« 上一頁繼續 »
66 It was.
“ Listen to me, Luke," said the sexton, solemnly. “I told you, when I appointed this midnight interview, I had a secret to communicate. That secret is now revealed that secret was your mother's marriage.” “ And it was known to you during her lifetime?"
But I was sworn to secrecy.” “ You have proofs then ?”
“ I have nothing beyond Sir Piers's word — and he is silent now.”
“By whom was the ceremony performed ?" “By a Romish priest a Jesuit
one Father Checkley, at that time an inmate of the hall; for Sir Piers, though he afterwards abjured it, at that time professed the Catholic faith ; and this Checkley officiated as his confessor and counsellor ; as the partner of his pleasures, and the prompter of his iniquities. He was your father's evil genius.”
• Is he still alive ?"
" I know not. After your mother's death he left the hall. I have said he was a Jesuit, and I may add, that he was mixed up in dark political intrigues, in which your father was too feeble a character to take much share. But though too weak to guide, he was a pliant instrument, and this Checkley knew. He moulded him according to his wishes.
I can not tell
you what was the nature of their plots. Suffice it, they were such
as if discovered, would have involved your father in ruin. He was saved, however, by his wife.” “ And her reward groaned Luke. - Was death,” replied Peter coldly.
“ What Jesuit ever forgave a wrong - real or imaginary ? Your mother, I ought to have said, was a Protestant. Hence, there was a difference of religious opinion — (the worst of differences that can exist between husband and wife). Checkley vowed her destruction, and he kept his vow. He was enamoured of her beauty. But while he burnt with adulterous desire, he was consumed by fiercest hate — contending, and yet strangely-reconcileable passions
as you may have reason, hereafter, to discover.” “ Go on,” said Luke, grinding his teeth.
“I have done,” returned Peter. 56 From that hour your father's love for his supposed mistress, and unacknowledged wife, declined; and with his waning love declined her health. I will not waste words in describing the catastrophe that awaited
her union. It will be enough to say, she was found one morning a corpse within her bed. Whatever suspicions were attached to Sir Piers were quieted by Checkley, who distributed gold, largely and discreetly, The body was embalmed by Barbara Lovel, the Gipsy-Queen.”
“My foster-mother !” exclaimed Luke, in a tone of extreme astonishment.
“Ay,” replied Peter, “ from her you may learn all particulars. You have now seen what remains of your mother. You are in possession of the secret of your birth. The path is before you, and if you would arrive at honour you must pursue it steadily, turning neither to the right nor to the left. Opposition you will meet at each step. But fresh lights may be thrown upon this difficult case. It is in vain to hope for Checkley's evidence, even should the caitiff priest be living. He is himself too deeply implicated
ha!” Peter stopped, for at this moment the flame of the candle suddenly expired, and the speakers were left in total darkness. Something like a groan followed the conclusion of the sexton's discourse. It was evident that it proceeded not from his grandson, as an exclamation burst from him at the same instant. Luke stretched out his arm. A cold hand seemed to press against his own, communicating a chill like death to his frame.
“Who is between us?” he ejaculated.
“ The devil !” cried the sexton, leaping from the coffin lid with an agility that did him honour. “Is aught between us?”
“ I will discharge my gun. Its flash will light us.”
“ Do so," hastily rejoined Peter. “But ot in this direc. tion.”
“ Get behind me,” cried Luke. And he pulled the trigger.
A blaze of vivid light illumined the darkness. Still nothing was visible, save the warrior figure, which was seen for a moment, and then vanished like a ghost. The buck-shot rattled against the farther end of the vault.
“Let us go hence,” ejaculated the .exton, who had rushed to the door, and thrown it wide open.
" Mole ! Mole!” cried he, and the dog sprang after him.
“I could have sworn I felt something,” said Luke; "whence issued that groan?”
“Ask not whence,” replied Peter. 6 Reach me my mattock, and spade, and the lantern; they are behind you. And stay, it were better to bring away the bottle.”
« Take them, and leave me here.”
" Alone in the vault - no, no, Luke, I have not told you half I know concerning that mystic statue.
It is said to move - to walk — to raise its axe— be warned I pray.”
“Leave me, or abide, if you will, my coming, in the church. If there is aught that may be revealed to my ear alone, I will not shrink from it, though the dead themselves should arise to proclaim the mystery. It may be—but-go— there are your tools.” And he shut the door, with a jar that shook the sexton's frame.
Peter, after some muttered murmurings at the hardihood and madness, as he termed it, of his grandson, disposed his lanky limbs to repose, upon a cushioned bench without the communion railing. . As the pale moonlight fell upon his gaunt and cadaverous visage, he looked like some unholy thing suddenly annihilated by the presiding influence of that sacred spot. Mole crouched himself in a ring at his master's feet. Peter had not dozed many minutes, when he was aroused by Luke's return. The latter was very pale, and the damp stood in big drops upon his brow. Have
you made fast the door ?” inquired the sexton. “ Here is the key." “ What have you seen ? ” he next demanded.
Luke made no answer. At that moment the church clock struck two, breaking the stillness with an iron clang. Luke raised his eyes.
A ray of moonlight, streaming obliquely through the painted window, fell upon the gilt lettering of a black mural entablature. The lower part of the inscription was in the shade, but the emblazonment, and the words
Drate pro animâ Reginaldi Rookwood equitis aurati were clear and distinct. Luke trembled, he knew not why, as the sexton pointed to it.
“You have heard of the handwriting upon the wall,” said Peter: “Look there !-- His kingdom hath been taken from him. Ha, ha! Listen to me. Of all thy monster race of all the race of Rookwood I should say—no demon ev stalked the earth more terrible than him whose tablet you now behold. By him a brother was betrayed ; by him a brother's
wife was dishonoured. Love, honour, friendship, were with him as words. He regarded no ties; he defied and set at nought all human laws and obligations— and yet he was religious, or esteemed so — received the viaticum, and died full of years and honours, hugging salvation to his sinful heart. And after death he has yon lying epitaph to record his virtues. His virtues ! ha, ha! Ask him, who preaches to the kneeling throng gathering within this holy place what shall be the murderer's portion—and he will answer — - Death! And yet Sir Reginald was long-lived. The awful question, ' Cain, where is thy brother ?' broke not his tranquil slumbers. Luke, I have told you much — but not all. You know not, as yet nor shall
shall be the avenger of infamy and blood. I have a sacred charge committed to my keeping, which, hereafter, I may delegate to you. You shall be Sir Luke Rookwood, but the conditions it must be mine to propose.”
“No more,” said Luke ; “my brain reels. I am faint. Let us quit this place, and get into the fresh air.” And striding past his grandsire he traversed the aisles with hasty steps. Peter was not slow to follow. The key was applied, and they emerged into the church-yard. The grassy mounds were bathed in the moon-beams, and the two yew trees, throwing their black, jagged shadows over the grave hills, looked like evil spirits brooding over the repose of the righteous.
The sexton noticed the deathly paleness of Luke's countenance. But he fancied it might proceed from the tinge of the sallow moonlight.
“ I will be with you at your cottage, ere day-break,” said Luke. And turning an angle of the church, he disappeared from view.
“So,” exclaimed Peter, gazing after him, “ the train is laid ; the spark has been applied ; the explosion will soon follow. The hour is fast approaching when I shall behold this accursed house shaken to dust, and when my long-delayed vengeance will be gratified. In that hope I am content to drag on the brief remnant of my days. Meanwhile, I must not omit the stimulant. In a short time I may not require it.” Draining the bottle to the last drop, he flung it from him, and commenced chanting, in a high key and cracked voice, a wild ditty, the words of which ran as follow :
THE CARRION CROW.*
Caw! Caw! the Carrion Crow !
Dig! Dig ! in the ground below!
Caw! Caw !
Caw! Caw! the Carrion Crow,
Dig! Dig ! in the ground below! Shouldering his spade, and whistling to his dog, the sexton quitted the church-yard.
Peter had not been gone many seconds, when a dark figure, muffled in a wide black mantle, emerged from among the tombs surrounding the church ; gazed after him for a few seconds, and then, with a menacing gesture, retreated behind the ivied buttresses of the
Brian. Ralph ! hearest thou any stirring ?
Ralph. I heard one speak here, hard by, in the hollow. Peace! master, speak low. Nouns! if I do not hear a bow go off, and the buck bray, I never heard deer in my life. Bri. Stand, or I'll shoot. Sir Arthur. Who's there? Bri. I am the keeper, and do charge you stand. You have stolen my deer.
Merry Devil of Edmonton.
LUKE's first impulse had been to free himself from the restraint imposed by his grandsire's society. He longed to
* Set to Music by Mr. F. Romer.