend to, else I should have the greatest pleasure in doing so. But good bye; we shall not be long apart, I dare say."
"I hope not," said Henry.
The door of the carriage was shut by the admiral, who looked round, saying,—
"Jack—Jack Pringle, where are you, you dog?"
"Here am I," said Jack.
"Where have you been to?"
"Only been for pigtail," said Jack. "I forgot it, and couldn't set sail without it."
"You dog you; didn't I tell you to mind your bearings?"
"So I will," said Jack, "fore and aft—fore and aft, admiral."
"You had better," said the admiral, who, however, relaxed into a broad grin, which he concealed from Jack Pringle.
Jack mounted the coach-box, and away it went, just as it was getting dark. The old admiral had locked up all the rooms in the presence of Henry Bannerworth; and when the coach had gone out of sight, Mr. Chillingworth came back to the Hall, where he joined the admiral.
"Well," he said, "they are gone, Admiral Bell, and we are alone; we have a clear stage and no favour."
"The two things of all others I most desire. Now, they will be strangers where they are going to, and that will be something gained. I will endeavour to do some thing if I get yard-arm and yard-arm with these pirates. I'll make 'em feel the weight of true metal; I'll board 'em—d——e, I'll do everything."
"Everything that can be done."
The coach in which the family of the Bannerworths were carried away continued its course without any let or hindrance, and they met no one on their road during the whole drive. The fact was, nearly everybody was at the conflagration at Sir Francis Varney's house.
Flora knew not which way they were going, and, after a time, all trace of the road was lost. Darkness set in, and they all sat in silence in the coach.
At length, after some time had been spent thus, Flora Bannerworth turned to Jack Pringle, and said,—
"Are we near, or have we much further to go?"
"Not very much, ma'am," said Jack. "All's right, however—ship in the direct course, and no breakers ahead—no lookout necessary; however there's a land-lubber aloft to keep a look out."
As this was not very intelligible, and Jack seemed to have his own reasons for silence, they asked him no further questions; but in about three-quarters of an hour, during which time the coach had been driving through the trees, they came to a standstill by a sudden pull of the check-string from Jack, who said,—
"Hilloa!—take in sails, and drop anchor."
"Is this the place?"
"Yes, here we are," said Jack; "we're in port now, at all events;" and he began to sing,—
"The trials and the dangers of the voyage is past,"
when the coach door opened, and they all got out and looked about them where they were.
"Up the garden if you please, ma'am—as quick as you can; the night air is very cold."
Flora and her mother and brother took the hint, which was meant by Jack to mean that they were not to be seen outside. They at once entered a pretty garden, and then they came to a very neat and picturesque cottage. They had no time to look up at it, as the door was immediately opened by an elderly female, who was intended to wait upon them.
Soon after, Jack Pringle and the coachman entered the passage with the small amount of luggage which they had brought with them. This was deposited in the passage, and then Jack went out again, and, after a few minutes, there was the sound of wheels, which intimated that the coach had driven off.
Jack, however, returned in a few minutes afterwards, having secured the wicket-gate at the end of the garden, and then entered the house, shutting the door carefully after him.
Flora and her mother looked over the apartments in which they were shown with some surprise. It was, in everything, such as they could wish; indeed, though it could not be termed handsomely or extravagantly furnished, or that the things were new, yet, there was all that convenience and comfort could require, and some little of the luxuries.
"Well," said Flora, "this is very thoughtful of the admiral. The place will really be charming, and the garden, too, delightful."
"Mustn't be made use of just now," said Jack, "if you please, ma'am; them's the orders at present."
"Very well," said Flora, smiling. "I suppose, Mr. Pringle, we must obey them."
"Jack Pringle, if you please," said Jack. "My commands only temporary. I ain't got a commission."
THE LONELY WATCH, AND THE ADVENTURE IN THE DESERTED HOUSE.
It is now quite night, and so peculiar and solemn a stillness reigns in and about Bannerworth Hall and its surrounding grounds, that one might have supposed it a place of the dead, deserted completely after sunset by all who would still hold kindred with the living. There was not a breath of air stirring, and this circumstance added greatly to the impression of profound repose which the whole scene exhibited.
The wind during the day had been rather of a squally character, but towards nightfall, as is often usual after a day of such a character, it had completely lulled, and the serenity of the scene was unbroken even by the faintest sigh from a wandering zephyr.
The moon rose late at that period, and as is always the case at that interval between sunset and the rising of that luminary which makes the night so beautiful, the darkness was of the most profound character.
It was one of those nights to produce melancholy reflections—a night on which a man would be apt to review his past life, and to look into the hidden recesses of his soul to see if conscience could make a coward of him in the loneliness and stillness that breathed around.
It was one of those nights in which wanderers in the solitude of nature feel that the eye of Heaven is upon them, and on which there seems to be a more visible connection between the world and its great Creator than upon ordinary occasions.
The solemn and melancholy appear places once instinct with life, when deserted by those familiar forms and faces that have long inhabited them. There is no desert, no uninhabited isle in the far ocean, no wild, barren, pathless tract of unmitigated sterility, which could for one moment compare in point of loneliness and desolation to a deserted city.
Strip London, mighty and majestic as it is, of the busy swarm of humanity that throng its streets, its suburbs, its temples, its public edifices, and its private dwellings, and how awful would be the walk of one solitary man throughout its noiseless thoroughfares.
If madness seized not upon him ere he had been long the sole survivor of a race, it would need be cast in no common mould.
And to descend from great things to smaller—from the huge leviathan city to one mansion far removed from the noise and bustle of conventional life, we way imagine the sort of desolation that reigned through Bannerworth Hall, when, for the first time, after nearly a hundred and fifty years of occupation, it was deserted by the representatives of that family, so many members of which had lived and died beneath its roof. The house, and everything within, without, and around it, seemed actually to sympathize with its own desolation and desertion.
It seemed as if twenty years of continued occupation could not have produced such an effect upon the ancient edifice as had those few hours of neglect and desertion.
And yet it was not as if it had been stripped of those time-worn and ancient relics of ornament and furnishing that so long had appertained to it. No, nothing but the absence of those forms which had been accustomed quietly to move from room to room, and to be met here upon a staircase, there upon a corridor, and even in some of the ancient panelled apartments, which give it an air of dreary repose and listlessness.
The shutters, too, were all closed, and that circumstance contributed largely to the production of that gloomy effect which otherwise could not have ensued.
In fact, what could be done without attracting very special observation was done to prove to any casual observer that the house was untenanted.
But such was not really the case. In that very room where the much dreaded Varney the vampyre had made one of his dreaded appearances to Flora Bannerworth and her mother, sat two men.
It was from that apartment that Flora had discharged the pistol, which had been left to her by her brother, and the shot from which it was believed by the whole family had most certainly taken effect upon the person of the vampyre.
It was a room peculiarly accessible from the gardens, for it had long French windows opening to the very ground, and but a stone step intervened between the flooring of the apartment and a broad gravel walk which wound round that entire portion of the house.
It was in this room, then, that two men sat in silence, and nearly in darkness.
Before them, and on a table, were several articles of refreshment, as well of defence and offence, according as their intentions might be.
There were a bottle and three glasses, and lying near the elbow of one of the men was a large pair of pistols, such as might have adorned the belt of some desperate character, who wished to instil an opinion of his prowess into his foes by the magnitude of his weapons.
Close at hand, by the same party, lay some more modern fire arms, as well as a long dirk, with a silver mounted handle.
The light they had consisted of a large lantern, so constructed with a slide, that it could be completely obscured at a moment's notice; but now as it was placed, the rays that were allowed to come from it were directed as much from the window of the apartment, as possible, and fell upon the faces of the two men, revealing them to be Admiral Bell and Dr. Chillingworth.
It might have been the effect of the particular light in which he sat, but the doctor looked extremely pale, and did not appear at all at his ease.
The admiral, on the contrary, appeared in as placable a state of mind as possible and had his arms folded across his breast, and his head shrunk down between his shoulders as if he had made up his mind to something that was to last a long time, and, therefore he was making the best of it.
"I do hope," said Mr. Chillingworth, after a long pause, "that our efforts will be crowned with success—you know, my dear sir, that I have always been of your opinion, that there was a great deal more in this matter than met the eye."
"To be sure," said the admiral, "and as to our efforts being crowned with success, why, I'll give you a toast, doctor, 'may the morning's reflection provide for the evening's amusement.'"
"Ha! ha!" said Chillingworth, faintly; "I'd rather not drink any more, and you seem, admiral, to have transposed the toast in some way. I believe it runs, 'may the evening's amusement bear the morning's reflection.'"
"Transpose the devil!" said the admiral; "what do I care how it runs? I gave you my toast, and as to that you mention, it's another one altogether, and a sneaking, shore-going one too: but why don't you drink?"
"Why, my dear sir, medically speaking, I am strongly of opinion that, when the human stomach is made to contain a large quantity of alcohol, it produces bad effects upon the system. Now, I've certainly taken one glass of this infernally strong Hollands, and it is now lying in my stomach like the red-hot heater of a tea-urn."
"Is it? put it out with another, then."
"Ay, I'm afraid that would not answer, but do you really think, admiral, that we shall effect anything by waiting here, and keeping watch and ward, not under the most comfortable circumstances, this first night of the Hall being empty."
"Well, I don't know that we shall," said the admiral; "but when you really want to steal a march upon the enemy, there is nothing like beginning betimes. We are both of opinion that Varney's great object throughout has been, by some means or another, to get possession of the house."
"Yes; true, true."
"We know that he has been unceasing in his endeavours to get the Bannerworth family out of it; that he has offered them their own price to become its tenant, and that the whole gist of his quiet and placid interview with Flora in the garden, was to supply her with a new set of reasons for urging her mother and brother to leave Bannerworth Hall, because the old ones were certainly not found sufficient."
"True, true, most true," said Mr. Chillingworth, emphatically. "You know, sir, that from the first time you broached that view of the subject to me, how entirely I coincided with you."
"Of course you did, for you are a honest fellow, and a right-thinking fellow, though you are a doctor, and I don't know that I like doctors much better than I like lawyers—they're only humbugs in a different sort of way. But I wish to be liberal; there is such a thing as an honest lawyer, and, d——e, you're an honest doctor!"
"Of course I'm much obliged, admiral, for your good opinion. I only wish it had struck me to bring something of a solid nature in the shape of food, to sustain the waste of the animal economy during the hours we shall have to wait here."
"Don't trouble yourself about that," said the admiral. "Do you think I'm a donkey, and would set out on a cruise without victualling my ship? I should think not. Jack Pringle will be here soon, and he has my orders to bring in something to eat."
"Well," said the doctor, "that's very provident of you, admiral, and I feel personally obliged; but tell me, how do you intend to conduct the watch?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, I mean, if we sit here with the window fastened so as to prevent our light from being seen, and the door closed, how are we by any possibility to know if the house is attacked or not?"
"Hark'ee, my friend," said the admiral; "I've left a weak point for the enemy."
"A what, admiral?"
"A weak point. I've taken good care to secure everything but one of the windows on the ground floor, and that I've left open, or so nearly open, that it will look like the most natural place in the world to get in at. Now, just inside that window, I've placed a lot of the family crockery. I'll warrant, if anybody so much as puts his foot in, you'll hear the smash;—and, d——e, there it is!"
There was a loud crash at this moment, followed by a succession of similar sounds, but of a lesser degree; and both the admiral and Mr. Chillingworth sprung to their feet.
"Come on," cried the former; "here'll be a precious row—take the lantern."
Mr. Chillingworth did so, but he did not seem possessed of a great deal of presence of mind; for, before they got out of the room, he twice accidentally put on the dark slide, and produced a total darkness.
"D—n!" said the admiral; "don't make it wink and wink in that way; hold it up, and run after me as hard as you can."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," said Mr. Chillingworth.
It was one of the windows of a long room, containing five, fronting the garden, which the admiral had left purposely unguarded; and it was not far from the apartment in which they had been sitting, so that, probably, not half a minute's time elapsed between the moment of the first alarm, and their reaching the spot from whence it was presumed to arise.
The admiral had armed himself with one of the huge pistols, and he dashed forward, with all the vehemence of his character, towards the window, where he knew he had placed the family crockery, and where he fully expected to meet the reward of his exertion by discovering some one lying amid its fragments.
In this, however, he was disappointed; for, although there was evidently a great smash amongst the plates and dishes, the window remained closed, and there was no indication whatever of the presence of any one.
"Well, that's odd," said the admiral; "I balanced them up amazingly careful, and two of 'em edgeways—d—e, a fly would have knocked them down."
"Mew," said a great cat, emerging from under a chair.
"Curse you, there you are," said the admiral. "Put out the light, put out the light; here we're illuminating the whole house for nothing."
With, a click went the darkening slide over the lantern, and all was obscurity.
At that instant a shrill, clear whistle came from the garden.
THE ARRIVAL OF JACK PRINGLE.—MIDNIGHT AND THE VAMPYRE.—THE MYSTERIOUS HAT.
"Bless me! what is that?" said Mr. Chillingworth; "what a very singular sound."
"Hold your noise," said the admiral; "did you never hear that before?"
"No; how should I?"
"Lor, bless the ignorance of some people, that's a boatswain's call."
"Oh, it is," said Mr. Chillingworth; "is he going to call again?"
"D——e, I tell ye it's a boatswain's call."
"Well, then, d——e, if it comes to that," said Mr. Chillingworth, "what does he call here for?"
The admiral disdained an answer; but demanding the lantern, he opened it, so that there was a sufficient glimmering of light to guide him, and then walked from the room towards the front door of the Hall.
He asked no questions before he opened it, because, no doubt, the signal was preconcerted; and Jack Pringle, for it was he indeed who had arrived, at once walked in, and the admiral barred the door with the same precision with which it was before secured.
"Well, Jack," he said, "did you see anybody?"
"Ay, ay, sir," said Jack.
"Why, ye don't mean that—where?"
"Where I bought the grub; a woman—"
"D——e, you're a fool, Jack."
"Hilloa, ye scoundrel, what d'ye mean by talking to me in that way? is this your respect for your superiors?"
"Ship's been paid off long ago," said Jack, "and I ain't got no superiors. I ain't a marine or a Frenchman."
"Why, you're drunk."
"I know it; put that in your eye."
"There's a scoundrel. Why, you know-nothing-lubber, didn't I tell you to be careful, and that everything depended upon secrecy and caution? and didn't I tell you, above all this, to avoid drink?"
"To be sure you did."
"And yet you come here like a rum cask."
"Yes; now you've had your say, what then?"
"You'd better leave him alone," said Mr. Chillingworth; "it's no use arguing with a drunken man."
"Harkye, admiral," said Jack, steadying himself as well as he could. "I've put up with you a precious long while, but I won't no longer; you're so drunk, now, that you keeping bobbing up and down like the mizen gaff in a storm—that's my opinion—tol de rol."
"Let him alone, let him alone," urged Mr. Chillingworth.
"The villain," said the admiral; "he's enough to ruin everything; now, who would have thought that? but it's always been the way with him for a matter of twenty years—he never had any judgment in his drink. When it was all smooth sailing, and nothing to do, and the fellow might have got an extra drop on board, which nobody would have cared for, he's as sober as a judge; but, whenever there's anything to do, that wants a little cleverness, confound him, he ships rum enough to float a seventy-four."
"Are you going to stand anything to drink," said Jack, "my old buffer? Do you recollect where you got your knob scuttled off Beyrout—how you fell on your latter end and tried to recollect your church cateckis, you old brute?—I's ashamed of you. Do you recollect the brown girl you bought for thirteen bob and a tanner, at the blessed Society Islands, and sold her again for a dollar, to a nigger seven feet two, in his natural pumps? you're a nice article, you is, to talk of marines and swabs, and shore-going lubbers, blow yer. Do you recollect the little Frenchman that told ye he'd pull your blessed nose, and I advised you to soap it? do you recollect Sall at Spithead, as you got in at a port hole of the state cabin, all but her behind?"
"Death and the devil!" said the admiral, breaking from the grasp of Mr. Chillingworth.
"Ay," said Jack, "you'll come to 'em both one of these days, old cock, and no mistake."
"I'll have his life, I'll have his life," roared the admiral.
"Nay, nay, sir," said Mr. Chillingworth, catching the admiral round the waist. "My dear sir, recollect, now, if I may venture to advise you, Admiral Bell, there's a lot of that fiery hollands you know, in the next room; set firm down to that, and finish him off. I'll warrant him, he'll be quiet enough."
"What's that you say?" cried Jack—"hollands!—who's got any?—next to rum and Elizabeth Baker, if I has an affection, it's hollands."
"Jack!" said the admiral.
"Ay, ay, sir!" said Jack, instinctively.
"Come this way."
Jack staggered after him, and they all reached the room where the admiral and Mr. Chillingworth had been sitting before the alarm.
"There!" said the admiral, putting the light upon the table, and pointing to the bottle; "what do you think of that?"
"I never thinks under such circumstances," said Jack. "Here's to the wooden walls of old England!"
He seized the bottle, and, putting its neck into his mouth, for a few moments nothing was heard but a gurgling sound of the liquor passing down his throat; his head went further and further back, until, at last, over he went, chair and bottle and all, and lay in a helpless state of intoxication on the floor.
"So far, so good," said the admiral. "He's out of the way, at all events."
"I'll just loosen his neckcloth," said Mr. Chillingworth, "and then we'll go and sit somewhere else; and I should recommend that, if anywhere, we take up our station in that chamber, once Flora's, where the mysterious panelled portrait hangs, that bears so strong a resemblance to Varney, the vampyre."
"Hush!" said the admiral. "What's that?"
They listened for a moment intently; and then, distinctly, upon the gravel path outside the window, they heard a footstep, as if some person were walking along, not altogether heedlessly, but yet without any very great amount of caution or attention to the noise he might make.
"Hist!" said the doctor. "Not a word. They come."
"What do you say they for?" said the admiral.
"Because something seems to whisper me that Mr. Marchdale knows more of Varney, the vampyre, than ever he has chosen to reveal. Put out the light."
"Yes, yes—that'll do. The moon has risen; see how it streams through the chinks of the shutters."
"No, no—it's not in that direction, or our light would have betrayed us. Do you not see the beams come from that half glass-door leading to the greenhouse?"
"Yes; and there's the footstep again, or another."
Tramp, tramp came a footfall again upon the gravel path, and, as before, died away upon their listening ears.
"What do you say now," said Mr. Chillingworth—"are there not two?"
"If they were a dozen," said the admiral, "although we have lost one of our force, I would tackle them. Let's creep on through the rooms in the direction the footsteps went."
"My life on it," said Mr. Chillingworth as they left the apartment, "if this be Varney, he makes for that apartment where Flora slept, and which he knows how to get admission to. I've studied the house well, admiral, and to get to that window any one from here outside must take a considerable round. Come on—we shall be beforehand."
"A good idea—a good idea. Be it so."
Just allowing themselves sufficient light to guide them on the way from the lantern, they hurried on with as much precipitation as the intricacies of the passage would allow, nor halted till they had reached the chamber were hung the portrait which bore so striking and remarkable a likeness to Varney, the vampyre.
They left the lamp outside the door, so that not even a straggling beam from it could betray that there were persons on the watch; and then, as quietly as foot could fall, they took up their station among the hangings of the antique bedstead, which has been before alluded to in this work as a remarkable piece of furniture appertaining to that apartment.
"Do you think," said the admiral, "we've distanced them?"
"Certainly we have. It's unlucky that the blind of the window is down."
"Is it? By Heaven, there's a d——d strange-looking shadow creeping over it."
Mr. Chillingworth looked almost with suspended breath. Even he could not altogether get rid of a tremulous feeling, as he saw that the shadow of a human form, apparently of very large dimensions, was on the outside, with the arms spread out, as if feeling for some means of opening the window.
It would have been easy now to have fired one of the pistols direct upon the figure; but, somehow or another, both the admiral and Mr. Chillingworth shrank from that course, and they felt much rather inclined to capture whoever might make his appearance, only using their pistols as a last resource, than gratuitously and at once to resort to violence.
"Who should you say that was?" whispered the admiral.
"Varney, the vampyre."
"D——e, he's ill-looking and big enough for anything—there's a noise!"
There was a strange cracking sound at the window, as if a pane of glass was being very stealthily and quietly broken; and then the blind was agitated slightly, confusing much the shadow that was cast upon it, as if the hand of some person was introduced for the purpose of effecting a complete entrance into the apartment.
"He's coming in," whispered the admiral.
"Hush, for Heaven's sake!" said Mr. Chillingworth; "you will alarm him, and we shall lose the fruit of all the labour we have already bestowed upon the matter; but did you not say something, admiral, about lying under the window and catching him by the leg?"
"Why, yes; I did."
"Go and do it, then; for, as sure as you are a living man, his leg will be in in a minute."
"Here goes," said the admiral; "I never suggest anything which I'm unwilling to do myself."
Whoever it was that now was making such strenuous exertions to get into the apartment seemed to find some difficulty as regarded the fastenings of the window, and as this difficulty increased, the patience of the party, as well as his caution deserted him, and the casement was rattled with violence.
With a far greater amount of caution than any one from a knowledge of his character would have given him credit for, the admiral crept forward and laid himself exactly under the window.
The depth of wood-work from the floor to the lowest part of the window-frame did not exceed above two feet; to that any one could conveniently step in from the balcony outride on to the floor of the apartment, which was just what he who was attempting to effect an entrance was desirous of doing.
It was quite clear that, be he who he might, mortal or vampyre, he had some acquaintance with the fastening of the window; for now he succeeded in moving it, and the sash was thrown open.
The blind was still an obstacle; but a vigorous pull from the intruder brought that down on the prostrate admiral; and then Mr. Chillingworth saw, by the moonlight, a tall, gaunt figure standing in the balcony, as if just hesitating for a moment whether to get head first or feet first into the apartment.
Had he chosen the former alternative he would need, indeed, to have been endowed with more than mortal powers of defence and offence to escape capture, but his lucky star was in the ascendancy, and he put his foot in first.
He turned his side to the apartment and, as he did so, the blight moonlight fell upon his face, enabling Mr. Chillingworth to see, without the shadow of a doubt, that it was, indeed, Varney, the vampyre, who was thus stealthily making his entrance into Bannerworth Hall, according to the calculation which had been made by the admiral upon that subject. The doctor scarcely knew whether to be pleased or not at this discovery; it was almost a terrifying one, sceptical as he was upon the subject of vampyres, and he waited breathless for the issue of the singular and perilous adventure.
No doubt Admiral Bell deeply congratulated himself upon the success which was about to crown his stratagem for the capture of the intruder, be he who he might, and he writhed with impatience for the foot to come sufficiently near him to enable him to grasp it.
His patience was not severely tried, for in another moment it rested upon his chest.
"Boarders a hoy!" shouted the admiral, and at once he laid hold of the trespasser. "Yard-arm to yard-arm, I think I've got you now. Here's a prize, doctor! he shall go away without his leg if he goes away now. Eh! what! the light—d——e, he has—Doctor, the light! the light! Why what's this?—Hilloa, there!"
Dr. Chillingworth sprang into the passage, and procured the light—in another moment he was at the side of the admiral, and the lantern slide being thrown back, he saw at once the dilemma into which his friend had fallen.
There he lay upon his back, grasping, with the vehemence of an embrace that had in it much of the ludicrous, a long boot, from which the intruder had cleverly slipped his leg, leaving it as a poor trophy in the hands of his enemies.
"Why you've only pulled his boot off," said the doctor; "and now he's gone for good, for he knows what we're about, and has slipped through your fingers."
Admiral Bell sat up and looked at the boot with a rueful countenance.
"Done again!" he said.
"Yes, you are done," said the doctor; "why didn't you lay hold of the leg while you were about it, instead of the boot? Admiral, are these your tactics?"
"Don't be a fool," said the admiral; "put out the light and give me the pistols, or blaze away yourself into the garden; a chance shot may do something. It's no use running after him; a stern chase is a long chase; but fire away."
As if some parties below had heard him give the word, two loud reports from the garden immediately ensued, and a crash of glass testified to the fact that some deadly missile had entered the room.
"Murder!" said the doctor, and he fell flat upon his back. "I don't like this at all; it's all in your line, admiral, but not in mine."
"All's right, my lad," said the admiral; "now for it."
He saw lying in the moonlight the pistols which he and the doctor had brought into the room, and in another moment he, to use his own words, returned the broadside of the enemy.
"D—n it!" he said, "this puts me in mind of old times. Blaze away, you thieves, while I load; broadside to broadside. It's your turn now; I scorn to take an advantage. What the devil's that?"
Something very large and very heavy came bang against the window, sending it all into the room, and nearly smothering the admiral with the fragments. Another shot was then fired, and in came something else, which hit the wall on the opposite side of the room, rebounding from thence on to the doctor, who gave a yell of despair.
After that all was still; the enemy seemed to be satisfied that they had silenced the garrison. And it took the admiral a great deal of kicking and plunging to rescue himself from some superincumbent mass that was upon him, which seemed to him to be a considerable sized tree.
"Call this fair fighting," he shouted—"getting a man's legs and arms tangled up like a piece of Indian matting in the branches of a tree? Doctor, I say! hilloa! where are you?"
"I don't know," said the doctor; "but there's somebody getting into the balcony—now we shall be murdered in cold blood!"
"Where's the pistols?"
"Fired off, of course; you did it yourself."
Bang came something else into the room, which, from the sound it made, closely resembled a brick, and after that somebody jumped clean into the centre of the floor, and then, after rolling and writhing about in a most singular manner, slowly got up, and with various preliminary hiccups, said,—
"Come on, you lubbers, many of you as like. I'm the tar for all weathers."
"Why, d——e," said the admiral, "it's Jack Pringle."
"Yes, it is," said Jack, who was not sufficiently sober to recognise the admiral's voice. "I sees as how you've heard of me. Come on, all of you."
"Why, Jack, you scoundrel," roared the admiral, "how came you here? Don't you know me? I'm your admiral, you horse-marine."
"Eh?" said Jack. "Ay—ay, sir, how came you here?"
"How came you, you villain?"
"Boarded the enemy."
"The enemy who you boarded was us; and hang me if I don't think you haven't been pouring broadsides into us, while the enemy were scudding before the wind in another direction."
"Lor!" said Jack.
"Explain, you scoundrel, directly—explain."
"Well, that's only reasonable," said Jack; and giving a heavier lurch than usual, he sat down with a great bounce upon the floor. "You see it's just this here,—when I was a coming of course I heard, just as I was a going, that ere as made me come all in consequence of somebody a going, or for to come, you see, admiral."
"Doctor," cried the admiral, in a great rage, "just help me out of this entanglement of branches, and I'll rid the world from an encumbrance by smashing that fellow."
"Smash yourself!" said Jack. "You know you're drunk."
"My dear admiral," said Mr. Chillingworth, laying hold of one of his legs, and pulling it very hard, which brought his face into a lot of brambles, "we're making a mess of this business."
"Murder!" shouted the admiral; "you are indeed. Is that what you call pulling me out of it? You've stuck me fast."
"I'll manage it," said Jack. "I've seed him in many a scrape, and I've seed him out. You pull me, doctor, and I'll pull him. Yo hoy!"
Jack laid hold of the admiral by the scuff of the neck, and the doctor laid hold of Jack round the waist, the consequence of which was that he was dragged out from the branches of the tree, which seemed to have been thrown into the room, and down fell both Jack and the doctor.
At this instant there was a strange hissing sound heard below the window; then there was a sudden, loud report, as if a hand-grenade had gone off. A spectral sort of light gleamed into the room, and a tall, gaunt-looking figure rose slowly up in the balcony.
"Beware of the dead!" said a voice. "Let the living contend with the living, the dead with the dead. Beware!"
The figure disappeared, as did also the strange, spectral-looking light. A death-like silence ensued, and the cold moonbeams streamed in upon the floor of the apartment, as if nothing had occurred to disturb the wrapped repose and serenity of the scene.
THE WARNING.—THE NEW PLAN OF OPERATION.—THE INSULTING MESSAGE FROM VARNEY.
So much of the night had been consumed in these operations, that by the time they were over, and the three personages who lay upon the floor of what might be called the haunted chamber of Bannerworth Hall, even had they now been disposed to seek repose, would have had a short time to do so before the daylight would have streamed in upon them, and roused them to the bustle of waking existence.
It may be well believed what a vast amount of surprise came over the three persons in that chamber at the last little circumstance that had occurred in connection with the night's proceedings.
There was nothing which had preceded that, that did not resemble a genuine attack upon the premises; but about that last mysterious appearance, with its curious light, there was quite enough to bother the admiral and Jack Pringle to a considerable effect, whatever might be the effect upon Mr. Chillingworth, whose profession better enabled him to comprehend, chemically, what would produce effects that, no doubt, astonished them amazingly.
What with his intoxication and the violent exercise he had taken, Jack was again thoroughly prostrate; while the admiral could not have looked more astonished had the evil one himself appeared in propria persona and given him notice to quit the premises.
He was, however, the first to speak, and the words he spoke were addressed to Jack, to whom he said,—
"Jack, you lubber, what do you think of all that?"
Jack, however, was too far gone even to say "Ay, ay, sir;" and Mr. Chillingworth, slowly getting himself up to his feet, approached the admiral.
"It's hard to say so much, Admiral Bell," he said, "but it strikes me that whatever object this Sir Francis Varney, or Varney, the vampyre, has in coming into Bannerworth Hall, it is, at all events, of sufficient importance to induce him to go any length, and not to let even a life to stand in the way of its accomplishment."
"Well, it seems so," said the admiral; "for I'll be hanged if I can make head or tail of the fellow."
"If we value our personal safety, we shall hesitate to continue a perilous adventure which I think can end only in defeat, if not in death."
"But we don't value our personal safety," said the admiral. "We've got into the adventure, and I don't see why we shouldn't carry it out. It may be growing a little serious; but what of that? For the sake of that young girl, Flora Bannerworth, as well as for the sake of my nephew, Charles Holland, I will see the end of this affair, let it be what it may; but mind you, Mr. Chillingworth, if one man chooses to go upon a desperate service, that's no reason why he should ask another to do so."
"I understand you," said Mr. Chillingworth; "but, having commenced the adventure with you, I am not the man to desert you in it. We have committed a great mistake."
"A mistake! how?"
"Why, we ought to have watched outside the house, instead of within it. There can be no doubt that if we had lain in wait in the garden, we should have been in a better position to have accomplished our object."
"Well, I don't know, doctor, but it seems to me that if Jack Pringle hadn't made such a fool of himself, we should have managed very well: and I don't know now how he came to behave in the manner he did."
"Nor I," said Mr. Chillingworth. "But, at all events, so far as the result goes, it is quite clear that any further watching, in this house, for the appearance of Sir Francis Varney, will now be in vain. He has nothing to do now but to keep quiet until we are tired out—a fact, concerning which he can easily obtain information—and then he immediately, without trouble, walks into the premises, to his own satisfaction."
"But what the deuce can he want upon the premises?"
"That question, admiral, induces me to think that we have made another mistake. We ought not to have attempted to surprise Sir Francis Varney in coming into Bannerworth Hall, but to catch him as he came out."
"Well, there's something in that," said the admiral. "This is a pretty night's business, to be sure. However, it can't be helped, it's done, and there's an end on't. And now, as the morning is near at hand, I certainly must confess I should like to get some breakfast, although I don't like that we should all leave the house together"
"Why," said Mr. Chillingworth, "as we have now no secret to keep with regard to our being here, because the principal person we wished to keep it from is aware of it, I think we cannot do better than send at once for Henry Bannerworth, tell him of the non-success of the effort we have made in his behalf, and admit him at once into our consultation of what is next to be done."
"Agreed, agreed, I think that, without troubling him, we might have captured this Varney; but that's over now, and, as soon as Jack Pringle chooses to wake up again, I'll send him to the Bannerworths with a message."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Jack, suddenly; "all's right."
"Why, you vagabond," said the admiral, "I do believe you've been shamming!"
"Being drunk, to be sure."
"Lor! couldn't do it," said Jack; "I'll just tell you how it was. I wakened up and found myself shut in somewhere; and, as I couldn't get out of the door, I thought I'd try the window, and there I did get out. Well, perhaps I wasn't quite the thing, but I sees two people in the garden a looking up at this ere room; and, to be sure, I thought it was you and the doctor. Well, it warn't no business of mine to interfere, so I seed one of you climb up the balcony, as I thought, and then, after which, come down head over heels with such a run, that I thought you must have broken your neck. Well, after that you fired a couple of shots in, and then, after that, I made sure it was you, admiral."
"And what made you make sure of that?"
"Why, because you scuttled away like an empty tar-barrel in full tide."
"Confound you, you scoundrel!"
"Well, then, confound you, if it comes to that. I thought I was doing you good sarvice, and that the enemy was here, when all the while it turned out as you was and the enemy wasn't, and the enemy was outside and you wasn't."
"But who threw such a confounded lot of things into the room?"
"Why, I did, of course; I had but one pistol, and, when I fired that off, I was forced to make up a broadside with what I could."
"Was there ever such a stupid!" said the admiral; "doctor, doctor, you talked of us making two mistakes; but you forgot a third and worse one still, and that was the bringing such a lubberly son of a sea-cook into the place as this fellow."
"You're another," said Jack; "and you knows it."
"Well, well," said Mr. Chillingworth, "it's no use continuing it, admiral; Jack, in his way, did, I dare say, what he considered for the best."
"I wish he'd do, then, what he considers for the worst, next time."
"Perhaps I may," said Jack, "and then you will be served out above a bit. What 'ud become of you, I wonder, if it wasn't for me? I'm as good as a mother to you, you knows that, you old babby."
"Come, come, admiral," said Mr. Chillingworth: "come down to the garden-gate; it is now just upon daybreak, and the probability is that we shall not be long there before we see some of the country people, who will get us anything we require in the shape of refreshment; and as for Jack, he seems quite sufficiently recovered now to go to the Bannerworths'."
"Oh! I can go," said Jack; "as for that, the only thing as puts me out of the way is the want of something to drink. My constitution won't stand what they call temperance living, or nothing with the chill off."
"Go at once," said the admiral, "and tel! Mr. Henry Bannerworth that we are here; but do not tell him before his sister or his mother. If you meet anybody on the road, send them here with a cargo of victuals. It strikes me that a good, comfortable breakfast wouldn't be at all amiss, doctor."
"How rapidly the day dawns," remarked Mr. Chillingworth, as he walked into the balcony from whence Varney, the vampire, had attempted to make good his entrance to the Hall.
Just as he spoke, and before Jack Pringle could get half way over to the garden gate, there came a tremendous ring at the bell which was suspended over it.
A view of that gate could not be commanded from the window of the haunted apartment, so that they could not see who it was that demanded admission.
As Jack Pringle was going down at any rate, they saw no necessity for personal interference; and he proved that there was not, by presently returning with a note which he said had been thrown over the gate by a lad, who then scampered off with all the speed he could make.
The note, exteriorly, was well got up, and had all the appearance of great care having been bestowed upon its folding and sealing.
It was duly addressed to "Admiral Bell, Bannerworth Hall," and the word "immediate" was written at one corner.
The admiral, after looking at it for some time with very great wonder, came at last to the conclusion that probably to open it would be the shortest way of arriving at a knowledge of who had sent it, and he accordingly did so.
The note was as follows:—
"My dear sir,—Feeling assured that you cannot be surrounded with those means and appliances for comfort in the Hall, in its now deserted condition, which you have a right to expect, and so eminently deserve, I flatter myself that I shall receive an answer in the affirmative, when I request the favour of your company to breakfast, as well as that of your learned friend. Mr. Chillingworth.
"In consequence of a little accident which occurred last evening to my own residence, I am, ad interim, until the county build it up for me again, staying at a house called Walmesley Lodge, where I shall expect you with all the impatience of one soliciting an honour, and hoping that it will be conferred upon him.
"I trust that any little difference of opinion on other subjects will not interfere to prevent the harmony of our morning's meal together.
"Believe me to be, my dear sir, with the greatest possible consideration, your very obedient, humble servant,
The admiral gasped again, and looked at Mr. Chillingworth, and then at the note, and then at Mr. Chillingworth again, as if he was perfectly bewildered.
"That's about the coolest piece of business," said Mr. Chillingworth, "that ever I heard of."
"Hang me," said the admiral, "if I sha'n't like the fellow at last. It is cool, and I like it because it is cool. Where's my hat? where's my stick!"
"What are you going to do?"
"Accept his invitation, to be sure, and breakfast with him; and, my learned friend, as he calls you, I hope you'll come likewise. I'll take the fellow at his word. By fair means, or by foul, I'll know what he wants here; and why he persecutes this family, for whom I have an attachment; and what hand he has in the disappearance of my nephew, Charles Holland; for, as sure as there's a Heaven above us, he's at the bottom of that affair. Where is this Walmesley Lodge?"
"Just in the neighbourhood; but—"
"Come on, then; come on."
"But, really, admiral, you don't mean to say you'll breakfast with—with—"
"A vampyre? Yes, I would, and will, and mean to do so. Here, Jack, you needn't go to Mr. Bannerworth's yet. Come, my learned friend, let's take Time by the forelock."
THE INTERRUPTED BREAKFAST AT SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S.
Notwithstanding all Mr. Chillingworth could say to the contrary, the admiral really meant to breakfast with Sir Francis Varney.
The worthy doctor could not for some time believe but that the admiral must be joking, when he talked in such a strain; but he was very soon convinced to the contrary, by the latter actually walking out and once more asking him, Mr. Chillingworth, if he meant to go with him, or not.
This was conclusive, so the doctor said,—
"Well, admiral, this appears to me rather a mad sort of freak; but, as I have begun the adventure with you, I will conclude it with you."
"That's right," said the admiral; "I'm not deceived in you, doctor; so come along. Hang these vampyres, I don't know how to tackle them, myself. I think, after all, Sir Francis Varney is more in your line than line is in mine."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, couldn't you persuade him he's ill, and wants some physic? That would soon settle him, you know."
"Settle him!" said Mr. Chillingworth; "I beg to say that if I did give him any physic, the dose would be much to his advantage; but, however, my opinion is, that this invitation to breakfast is, after all, a mere piece of irony; and that, when we get to Walmesley Lodge, we shall not see anything of him; on the contrary, we shall probably find it's a hoax."
"I certainly shouldn't like that, but still it's worth the trying. The fellow has really behaved himself in such an extraordinary manner, that, if I can make terms with him I will; and there's one thing, you know, doctor, that I think we may say we have discovered."
"And what may that be? Is it, not to make too sure of a vampyre, even when you have him by the leg?"
"No, that ain't it, though that's a very good thing in its way: but it is just this, that Sir Francis Varney, whoever he is and whatever he is, is after Bannerworth Hall, and not the Bannerworth family. If you recollect, Mr. Chillingworth, in our conversation, I have always insisted upon that fact."
"You have; and it seems to me to be completely verified by the proceedings of the night. There, then, admiral, is the great mystery—what can he want at Bannerworth Hall that makes him take such a world of trouble, and run so many fearful risks in trying to get at it?"
"That is, indeed, the mystery; and if he really means this invitation to breakfast, I shall ask him plumply, and tell him, at the same time, that possibly his very best way to secure his object will be to be candid, vampyre as he is."
"But really, admiral, you do not still cling to that foolish superstition of believing that Sir Francis Varney is in reality a vampyre?"
"I don't know, and I can't say; if anybody was to give me a description of a strange sort of fish that I had never seen, I wouldn't take upon myself to say there wasn't such a thing; nor would you, doctor, if you had really seen the many odd ones that I have encountered at various times."
"Well, well, admiral, I'm certainly not belonging to that school of philosophy which declares the impossible to be what it don't understand; there may be vampyres, and there may be apparitions, for all I know to the contrary; I only doubt these things, because I think, if they were true, that, as a phenomena of nature, they would have been by this time established by repeated instances without the possibility of doubt or cavil."
"Well, there's something in that; but how far have we got to go now?"
"No further than to yon enclosure where you see those park-like looking gates, and that cedar-tree stretching its dark-green foliage so far into the road; that is Walmesley Lodge, whither you have been invited."
"And you, my learned friend, recollect that you were invited too; so that you are no intruder upon the hospitality of Varney the vampyre."
"I say, admiral," said Mr. Chillingworth, when they reached the gates, "you know it is not quite the thing to call a man a vampyre at his own breakfast-table, so just oblige me by promising not to make any such remark to Sir Francis."
"A likely thing!" said the admiral; "he knows I know what he is, and he knows I'm a plain man and a blunt speaker; however, I'll be civil to him, and more than that I can't promise. I must wring out of him, if I can, what has become of Charles Holland, and what the deuce he really wants himself."
"Well, well; come to no collision with him, while we're his guests."
"Not if I can help it."
The doctor rang at the gate bell of Walmesley Lodge, and was in a few moments answered by a woman, who demanded their business.
"Is Sir Francis Varney here?" said the doctor.
"Oh, ah! yes," she replied; "you see his house was burnt down, for something or other—I'm sure I don't know what—by some people—I'm sure I don't know who; so, as the lodge was to let, we have took him in till he can suit himself."
"Ah! that's it, is it?" said the admiral—"tell him that Admiral Bell and Dr. Chillingworth are here."
"Very well," said the woman; "you may walk in."
"Thank ye; you're vastly obliging, ma'am. Is there anything going on in the breakfast line?"
"Well, yes; I am getting him some breakfast, but he didn't say as he expected company."
The woman opened the garden gate, and they walked up a trimly laid out garden to the lodge, which was a cottage-like structure in external appearance, although within it boasted of all the comforts of a tolerably extensive house.
She left them in a small room, leading from the hall, and was absent about five minutes; then she returned, and, merely saying that Sir Francis Varney presented his compliments, and desired them to walk up stairs, she preceded them up a handsome flight which led to the first floor of the lodge.
Up to this moment, Mr. Chillingworth had expected some excuse, for, notwithstanding all he had heard and seen of Sir Francis Varney, he could not believe that any amount of impudence would suffice to enable him to receive people as his guests, with whom he must feel that he was at such positive war.
It was a singular circumstance; and, perhaps, the only thing that matched the cool impertinence of the invitation, was the acceptance of it under the circumstances by the admiral.
Sir Francis Varney might have intended it as a jest; but if he did so, in the first instance, it was evident he would not allow himself to be beaten with his own weapons.
The room into which they were shown was a longish narrow one; a very wide door gave them admission to it, at the end, nearest the staircase, and at its other extremity there was a similar door opening into some other apartments of the house.
Sir Francis Varney sat with his back towards this second door, and a table, with some chairs and other articles of furniture, were so arranged before him, that while they seemed but to be carelessly placed in the position they occupied, they really formed a pretty good barrier between him and his visitors.
The admiral, however, was too intent upon getting a sight of Varney, to notice any preparation of this sort, and he advanced quickly into the room.
And there, indeed, was the much dreaded, troublesome, persevering, and singular looking being who had caused such a world of annoyance to the family of the Bannerworths, as well as disturbing the peace of the whole district, which had the misfortune to have him as an inhabitant.
If anything, he looked thinner, taller, and paler than usual, and there seemed to be a slight nervousness of manner about him, as he slowly inclined his head towards the admiral, which was not quite intelligible.
"Well," said Admiral Bell, "you invited me to breakfast, and my learned friend; here we are."
"No two human beings," said Varney, "could be more welcome to my hospitality than yourself and Dr. Chillingworth. I pray you to be seated. What a pleasant thing it is, after the toils and struggles of this life, occasionally to sit down in the sweet companionship of such dear friends."
He made a hideous face as he spoke, and the admiral looked as if he were half inclined to quarrel at that early stage of the proceedings.
"Dear friends!" he said; "well, well—it's no use squabbling about a word or two; but I tell you what it is, Mr. Varney, or Sir Francis Varney, or whatever your d——d name is—"
"Hold, my dear sir," said Varney—"after breakfast, if you please—after breakfast."
He rang a hand-bell as he spoke, and the woman who had charge of the house brought in a tray tolerably covered with the materials for a substantial morning's meal. She placed it upon the table, and certainly the various articles that smoked upon it did great credit to her culinary powers.
"Deborah," said Sir Varney, in a mild sort of tone, "keep on continually bringing things to eat until this old brutal sea ruffian has satiated his disgusting appetite."
The admiral opened his eyes an enormous width, and, looking at Sir Francis Varney, he placed his two fists upon the table, and drew a long breath.
"Did you address those observations to me," he said, at length, "you blood-sucking vagabond?"
"Eh?" said Sir Francis Varney, looking over the admiral's head, as if he saw something interesting on the wall beyond.
"My dear admiral," said Mr. Chillingworth, "come away."
"I'll see you d——d first!" said the admiral. "Now, Mr. Vampyre, no shuffling; did you address those observations to me?"
"Deborah," said Sir Francis Varney, in silvery tones, "you can remove this tray and bring on the next."
"Not if I know it," said the admiral "I came to breakfast, and I'll have it; after breakfast I'll pull your nose—ay, if you were fifty vampyres, I'd do it."
"Dr. Chillingworth," said Varney, without paying the least attention to what the admiral said, "you don't eat, my dear sir; you must be fatigued with your night's exertions. A man of your age, you know, cannot be supposed to roll and tumble about like a fool in a pantomime with impunity. Only think what a calamity it would be if you were laid up. Your patients would all get well, you know."
"Sir Francis Varney," said Mr. Chillingworth, "we're your guests; we come here at your invitation to partake of a meal. You have wantonly attacked both of us. I need not say that by so doing you cast a far greater slur upon your own taste and judgment than you can upon us."
"Admirably spoken," said Sir Francis Varney, giving his bands a clap together that made the admiral jump again. "Now, old Bell, I'll fight you, if you think yourself aggrieved, while the doctor sees fair play."
"Old who?" shouted the admiral.
"Bell, Bell—is not your name Bell?—a family cognomen, I presume, on account of the infernal clack, clack, without any sense in it, that is the characteristic of your race."
"You'll fight me?" said the admiral, jumping up.
"Yes; if you challenge me."
"By Jove I do; of course"
"Then I accept it; and the challenged party, you know well, or ought to know, can make his own terms in the encounter."
"Make what terms you please; I care not what they are. Only say you will fight, and that's sufficient."
"It is well," said Sir Francis Varney, in a solemn tone.
"Nay, nay," interrupted Mr. Chillingworth; "this is boyish folly."
"Hold your row," said the admiral, "and let's hear what he's got to say."
"In this mansion," said Sir Francis Varney—"for a mansion it is, although under the unpretending name of a lodge—in this mansion there is a large apartment which was originally fitted up by a scientific proprietor of the place, for the purpose of microscopic and other experiments, which required a darkness total and complete, such a darkness as seems as if it could be felt—palpable, thick, and obscure as the darkness of the tomb, and I know what that is."
"The devil you do!" said this admiral "It's damp, too, ain't it?"
"No; the grave."
"Oh! uncommonly, after autumnal rains. But to resume—this room is large, lofty, and perfectly empty."
"I propose that we procure two scythes."
"Scythes, with their long handles, and their convenient holding places."
"Well, I'll be hanged! What next do you propose?"
"You may be hanged. The next is, that with these scythes we be both of us placed in the darkened room, and the door closed, and doubly locked upon us for one hour, and that then and there we do our best each to cut the other in two. If you succeed in dismembering me, you will have won the day; but I hope, from my superior agility"—here Sir Francis jumped upon his chair, and sat upon the back of it—"to get the better or you. How do you like the plan I have proposed? Does it meet your wishes?"
"Curse your impudence!" said the admiral, placing his elbows upon the table and resting his chin in astonishment upon his two hands.
"Nay," interrupted Sir Francis, "you challenged me; and, besides, you'll have an equal chance, you know that. If you succeed in striking me first, down I go; whereas it I succeed in striking you first, down you go."
As he spoke, Sir Francis Varney stretched out his foot, and closed a small bracket which held out the flap of the table on which the admiral was leaning, and, accordingly, down the admiral went, tea-tray and all.
Mr. Chillingworth ran to help him up, and, when they both recovered their feet, they found they were alone.