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their names together : to exult in your daughter's disgrace, and your own dishonour. Shame! shame! Speak not of them in the same breath, if you would not have me invoke curses on the dead! I have no reverence (whatever you may have) for the seducer for the murderer of my mother.”
“You have choice store of epithets, in sooth, good grandson,' rejoined Peter, with a chuckling laugh ; “Sir Piers a murderer !” “ Tush !” exclaimed Luke, indignantly, “affect not igno
You have better knowledge than I have, of the truth or falsehood of the dark tale that has gone abroad respecting my mother's fate; and unless report has belied you foully, had substantial reasons for keeping sealed lips on the occasion. But to change this painful subject,” added he, with a sudden alteration of manner,
« at what hour did Sir Piers Rookwood die ?"
“On Thursday last, in the night-time. The exact hour I know not,” replied the sexton.
- Of what ailment?”
“ Neither do I know that. His end was sudden, yet not without a warning sign.”
“What warning ?" inquired Luke.
“Neither more nor less than the death-omen of the house. You look astonished. Is it possible you have never heard of the ominous Lime Tree, and the Fatal Bough ? — why, 't is a common tale hereabouts, and has been for centuries. Any old crone would tell it you. Peradventure, you have seen the old avenue of lime trees leading to the hall, nearly a quarter of a mile in length, and as noble a row of timber as any in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Well, there is one tree — the last on the left hand before you come to the clock house - larger than all the rest- -a huge piece of timber, with broad spreading branches, and of I know not what girth in the trunk. That tree is, in some mysterious manner, connected with the family of Rookwood, and immediately previous to the death of one of that line, a branch is sure to be shed from the parent stem, prognosticating his doom. But you shall hear the legend. And in a strange sepulchral tone, not inappropriate, however, to his subject, Peter chanted the following ballad :
THE LEGEND OF THE LIME.TREE.
“ And such an omen preceded Sir Piers's demise?” said Luke, who had listened with some attention to his grandsire's song.
Unquestionably," replied the sexton. “Not longer ago than Tuesday morning, I happened to be sauntering down the avenue I have just described. I know not what took me thither at that early hour, but I wandered leisurely on till I came nigh the Wizard Lime-Tree. Great Heaven ! what a surprise awaited me! a huge branch lay right across the path. It had evidently just fallen ; for the leaves were green and unwithered; the sap still oozed from the splintered wood; and there was neither trace of knife nor hatchet on the bark. I looked up among the boughs to mark the spot from whence it had been torn by the hand of Fate—for no human hand had done it—and saw the pair of ancestral ravens perched amid the foliage, and croaking as those carrion fowl are wont to do when they scent a carcass afar off. Just then a livelier sound saluted my ears. The cheering cry of a pack of hounds resounded from the courts, and the great gates being thrown open, out issued Sir Piers, attended by a troop of his roystering companions, all on horseback, and all making the welkin ring with their vociferations. Sir Piers laughed as loudly as the rest, but his mirth was speedily checked. No sooner had his horse (old Rook, his favourite steed, who never swerved at stake or pale before,) set eyes upon this accursed branch, than he started as if the fiend stood before him, and, rearing backwards, flung his rider from the saddle. At this moment, with loud screams, the wizard ravens took flight. Sir Piers was somewhat hurt by the fall, but he was more frightenedl than hurt; and, though he tried to put a bold face on the matter, it was plain that his efforts to recover himself were fruitless. Dr. Titus Tyrconnel and that wild fellow Jack Palmer, (who has lately come to the hall, and of whom you know something,) tried to rally him. But it would not do. He broke up the day's sport, and returned dejectedly to the hall. Before departing, however, he addressed a word to me, in private, respecting you ; and pointed, with a melancholy shake of the head, to the fatal branch. “It is my death-warrant,' said he, gloomily. And so it proved; two days afterwards his doom was accomplished.”
“And do you place faith in this idle legend ?” asked Luke, with affected indifference, although it was evident, from his
manner, that he himself was not so entirely free from a superstitious feeling of credulity as he would have it appear.
“ Certes,” replied the sexton. "I were more difficult to be convinced than the unbelieving disciple else. Thrice hath it occurred to my own knowledge, and ever with the same result: firstly, with Sir Reginald ; secondly, with thy own mother; and, lastly, as I have just told thee, with Sir Piers."
“ I thought you said, even now, that this death-omen, if such it be, was always confined to the immediate family of Rookwood, and not to mere inmates of the mansion.”
“ To the heads only of that house, be they male or female.”
“ Then how could it apply to my mother ? Was she of that house ? Was she a wife?"
“Who shall say she was not ?" rejoined the sexton.
• Who shall say she was so ?” cried Luke, repeating the words with indignant emphasis- " Who will avouch that?''
A smile, cold as wintry sunbeam, played upon the sexton's rigid lips.
“ I will bear this no longer,” cried Luke ; anger me not, or look to yourself. In a word, have you any thing to tell me respecting her ? if not, let me begone.'
is I have. But I will not be hurried by a boy like you," replied Peter, doggedly. “Go, if you will, and take the consequences. My lips are sealed for ever, and I have much to say-much that it behoves you to know.”
"Be brief, then. When you sought me out this morning, in my retreat with the gipsy gang at Davenham Wood, you bade me meet you in the porch of Rookwood church at midnight. I was true to my appointment.”
“ And I will keep my promise,” replied the sexton. “Draw closer, that I may whisper in thine ear. Of every Rookwood who lies around us and all that ever bore the name, except Sir Piers himself (who lies in state at the hall), are here – not one — mark what I say—not one male branch of the house but has been suspected
66 Of what?" “Of murder !” returned the sexton, in a hissing whisper. “Murder !” echoed Luke, recoiling.
" There is one dark stain -one foul blot on all. Bloodblood hath been spilt.”
“By all ?”
“Ay, and such blood! theirs was no common crime. Even murder hath its degrees. Theirs was of the first class.” “Their wives ! - you cannot mean that?”
Ay, their wives !-- I do. You have heard it then. Ha ! ha! 'tis a trick they had. Did you ever hear the old saying ?
No mate ever brook would
A Rook of the Rookwood ! A merry saying it is, and true. No woman ever stood in a Rookwood's way, but she was speedily removed
that's certain. They had all, save poor Sir Piers, the knack of stopping a troublesome woman's tongue, and practised it to perfection. A rare art, eh ?”
" What have the misdeeds of his ancestry to do with Sir Piers," muttered Luke, “ much less with my mother ?”
Every thing. If he could not rid himself of his wife (and she is a match for the devil himself), the mistress might be more readily set aside.”
“Have you absolute knowledge of aught?” asked Luke, his voice tremulous with emotion.
Nay, I but hinted.”
“Such hints are worse than open speech. Let me know the worst. Did he kill her?” And Luke glared at the sexton as if he would have penetrated his secret soul.
But Peter was not easily fathomed. His cold, bright eye returned Luke's gaze steadfastly, as he answered, composedly
" I have said all I know.” “But not all you think.”
Thoughts should not always find their utterance in words, else we might often endanger our own safety, and that of others.”
An idle subterfuge—and from you, worse than idle. I will Lave an answer, yea or nay. Was it poison- was it steel?”
“ Enough — she died.”
Why, that was natural.”
“What means that horrible gleam of laughter?” exclaimed Luke, grasping the shoulder of the man of graves with such force as nearly to annihilate him. “Speak, or I will strangle you. She died, you say, in her sleep ?”