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Rookwood
by William Harrison Ainsworth
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"The immortal Ainsworth." Thackeray.

NOVELS

BY

WILLIAM HARRISON AINSWORTH

ROOKWOOD

"Gives a vivid picture of the times and places with which he dealt." The New York Herald.

THE RITTENHOUSE PRESS PHILADELPHIA



PRINTED IN U.S.A. BY ARRANGEMENT WITH GEORGE BARRIE'S SONS



Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Archaic and dialect spellings have been retained. Greek text has been transliterated and is shown between {braces}. The oe ligature has been transcribed as [oe].

A table of contents, though not present in the original publication, has been provided below:

MEMOIR

TO MY MOTHER

PREFACE

BOOK I. THE WEDDING RING I. The Vault II. The Skeleton Hand III. The Park IV. The Hall V. Sir Reginald Rookwood VI. Sir Piers Rookwood VII. The Return VIII. An Irish Adventurer IX. An English Adventurer X. Ranulph Rookwood XI. Lady Rookwood XII. The Chamber of Death XIII. The Brothers

BOOK II. THE SEXTON I. The Storm II. The Funeral Oration III. The Churchyard IV. The Funeral V. The Captive VI. The Apparition

BOOK III. THE GIPSY I. A Morning Ride II. A Gipsy Encampment III. Sybil IV. Barbara Lovel V. The Inauguration VI. Eleanor Mowbray VII. Mrs. Mowbray VIII. The Parting IX. The Philter X. Saint Cyprian's Cell XI. The Bridal XII. Alan Rookwood XIII. Mr. Coates XIV. Dick Turpin

BOOK IV. THE RIDE TO YORK I. The Rendezvous at Kilburn II. Tom King III. A Surprise IV. The Hue and Cry V. The Short Pipe VI. Black Bess VII. The York Stage VIII. Roadside Inn IX. Excitement X. The Gibbet XI. The Phantom Steed XII. Cawood Ferry

BOOK V. THE OATH I. The Hut on Thorne Waste II. Major Mowbray III. Handassah IV. The Dower of Sybil V. The Sarcophagus

L'ENVOY

NOTES



MEMOIR

William Harrison Ainsworth was born in King Street, Manchester, February 4, 1805, in a house that has long since been demolished. His father was a solicitor in good practice, and the son had all the advantages that educational facilities could afford. He was sent to the Manchester grammar-school, and in one of his early novels has left an interesting and accurate picture of its then condition, which may be contrasted with that of an earlier period left by the "English opium-eater." At sixteen, a brilliant, handsome youth, with more taste for romance and the drama than for the dry details of the law, he was articled to a leading solicitor of Manchester. The closest friend of his youth was a Mr. James Crossley, who was some years older, but shared his intellectual taste and literary enthusiasm. A drama written for private theatricals, in his father's house was printed in Arliss's Magazine, and he also contributed to the Manchester Iris, the Edinburgh Magazine, and the London Magazine. He even started a periodical, which received the name of The B[oe]otian, and died at the sixth number. Many of the fugitive pieces of these early days were collected in volumes now exceedingly rare: "December Tales" (London, 1823), which is not wholly from his pen; the "Works of Cheviot Tichburn" (London, 1822; Manchester, 1825), dedicated to Charles Lamb; and "A Summer Evening Tale" (London, 1825).

"Sir John Chiverton" appeared in 1826, and for forty years was regarded as one of his early works; but Mr. John Partington Aston has also claimed to be its author. In all probability, both of these young men joined in the production of the novel which attracted the attention of Sir Walter Scott. On the death of his father, in 1824, Ainsworth went to London to finish his legal education, but whatever intentions he may have formed of humdrum study and determined attention to the details of a profession in which he had no interest, were dissipated by contact with the literary world of the metropolis. He made the acquaintance of Mr. John Ebers, who at that time combined the duties of manager of the Opera House with the business of a publisher. He it was who issued "Sir John Chiverton," and the verses forming its dedication are understood to have been addressed to Anne Frances ("Fanny") Ebers, whom Ainsworth married October 11, 1826. Ainsworth had then to decide upon a career, and, acting upon the suggestion of Ebers, his father-in-law, he began business as a publisher; but after an experience of about eighteen months he abandoned it. In this brief interval he introduced the Hon. Mrs. Norton, and Ude, the cook, to the discerning though unequal admiration of the British public. He was introduced to Sir Walter Scott, who wrote the "Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee" for an annual issued by him. Ainsworth gave him twenty guineas for it, which Sir Walter accepted, but laughingly handed over to the little daughter of Lockhart, in whose London house they had met. Ainsworth's literary aspirations still burned with undiminished ardor, and several plans were formed only to be abandoned, and when, in the summer of 1830, he visited Switzerland and Italy, he was as far as ever from the fulfilment of his desires. In 1831 he visited Chesterfield and began the novel of "Rookwood," in which he successfully applied the method of Mrs. Radcliffe to English scenes and characters. The finest passage is that relating Turpin's ride to York, which is a marvel of descriptive writing. It was written, apparently in a glow of inspiration, in less than a day and a half. "The feat," he says, "for feat it was, being the composition of a hundred novel pages in less than twenty-four hours, was achieved at 'The Elms,' a house I then occupied at Kilburn." The success of "Rookwood" was marked and immediate. Ainsworth at a bound reached popularity. This was in 1834, and in 1837 he published "Crichton," which is a fine piece of historical romance. The critics who had objected to the romantic glamor cast over the career of Dick Turpin were still further horrified at the manner in which that vulgar rascal, Jack Sheppard, was elevated into a hero of romance. The outcry was not entirely without justification, nor was it without effect on the novelist, who thenceforward avoided this perilous ground. "Jack Sheppard" appeared in Bentley's Miscellany, of which Ainsworth became editor in March, 1840, at a monthly salary of L51. The story is powerfully written. In 1841 he received L1000 from the Sunday Times for "Old St. Paul's," and he, in 1848, had from the same source another L1000 for the "Lancashire Witches." In 1841 he began the publication of Ainsworth's Magazine, which came to an end in 1853, when he acquired the New Monthly Magazine, which he edited for many years. This was the heyday of Ainsworth's reputation alike in literature and in society. His home at Kensal Manor House became famous for its hospitality, and Dickens, Thackeray, Landseer, Clarkson Stanfield, Talfourd, Jerrold, and Cruikshank were among his guests. The list of his principal historical novels, with their dates of issue, may now be given: "Rookwood," 1834; "Crichton," 1837; "Jack Sheppard," 1839; "Tower of London," 1840; "Guy Fawkes," 1841; "Old St. Paul's, a Tale of the Plague and the Fire of London," 1841; "Windsor Castle," 1843; "St. James, or the Court of Queene Anne," 1844; "Star Chamber," 1854; "Constable of the Tower," 1861; "The Lord Mayor of London," 1862; "Cardinal Pole," 1863; "John Law, the Projector," 1864; "The Constable de Bourbon," 1866; "Talbot Harland," 1870; "Boscobel," 1872; "The Manchester Rebels, or the Fatal '45," 1873; and "The Goldsmith's Wife," 1874. These novels all met with a certain amount of success, but those of later years did not attain the striking popularity of his earlier efforts. Many have been translated into various modern languages, and the editions of his various works are so numerous that some twenty-three pages of the British Museum catalogue are devoted to his works. The scenery and history of his native country had a perennial interest for him, and a certain group of his novels—that is, the "Lancashire Witches," "Guy Fawkes," "The Manchester Rebels," etc.—may almost be said to form a novelist's history of Lancashire from the pilgrimage of grace until the early part of the present century.

Probably no more vivid account has been written of the great fire and plague of London than that given in "Old St. Paul's." The charm of Ainsworth's novels is not at all dependent upon the analysis of motives or subtle description of character. Of this he has little or nothing, but he realizes vividly a scene or an incident, and conveys the impression with great force and directness to the reader's mind. Ainsworth came upon the reading world at a happy moment. People were weary of the inanities of the fashionable novel, and were ready to listen to one who had a power of vivacious narrative. In 1881, when he was in his seventy-seventh year, a pleasant tribute of respect and admiration was paid to him in his native town. The Mayor of Manchester entertained him at a banquet in the town hall September 15, 1881, "as an expression of the high esteem in which he is held by his fellow-townsmen and of his services to literature." In proposing Mr. Ainsworth's health, the mayor gave a curious instance of the popularity of his writings. "In our Manchester public free libraries there are two hundred and fifty volumes of Mr. Ainsworth's different works. During the last twelve months these volumes have been read seven thousand six hundred and sixty times, mostly by the artisan class of readers. And this means that twenty volumes of his works are being perused in Manchester by readers of the free libraries every day all the year through." It was well that this pleasant recognition was not longer delayed. The contrast was pathetically great between the tall, handsome, dandified figure presented in the portraits of him by Pickersgill and Maclise, and the bent and feeble old man who stood by and acknowledged the plaudits of those who had assembled to honor him. His last published work was "Stanley Brereton," which he dedicated to his hospitable entertainer. He died at Reigate January 3, 1882, leaving a widow and also three daughters by his first marriage. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. With the exception of George Gleig, he was the last survivor of the brilliant group who wrote for the early numbers of Fraser's Magazine, and, though he died in harness, had outlived nearly all the associates of the days when he first achieved fame.



TO MY MOTHER

When I inscribed this Romance to you, my dear Mother, on its first appearance, I was satisfied that, whatever reception it might meet with elsewhere, at your hands it would be sure of indulgence. Since then, the approbation your partiality would scarcely have withheld has been liberally accorded by the public; and I have the satisfaction of reflecting, that in following the dictates of affection, which prompted me to select the dearest friend I had in the world as the subject of a dedication, I have not overstepped the limits of prudence; nor, in connecting your honored name with this trifling production, involved you in a failure which, had it occurred, would have given you infinitely more concern than myself. After a lapse of three years, during which my little bark, fanned by pleasant and prosperous breezes, has sailed, more than once, securely into port, I again commit it to the waters, with more confidence than heretofore, and with a firmer reliance that, if it should be found "after many days," it may prove a slight memorial of the warmest filial regard.

Exposed to trials of no ordinary difficulty, and visited by domestic affliction of no common severity, you, my dear Mother, have borne up against the ills of life with a fortitude and resignation which those who know you best can best appreciate, but which none can so well understand, or so thoroughly appreciate, as myself. Suffering is the lot of all. Submission under the dispensation is permitted to few. And it is my fervent hope that my own children may emulate your virtues, if they are happily spared your sorrows.



PREFACE

During a visit to Chesterfield, in the autumn of the year 1831, I first conceived the notion of writing this story. Wishing to describe, somewhat minutely, the trim gardens, the picturesque domains, the rook-haunted groves, the gloomy chambers, and gloomier galleries, of an ancient Hall with which I was acquainted, I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe,—which had always inexpressible charms for me,—substituting an old English squire, an old English manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of the great mistress of Romance.

While revolving this subject, I happened, one evening, to enter the spacious cemetery attached to the church with the queer, twisted steeple, which, like the uplifted tail of the renowned Dragon of Wantley, to whom "houses and churches were as capons and turkeys," seems to menace the good town of Chesterfield with destruction. Here an incident occurred, on the opening of a vault, which it is needless to relate, but which supplied me with a hint for the commencement of my romance, as well as for the ballad entitled "The Coffin." Upon this hint I immediately acted; and the earlier chapters of the book, together with the description of the ancestral mansion of the Rookwoods, were completed before I quitted Chesterfield.

Another and much larger portion of the work was written during a residence at Rottingdean, in Sussex, in the latter part of 1833, and owes its inspiration to many delightful walks over the South Downs. Romance-writing was pleasant occupation then.

The Ride to York was completed in one day and one night. This feat—for a feat it was, being the composition of a hundred ordinary novel pages in less than twenty-four hours—was achieved at "The Elms," a house I then occupied at Kilburn. Well do I remember the fever into which I was thrown during the time of composition. My pen literally scoured over the pages. So thoroughly did I identify myself with the flying highwayman, that, once started, I found it impossible to halt. Animated by kindred enthusiasm, I cleared every obstacle in my path with as much facility as Turpin disposed of the impediments that beset his flight. In his company, I mounted the hill-side, dashed through the bustling village, swept over the desolate heath, threaded the silent street, plunged into the eddying stream, and kept an onward course, without pause, without hindrance, without fatigue. With him I shouted, sang, laughed, exulted, wept. Nor did I retire to rest till, in imagination, I heard the bell of York Minster toll forth the knell of poor Black Bess.

The supernatural occurrence, forming the groundwork of one of the ballads which I have made the harbinger of doom to the house of Rookwood, is ascribed, by popular superstition, to a family resident in Sussex; upon whose estate the fatal tree—a gigantic lime, with mighty arms and huge girth of trunk, as described in the song—is still carefully preserved. Cuckfield Place, to which this singular piece of timber is attached, is, I may state, for the benefit of the curious, the real Rookwood Hall; for I have not drawn upon imagination, but upon memory, in describing the seat and domains of that fated family. The general features of the venerable structure, several of its chambers, the old garden, and, in particular, the noble park, with its spreading prospects, its picturesque views of the Hall, "like bits of Mrs. Radcliffe,"—as the poet Shelley once observed of the same scene,—its deep glades, through which the deer come lightly tripping down, its uplands, slopes, brooks, brakes, coverts, and groves, are carefully delineated.

The superstition of a fallen branch affording a presage of approaching death is not peculiar to the family I have mentioned. Many other old houses have been equally favored: in fact, there is scarcely an ancient family in the kingdom without a boding sign. For instance, the Breretons of Brereton, in Cheshire, were warned by the appearance of stocks of trees floating, like the swollen bodies of long-drowned men, upon the surface of a sombre lake—called Blackmere, from the inky color of its waters—adjoining their residence; and numerous other examples might be given. The death-presage of the Breretons is alluded to by Drayton in the "Polyolbion."

It has been well observed by Barry Cornwall, "that the songs which occur in dramas are more natural than those which proceed from the author in person." With equal force does the reasoning apply to the romance, which may be termed the drama of the closet. It would seem strange, on a first view, that an author should be more at home in an assumed character than his own. But experience shows the position to be correct. Conscious he is no longer individually associated with his work, the writer proceeds with all the freedom of irresponsibility. His idiosyncrasy is merged in that of the personages he represents. He thinks with their thoughts, sees with their eyes, speaks with their tongues. His strains are such as he himself—per se—would not, perhaps could not, have originated. In this light he may be said to bring to his subject not one mind, but several; he becomes not one poet, but many; for each actor in his drama has a share, and an important share, in the lyrical estro to which he gives birth. This it is which has imparted any verve, variety, or dramatic character they possess, to the ballads contained in this production. Turpin I look upon as the real songster of "Black Bess;" to Jerry Juniper I am unquestionably indebted for a flash melody which, without his hint, would never have been written, while to the sexton I owe the solitary gleam of light I have been enabled to throw upon the horrors and mystery of the churchyard.

As I have casually alluded to the flash song of Jerry Juniper, I may, perhaps, be allowed to make a few observations upon this branch of versification. It is somewhat curious, with a dialect so racy, idiomatic, and plastic as our own cant, that its metrical capabilities should have been so little essayed. The French have numerous chansons d'argot, ranging from the time of Charles Bourdigne and Villon down to that of Vidocq and Victor Hugo, the last of whom has enlivened the horrors of his "Dernier Jour d'un Condamne" by a festive song of this class. The Spaniards possess a large collection of Romances de Germania, by various authors, amongst whom Quevedo holds a distinguished place. We, on the contrary, have scarcely any slang songs of merit. With a race of depredators so melodious and convivial as our highwaymen, this is the more to be wondered at. Had they no bards amongst their bands? Was there no minstrel at hand to record their exploits? I can only call to mind one robber who was a poet,—Delany, and he was an Irishman. This barrenness, I have shown, is not attributable to the poverty of the soil, but to the want of due cultivation. Materials are at hand in abundance, but there have been few operators. Dekker, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Ben Jonson have all dealt largely in this jargon, but not lyrically; and one of the earliest and best specimens of a canting-song occurs in Brome's "Jovial Crew;" and in the "Adventures of Bamfylde Moore Carew" there is a solitary ode, addressed by the mendicant fraternity to their newly-elected monarch; but it has little humor, and can scarcely be called a genuine canting-song. This ode brings us down to our own time; to the effusions of the illustrious Pierce Egan; to Tom Moore's Flights of "Fancy;" to John Jackson's famous chant, "On the High Toby Spice Flash the Muzzle," cited by Lord Byron in a note to "Don Juan;" and to the glorious Irish ballad, worth them all put together, entitled "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched." This facetious performance is attributed to the late Dean Burrowes, of Cork. It is worthy of note that almost all modern aspirants to the graces of the Musa Pedestris are Irishmen. Of all rhymesters of the "Road," however, Dean Burrowes is, as yet, most fully entitled to the laurel. Larry is quite "the potato!"

And here, as the candidates are so few, and their pretensions so humble,

I can't help putting in my claim for praise.

I venture to affirm that I have done something more than has been accomplished by my predecessors, or contemporaries, with the significant language under consideration. I have written a purely flash song, of which the great and peculiar merit consists in its being utterly incomprehensible to the uninformed understanding, while its meaning must be perfectly clear and perspicuous to the practised patterer of Romany, or Pedlar's French. I have, moreover, been the first to introduce and naturalize amongst us a measure which, though common enough in the Argotic minstrelsy of France, has been hitherto utterly unknown to our pedestrian poetry. Some years afterwards, the song alluded to, better known under the title of "Nix My Dolly, Pals,—Fake Away!" sprang into extraordinary popularity, being set to music by Rodwell, and chanted by glorious Paul Bedford and clever little Mrs. Keeley.

Before quitting the subject of these songs, I may mention that they probably would not have been written at all if one of the earliest of them—a chance experiment—had not excited the warm approbation of my friend, Charles Ollier, author of the striking romance of "Ferrers." This induced me to prosecute the vein accidentally opened.

Turpin was the hero of my boyhood. I had always a strange passion for highwaymen, and have listened by the hour to their exploits, as narrated by my father, and especially to those of "Dauntless Dick," that "chief minion of the moon." One of Turpin's adventures in particular, the ride to Hough Green, which took deep hold of my fancy, I have recorded in song. When a boy, I have often lingered by the side of the deep old road where this robbery was committed, to cast wistful glances into its mysterious windings; and when night deepened the shadows of the trees, have urged my horse on his journey, from a vague apprehension of a visit from the ghostly highwayman. And then there was the Bollin, with its shelvy banks, which Turpin cleared at a bound; the broad meadows over which he winged his flight; the pleasant bowling-green of the pleasant old inn at Hough, where he produced his watch to the Cheshire squires, with whom he was upon terms of intimacy; all brought something of the gallant robber to mind. No wonder, in after-years, in selecting a highwayman for a character in a tale, I should choose my old favorite, Dick Turpin.

In reference to two of the characters here introduced, and drawn from personages living at the time the tale was written, it may be mentioned that poor Jerry Juniper met his death from an accident at Chichester, while he was proceeding to Goodwood races; and that the knight of Malta,—Mr. Tom, a brewer of Truro, the self-styled Sir William Courtenay, who played the strange tricks at Canterbury chronicled in a song given in these pages,—after his release from Banning Heath Asylum, was shot through the head while leading on a mob of riotous Kentish yeomen, whom he had persuaded that he was the Messiah!

If the design of Romance be, what it has been held, the exposition of a useful truth by means of an interesting story, I fear I have but imperfectly fulfilled the office imposed upon me; having, as I will freely confess, had, throughout, an eye rather to the reader's amusement than his edification. One wholesome moral, however, may, I trust, be gathered from the perusal of this Tale; namely, that, without due governance of the passions, high aspirations and generous emotions will little avail their possessor. The impersonations of the Tempter, the Tempted, and the Better Influence may be respectively discovered, by those who care to cull the honey from the flower, in the Sexton, in Luke, and in Sybil.

The chief object I had in view in making the present essay was to see how far the infusion of a warmer and more genial current into the veins of old Romance would succeed in reviving her fluttering and feeble pulses. The attempt has succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectation. Romance, if I am not mistaken, is destined shortly to undergo an important change. Modified by the German and French writers—by Hoffman, Tieck, Hugo, Dumas, Balzac, and Paul Lecroix (le Bibliophile Jacob)—the structure commenced in our own land by Horace Walpole, Monk Lewis, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Maturin, but left imperfect and inharmonious, requires, now that the rubbish which choked up its approach is removed, only the hand of the skilful architect to its entire renovation and perfection.

And now, having said my say, I must bid you, worthy reader, farewell. Beseeching you, in the words of old Rabelais, "to interpret all my sayings and doings in the perfectest sense. Reverence the cheese-like brain that feeds you with all these jolly maggots; and do what lies in you to keep me always merry. Be frolic now, my lads! Cheer up your hearts, and joyfully read the rest, with all ease of your body, and comfort of your reins."

KENSAL MANOR-HOUSE, December 15, 1849.



ROOKWOOD



BOOK I

THE WEDDING RING

It has been observed, and I am apt to believe it is an observation which will generally be found true, that before a terrible truth comes to light, there are certain murmuring whispers fly before it, and prepare the minds of men for the reception of the truth itself.

Gallick Reports: Case of the Count Saint Geran.



CHAPTER I

THE VAULT

Let me know, therefore, fully the intent Of this thy dismal preparation— This talk fit for a charnel.

WEBSTER.

Within a sepulchral vault, and at midnight, two persons were seated. The chamber was of singular construction and considerable extent. The roof was of solid stone masonry, and rose in a wide semicircular arch to the height of about seventeen feet, measured from the centre of the ceiling to the ground floor, while the sides were divided by slight partition-walls into ranges of low, narrow catacombs. The entrance to each cavity was surrounded by an obtusely-pointed arch, resting upon slender granite pillars; and the intervening space was filled up with a variety of tablets, escutcheons, shields, and inscriptions, recording the titles and heraldic honors of the departed. There were no doors to the niches; and within might be seen piles of coffins, packed one upon another, till the floor groaned with the weight of lead. Against one of the pillars, upon a hook, hung a rack of tattered, time-out-of-mind hatchments; and in the centre of the tomb might be seen the effigies of Sir Ranulph de Rokewode, the builder of the mausoleum, and the founder of the race who slept within its walls. This statue, wrought in black marble, differed from most monumental carved-work, in that its posture was erect and lifelike. Sir Ranulph was represented as sheathed in a complete suit of mail, decorated with his emblazoned and gilded surcoat, his arm leaning upon the pommel of a weighty curtal-axe. The attitude was that of stern repose. A conically-formed helmet rested upon the brow; the beaver was raised, and revealed harsh but commanding features. The golden spur of knighthood was fixed upon the heel; and, at the feet, enshrined in a costly sarcophagus of marble, dug from the same quarry as the statue, rested the mortal remains of one of "the sternest knights to his mortal foe that ever put speare in the rest."

Streaming in a wavering line upon the roof, the sickly flame of a candle partially fell upon the human figures before alluded to, throwing them into darkest relief, and casting their opaque and fantastical shadows along the ground. An old coffin upon a bier, we have said, served the mysterious twain for a seat. Between them stood a bottle and a glass, evidences that whatever might be the ulterior object of their stealthy communion, the immediate comfort of the creature had not been altogether overlooked. At the feet of one of the personages were laid a mattock, a horn lantern—from which the candle had been removed—, a crowbar, and a bunch of keys. Near to these implements of a vocation which the reader will readily surmise, rested a strange superannuated terrier with a wiry back and frosted muzzle; a head minus an ear, and a leg wanting a paw. His master, for such we shall suppose him, was an old man with a lofty forehead, covered with a singularly shaped nightcap, and clothed, as to his lower limbs, with tight, ribbed, gray worsted hose, ascending externally, after a bygone fashion, considerably above the knee. The old man's elbow rested upon the handle of his spade, his wrist supported his chin, and his gray glassy eyes, glimmering like marsh-meteors in the candle-light, were fixed upon his companion with a glance of searching scrutiny.

The object of his investigation, a much more youthful and interesting person, seemed lost in reverie, and alike insensible to time, place, and the object of the meeting. With both hands grasped round the barrel of a fowling-piece, and his face leaning upon the same support, the features were entirely concealed from view; the light, too, being at the back, and shedding its rays over, rather than upon his person, aided his disguise. Yet, even thus imperfectly defined, the outline of the head, and the proportions of the figure, were eminently striking and symmetrical. Attired in a rough forester's costume, of the mode of 1737, and of the roughest texture and rudest make, his wild garb would have determined his rank as sufficiently humble in the scale of society, had not a certain loftiness of manner, and bold, though reckless deportment, argued pretensions on the part of the wearer to a more elevated station in life, and contradicted, in a great measure, the impression produced by the homely appearance of his habiliments. A cap of shaggy brown fur, fancifully, but not ungracefully fashioned, covered his head, from beneath which, dropping, in natural clusters over his neck and shoulders, a cloud of raven hair escaped. Subsequently, when his face was more fully revealed, it proved to be that of a young man, of dark aspect, and grave, melancholy expression of countenance, approaching even to the stern, when at rest; though sufficiently animated and earnest when engaged in conversation, or otherwise excited. His features were regular, delicately formed, and might be characterized as singularly handsome, were it not for a want of roundness in the contour of the face which gave the lineaments a thin, worn look, totally distinct, however, from haggardness or emaciation. The nose was delicate and fine; the nostril especially so; the upper lip was short, curling, graceful, and haughtily expressive. As to complexion, his skin had a truly Spanish warmth and intensity of coloring. His figure, when raised, was tall and masculine, and though slight, exhibited great personal vigor.

We will now turn to his companion, the old man with the great gray glittering eyes. Peter Bradley, of Rookwood—comitatu Ebor—, where he had exercised the vocation of sexton for the best part of a life already drawn out to the full span ordinarily allotted to mortality, was an odd caricature of humanity. His figure was lean, and almost as lank as a skeleton. His bald head reminded one of a bleached skull, allowing for the overhanging and hoary brows. Deep-seated, and sunken within their sockets, his gray orbs gleamed with intolerable lustre. Few could endure his gaze; and, aware of his power, Peter seldom failed to exercise it. He had likewise another habit, which, as it savored of insanity, made him an object of commiseration with some, while it rendered him yet more obnoxious to others. The habit we allude to, was the indulgence of wild screaming laughter at times when all merriment should be checked; and when the exhibition of levity must proceed from utter disregard of human grief and suffering, or from mental alienation.

Wearied with the prolonged silence, Peter at length condescended to speak. His voice was harsh and grating as a rusty hinge.

"Another glass?" said he, pouring out a modicum of the pale fluid.

His companion shook his head.

"It will keep out the cold," continued the sexton, pressing the liquid upon him: "and you, who are not so much accustomed as I am to the damps of a vault, may suffer from them. Besides," added he, sneeringly, "it will give you courage."

His companion answered not. But the flash of his eye resented the implied reproach.

"Nay, never stare at me so hard, Luke," continued the sexton; "I doubt neither your courage nor your firmness. But if you won't drink, I will. Here's to the rest eternal of Sir Piers Rookwood! You'll say amen to that pledge, or you are neither grandson of mine, nor offspring of his loins."

"Why should I reverence his memory," answered Luke, bitterly, refusing the proffered potion, "who showed no fatherly love for me? He disowned me in life: in death I disown him. Sir Piers Rookwood was no father of mine."

"He was as certainly your father, as Susan Bradley, your mother, was my daughter," rejoined the sexton.

"And, surely," cried Luke, impetuously, "you need not boast of the connection! 'Tis not for you, old man, to couple their names together—to exult in your daughter's disgrace and your own dishonor. 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 ignorance. 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, 'tis 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

Amid the grove o'er-arched above with lime-trees old and tall —The avenue that leads unto the Rookwood's ancient hall—, High o'er the rest its towering crest one tree rears to the sky, And wide out-flings, like mighty wings, its arms umbrageously.

Seven yards its base would scarce embrace—a goodly tree I ween, With silver bark, and foliage dark, of melancholy green; And mid its boughs two ravens house, and build from year to year, Their black brood hatch—their black brood watch—then screaming disappear.

In that old tree when playfully the summer breezes sigh, Its leaves are stirred, and there is heard a low and plaintive cry; And when in shrieks the storm blast speaks its reverend boughs among, Sad wailing moans, like human groans, the concert harsh prolong.

But whether gale or calm prevail, or threatening cloud hath fled, By hand of Fate, predestinate, a limb that tree will shed; A verdant bough—untouched, I trow, by axe or tempest's breath— To Rookwood's head an omen dread of fast-approaching death.

Some think that tree instinct must be with preternatural power. Like 'larum bell Death's note to knell at Fate's appointed hour; While some avow that on its bough are fearful traces seen, Red as the stains from human veins, commingling with the green.

Others, again, there are maintain that on the shattered bark A print is made, where fiends have laid their scathing talons dark; That, ere it falls, the raven calls thrice from that wizard bough; And that each cry doth signify what space the Fates allow.

In olden days, the legend says, as grim Sir Ranulph view'd A wretched hag her footsteps drag beneath his lordly wood. His bloodhounds twain he called amain, and straightway gave her chase; Was never seen in forest green, so fierce, so fleet a race!

With eyes of flame to Ranulph came each red and ruthless hound, While mangled, torn—a sight forlorn!—the hag lay on the ground; E'en where she lay was turned the clay, and limb and reeking bone Within the earth, with ribald mirth, by Ranulph grim were thrown.

And while as yet the soil was wet with that poor witch's gore, A lime-tree stake did Ranulph take, and pierced her bosom's core; And, strange to tell, what next befell!—that branch at once took root, And richly fed, within its bed, strong suckers forth did shoot.

From year to year fresh boughs appear—it waxes huge in size; And, with wild glee, this prodigy Sir Ranulph grim espies. One day, when he, beneath that tree, reclined in joy and pride, A branch was found upon the ground—the next, Sir Ranulph died!

And from that hour a fatal power has ruled that Wizard Tree, To Ranulph's line a warning sign of doom and destiny: For when a bough is found, I trow, beneath its shade to lie, Ere suns shall rise thrice in the skies a Rookwood sure shall die!

"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 favorite steed, who never swerved at stake or pale before—set eyes upon the 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 frightened 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: first, 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 a 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 anything to tell me respecting her? if not, let me begone."

"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 forever, 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——"

"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. Blood—blood 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?"

"Everything. 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 utterance, else we might often endanger our own safety, and that of others."

"An idle subterfuge—and, from you, worse than idle. I will have an answer, yea or nay. Was it poison—was it steel?"

"Enough—she died."

"No, it is not enough. When? Where?"

"In her sleep—in her bed."

"Why, that was natural."

A wrinkling smile crossed the sexton's brow.

"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?"

"She did so," replied the sexton, shaking off Luke's hold.

"And was it to tell me that I had a mother's murder to avenge, that you brought me to the tomb of her destroyer—when he is beyond the reach of my vengeance?"

Luke exhibited so much frantic violence of manner and gesture, that the sexton entertained some little apprehension that his intellects were unsettled by the shock of the intelligence. It was, therefore, in what he intended for a soothing tone that he attempted to solicit his grandson's attention.

"I will hear nothing more," interrupted Luke, and the vaulted chamber rang with his passionate lamentations. "Am I the sport of this mocking fiend?" cried he, "to whom my agony is derision—my despair a source of enjoyment—beneath whose withering glance my spirit shrinks—who, with half-expressed insinuations, tortures my soul, awakening fancies that goad me on to dark and desperate deeds? Dead mother! upon thee I call. If in thy grave thou canst hear the cry of thy most wretched son, yearning to avenge thee—answer me, if thou hast the power. Let me have some token of the truth or falsity of these wild suppositions, that I may wrestle against this demon. But no," added he, in accents of despair, "no ear listens to me, save his to whom my wretchedness is food for mockery."

"Could the dead hear thee, thy mother might do so," returned the sexton. "She lies within this space."

Luke staggered back, as if struck by a sudden shot. He spoke not, but fell with a violent shock against a pile of coffins, at which he caught for support.

"What have I done?" he exclaimed, recoiling.

A thundering crash resounded through the vault. One of the coffins, dislodged from its position by his fall, tumbled to the ground, and, alighting upon its side, split asunder.

"Great Heavens! what is this?" cried Luke, as a dead body, clothed in all the hideous apparel of the tomb, rolled forth to his feet.

"It is your mother's corpse," answered the sexton, coldly; "I brought you hither to behold it. But you have anticipated my intentions."

"This my mother?" shrieked Luke, dropping upon his knees by the body, and seizing one of its chilly hands, as it lay upon the floor, with the face upwards.

The sexton took the candle from the sconce.

"Can this be death?" shouted Luke. "Impossible! Oh, God! she stirs—she moves. The light!—quick. I see her stir! This is dreadful!"

"Do not deceive yourself," said the sexton, in a tone which betrayed more emotion than was his wont. "'Tis the bewilderment of fancy. She will never stir again."

And he shaded the candle with his hand, so as to throw the light full upon the face of the corpse. It was motionless, as that of an image carved in stone. No trace of corruption was visible upon the rigid, yet exquisite tracery of its features. A profuse cloud of raven hair, escaped from its swathements in the fall, hung like a dark veil over the bosom and person of the dead, and presented a startling contrast to the waxlike hue of the skin and the pallid cereclothes. Flesh still adhered to the hand, though it mouldered into dust within the gripe of Luke, as he pressed the fingers to his lips. The shroud was disposed like night-gear about her person, and from without its folds a few withered flowers had fallen. A strong aromatic odor, of a pungent nature, was diffused around; giving evidence that the art by which the ancient Egyptians endeavored to rescue their kindred from decomposition had been resorted to, to preserve the fleeting charms of the unfortunate Susan Bradley.

A pause of awful silence succeeded, broken only by the convulsive respiration of Luke. The sexton stood by, apparently an indifferent spectator of the scene of horror. His eye wandered from the dead to the living, and gleamed with a peculiar and indefinable expression, half apathy, half abstraction. For one single instant, as he scrutinized the features of his daughter, his brow, contracted by anger, immediately afterwards was elevated in scorn. But otherwise you would have sought in vain to read the purport of that cold, insensible glance, which dwelt for a brief space on the face of the mother, and settled eventually upon her son. At length the withered flowers attracted his attention. He stooped to pick up one of them.

"Faded as the hand that gathered ye—as the bosom on which ye were strewn!" he murmured. "No sweet smell left—but—faugh!" Holding the dry leaves to the flame of the candle, they were instantly ignited, and the momentary brilliance played like a smile upon the features of the dead. Peter observed the effect. "Such was thy life," he exclaimed; "a brief, bright sparkle, followed by dark, utter extinction!"

Saying which, he flung the expiring ashes of the floweret from his hand.



CHAPTER II

THE SKELETON HAND

Duch. You are very cold. I fear you are not well after your travel. Ha! lights.——Oh horrible!

Fer. Let her have lights enough.

Duch. What witchcraft doth he practise, that he hath left A dead hand here?

Duchess of Malfy.

The sexton's waning candle now warned him of the progress of time, and having completed his arrangements, he addressed himself to Luke, intimating his intention of departing. But receiving no answer, and remarking no signs of life about his grandson, he began to be apprehensive that he had fallen into a swoon. Drawing near to Luke, he took him gently by the arm. Thus disturbed, Luke groaned aloud.

"I am glad to find you can breathe, if it be only after that melancholy fashion," said the sexton; "but come, I have wasted time enough already. You must indulge your grief elsewhere."

"Leave me," sighed Luke.

"What, here? It were as much as my office is worth. You can return some other night. But go you must, now—at least, if you take on thus. I never calculated upon a scene like this, or it had been long ere I brought you hither. So come away; yet, stay;—but first lend me a hand to replace the body in the coffin."

"Touch it not," exclaimed Luke; "she shall not rest another hour within these accursed walls. I will bear her hence myself." And, sobbing hysterically, he relapsed into his former insensibility.

"Poh! this is worse than midsummer madness," said Peter; "the lad is crazed with grief, and all about a mother who has been four-and-twenty years in her grave. I will e'en put her out of the way myself."

Saying which, he proceeded, as noiselessly as possible, to raise the corpse in his arms, and deposited it softly within its former tenement. Carefully as he executed his task, he could not accomplish it without occasioning a slight accident to the fragile frame. Insensible as he was, Luke had not relinquished the hold he maintained of his mother's hand. And when Peter lifted the body, the ligaments connecting the hand with the arm were suddenly snapped asunder. It would appear afterwards, that this joint had been tampered with, and partially dislocated. Without, however, entering into further particulars in this place, it may be sufficient to observe that the hand, detached from the socket at the wrist, remained within the gripe of Luke; while, ignorant of the mischief he had occasioned, the sexton continued his labors unconsciously, until the noise which he of necessity made in stamping with his heel upon the plank, recalled his grandson to sensibility. The first thing that the latter perceived, upon collecting his faculties, were the skeleton fingers twined within his own.

"What have you done with the body? Why have you left this with me?" demanded he.

"It was not my intention to have done so," answered the sexton, suspending his occupation. "I have just made fast the lid, but it is easily undone. You had better restore it."

"Never," returned Luke, staring at the bony fragment.

"Pshaw! of what advantage is a dead hand? 'Tis an unlucky keepsake, and will lead to mischief. The only use I ever heard of such a thing being turned to, was in the case of Bow-legged Ben, who was hanged in irons for murder, on Hardchase Heath, on the York Road, and whose hand was cut off at the wrist the first night to make a Hand of Glory, or Dead Man's Candle. Hast never heard what the old song says?" And without awaiting his grandson's response, Peter broke into the following wild strain:

THE HAND OF GLORY[1]

From the corse that hangs on the roadside tree —A murderer's corse it needs must be—, Sever the right hand carefully:— Sever the hand that the deed hath done, Ere the flesh that clings to the bones be gone; In its dry veins must blood be none. Those ghastly fingers white and cold, Within a winding-sheet enfold; Count the mystic count of seven: Name the Governors of Heaven.[2] Then in earthen vessel place them, And with dragon-wort encase them, Bleach them in the noonday sun, Till the marrow melt and run, Till the flesh is pale and wan, As a moon-ensilvered cloud, As an unpolluted shroud. Next within their chill embrace The dead man's Awful Candle place; Of murderer's fat must that candle be —You may scoop it beneath the roadside tree—, Of wax, and of Lapland sisame. Its wick must be twisted of hair of the dead, By the crow and her brood on the wild waste shed. Wherever that terrible light shall burn Vainly the sleeper may toss and turn; His leaden lids shall he ne'er unclose So long as that magical taper glows. Life and treasures shall he command Who knoweth the charm of the Glorious Hand! But of black cat's gall let him aye have care, And of screech-owl's venomous blood beware!

"Peace!" thundered Luke, extending his mother's hand towards the sexton. "What seest thou?"

"I see something shine. Hold it nigher the light. Ha! that is strange, truly. How came that ring there?"

"Ask of Sir Piers! ask of her husband!" shouted Luke, with a wild burst of exulting laughter. "Ha! ha! ha! 'tis a wedding-ring! And look! the finger is bent. It must have been placed upon it in her lifetime. There is no deception in this—no trickery—ha!"

"It would seem not; the sinew must have been contracted in life. The tendons are pulled down so tightly, that the ring could not be withdrawn without breaking the finger."

"You are sure that coffin contains her body?"

"As sure as I am that this carcass is my own."

"The hand—'tis hers. Can any doubt exist?"

"Wherefore should it? It was broken from the arm by accident within this moment. I noticed not the occurrence, but it must have been so."

"Then it follows that she was wedded, and I am not——"

"Illegitimate. For your own sake I am glad of it."

"My heart will burst. Oh! could I but establish the fact of this marriage, her wrongs would be indeed avenged."

"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?"

"It was. 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 cannot 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 enamored of her beauty. But while he burnt with adulterous desire, he was consumed by fiercest hate—contending, and yet strangely-reconcilable passions—as you may have reason, hereafter, to discover."

"Go on," said Luke, grinding his teeth.

"I have done," returned Peter. "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.

"Ah," 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 honor 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 honor. "Is aught between us?"

"I will discharge my gun. Its flash will light us."

"Do so," hastily rejoined Peter. "But not in this direction."

"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 further end of the vault.

"Let us go hence," ejaculated the sexton, 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. "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—

Orate pro anima 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 ever 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 dishonored. Love, honor, friendship, were with him as words. He regarded no ties; he defied and set at naught all human laws and obligations—and yet he was religious, or esteemed so—received the viaticum, and died full of years and honors, 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 you know your destiny; but you 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 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 churchyard. The grassy mounds were bathed in the moonbeams, 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 daybreak," 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

The Carrion Crow is a sexton bold. He raketh the dead from out the mould; He delveth the ground like a miser old, Stealthily hiding his store of gold. Caw! Caw!

The Carrion Crow hath a coat of black, Silky and sleek like a priest's to his back; Like a lawyer he grubbeth—no matter what way— The fouler the offal, the richer his prey. Caw! Caw! the Carrion Crow! Dig! Dig! in the ground below!

The Carrion Crow hath a dainty maw, With savory pickings he crammeth his craw; Kept meat from the gibbet it pleaseth his whim, It can never hang too long for him! Caw! Caw!

The Carrion Crow smelleth powder, 'tis said, Like a soldier escheweth the taste of cold lead; No jester, or mime, hath more marvellous wit, For, wherever he lighteth, he maketh a hit! Caw! Caw! the Carrion Crow! Dig! Dig! in the ground below!

Shouldering his spade, and whistling to his dog, the sexton quitted the churchyard.

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 gray old pile.



CHAPTER III

THE PARK

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 commune with himself. Leaping the small boundary-wall, which defended the churchyard from a deep green lane, he hurried along in a direction contrary to that taken by the sexton, making the best of his way until he arrived at a gap in the high-banked hazel hedge which overhung the road. Heedless of the impediments thrown in his way by the undergrowth of a rough ring fence, he struck through the opening that presented itself, and, climbing over the moss-grown paling, trod presently upon the elastic sward of Rookwood Park.

A few minutes' rapid walking brought him to the summit of a rising ground crowned with aged oaks and, as he passed beneath their broad shadows, his troubled spirit, soothed by the quietude of the scene, in part resumed its serenity.

Luke yielded to the gentle influence of the time and hour. The stillness of the spot allayed the irritation of his frame, and the dewy chillness cooled the fever of his brow. Leaning for support against the gnarled trunk of one of the trees, he gave himself up to contemplation. The events of the last hour—of his whole existence—passed in rapid review before him. The thought of the wayward, vagabond life he had led; of the wild adventures of his youth; of all he had been; of all he had done, of all he had endured—crowded his mind; and then, like the passing of a cloud flitting across the autumnal moon, and occasionally obscuring the smiling landscape before him, his soul was shadowed by the remembrance of the awful revelations of the last hour, and the fearful knowledge he had acquired of his mother's fate—of his father's guilt.

The eminence on which he stood was one of the highest points of the park, and commanded a view of the hall, which might be a quarter of a mile distant, discernible through a broken vista of trees, its whitened walls glimmering in the moonlight, and its tall chimney spiring far from out the round masses of wood in which it lay embosomed. The ground gradually sloped in that direction, occasionally rising into swells, studded with magnificent timber—dipping into smooth dells, or stretching out into level glades, until it suddenly sank into a deep declivity, that formed an effectual division, without the intervention of a haw-haw, or other barrier, between the chase and the home-park. A slender stream strayed through this ravine, having found its way thither from a small reservoir, hidden in the higher plantations to the left; and further on, in the open ground, and in a line with the hall, though, of course, much below the level of the building, assisted by many local springs, and restrained by a variety of natural and artificial embankments, this brook spread out into an expansive sheet of water. Crossed by a rustic bridge, the only communication between the parks, the pool found its outlet into the meads below; and even at that distance, and in that still hour, you might almost catch the sound of the brawling waters, as they dashed down the weir in a foaming cascade; while, far away, in the spreading valley, the serpentine meanderings of the slender current might be traced, glittering like silvery threads in the moonshine. The mild beams of the queen of night, then in her meridian, trembled upon the topmost branches of the tall timber, quivering like diamond spray upon the outer foliage; and, penetrating through the interstices of the trees, fell upon the light wreaths of vapor then beginning to arise from the surface of the pool, steeping them in misty splendor, and lending to this part of the picture a character of dreamy and unearthly beauty.

All else was in unison. No sound interrupted the silence of Luke's solitude, except the hooting of a large gray owl, that, scared at his approach, or in search of prey, winged its spectral flight in continuous and mazy circles round his head, uttering at each wheel its startling whoop; or a deep, distant bay, that ever and anon boomed upon the ear, proceeding from a pack of hounds kennelled in a shed adjoining the pool before mentioned, but which was shrouded from view by the rising mist. No living objects presented themselves, save a herd of deer, crouched in a covert of brown fern beneath the shadow of a few stunted trees, immediately below the point of land on which Luke stood; and although their branching antlers could scarcely be detected from the ramifications of the wood itself, they escaped not his practised ken.

"How often," murmured Luke, "in years gone by, have I traversed these moonlit glades, and wandered amidst these woodlands, on nights heavenly as this—ay, and to some purpose, as yon thinned herd might testify! Every dingle, every dell, every rising brow, every bosky vale and shelving covert, have been as familiar to my track as to that of the fleetest and freest of their number: scarce a tree amidst the thickest of yon outstretching forest with which I cannot claim acquaintance; 'tis long since I have seen them. By Heavens! 'tis beautiful! and it is all my own! Can I forget that it was here I first emancipated myself from thraldom? Can I forget the boundless feeling of delight that danced within my veins when I first threw off the yoke of servitude, and roved unshackled, unrestrained, amidst these woods? The wild intoxicating bliss still tingles to my heart. And they are all my own—my own! Softly, what have we there?"

Luke's attention was arrested by an object which could not fail to interest him, sportsman as he was. A snorting bray was heard, and a lordly stag stalked slowly and majestically from out the copse. Luke watched the actions of the noble animal with great interest, drawing back into the shade. A hundred yards, or thereabouts, might be between him and the buck. It was within range of ball. Luke mechanically grasped his gun; yet his hand had scarcely raised the piece half way to his shoulder, when he dropped it again to its rest.

"What am I about to do?" he mentally ejaculated. "Why, for mere pastime, should I take away yon noble creature's life, when his carcass would be utterly useless to me? Yet such is the force of habit, that I can scarce resist the impulse that tempted me to fire; and I have known the time, and that not long since, when I should have shown no such self-control."

Unconscious of the danger it had escaped, the animal moved forward with the same stately step. Suddenly it stopped, with ears pricked, as if some sound had smote them. At that instant the click of a gun-lock was heard, at a little distance to the right. The piece had missed fire. An instantaneous report from another gun succeeded; and, with a bound high in air, the buck fell upon his back, struggling in the agonies of death. Luke had at once divined the cause; he was aware that poachers were at hand. He fancied that he knew the parties; nor was he deceived in his conjecture. Two figures issued instantly from a covert on the right, and making to the spot, the first who reached it put an end to the animal's struggles by plunging a knife into its throat. The affrighted herd took to their heels, and were seen darting swiftly down the chase.

One of the twain, meantime, was occupied in feeling for the deer's fat, when he was approached by the other, who pointed in the direction of the house. The former raised himself from his kneeling posture, and both appeared to listen attentively. Luke fancied he heard a slight sound in the distance; whatever the noise proceeded from, it was evident the deer-stealers were alarmed. They laid hold of the buck, and, dragging it along, concealed the carcass among the tall fern; they then retreated, halting for an instant to deliberate, within a few yards of Luke, who was concealed from their view by the trunk of the tree, behind which he had ensconced his person. They were so near, that he lost not a word of their muttered conference.

"The game's spoiled this time, Rob Rust, any how," growled one, in an angry tone; "the hawks are upon us, and we must leave this brave buck to take care of himself. Curse him!—who'd 'a' thought of Hugh Badger's quitting his bed to-night? Respect for his late master might have kept him quiet the night before the funeral. But look out, lad. Dost see 'em?"

"Ay, thanks to old Oliver—yonder they are," returned the other. "One—two—three—and a muzzled bouser to boot. There's Hugh at the head on 'em. Shall we stand and show fight? I have half a mind for it."

"No, no," replied the first speaker; "that will never do, Rob—no fighting. Why run the risk of being grabb'd for a haunch of venison? Had Luke Bradley or Jack Palmer been with us, it might have been another affair. As it is, it won't pay. Besides, we've that to do at the hall to-morrow night that may make men of us for the rest of our nat'ral lives. We've pledged ourselves to Jack Palmer, and we can't be off in honor. It won't do to be snabbled in the nick of it. So let's make for the prad in the lane. Keep in the shade as much as you can. Come along, my hearty." And away the two worthies scampered down the hill-side.

"Shall I follow," thought Luke, "and run the risk of falling into the keeper's hand, just at this crisis, too? No, but if I am found here, I shall be taken for one of the gang. Something must be done—ha!—devil take them, here they are already."

Further time was not allowed him for reflection. A hoarse baying was heard, followed by a loud cry from the keepers. The dog had scented out the game; and, as secrecy was no longer necessary, his muzzle had been removed. To rush forth now were certain betrayal; to remain was almost equally assured detection; and, doubting whether he should obtain credence if he delivered himself over in that garb and armed, Luke at once rejected the idea. Just then it flashed across his recollection that his gun had remained unloaded, and he applied himself eagerly to repair this negligence, when he heard the dog in full cry, making swiftly in his direction. He threw himself upon the ground, where the fern was thickest; but this seemed insufficient to baffle the sagacity of the hound—the animal had got his scent, and was baying close at hand. The keepers were drawing nigh. Luke gave himself up for lost. The dog, however, stopped where the two poachers had halted, and was there completely at fault: snuffing the ground, he bayed, wheeled round, and then set off with renewed barking upon their track. Hugh Badger and his comrades loitered an instant at the same place, looked warily round, and then, as Luke conjectured, followed the course taken by the hound.

Swift as thought, Luke arose, and keeping as much as possible under cover of the trees, started in a cross line for the lane. Rapid as was his flight, it was not without a witness: one of the keeper's assistants, who had lagged behind, gave the view-halloo in a loud voice. Luke pressed forward with redoubled energy, endeavoring to gain the shelter of the plantation, and this he could readily have accomplished, had no impediment been in his way. But his rage and vexation were boundless, when he heard the keeper's cry echoed by shouts immediately below him, and the tongue of the hound resounding in the hollow. He turned sharply round, steering a middle course, and still aiming at the fence. It was evident, from the cheers of his pursuers, that he was in full view, and he heard them encouraging and directing the dog.

Luke had gained the park palings, along which he rushed, in the vain quest of some practicable point of egress, for the fence was higher in this part of the park than elsewhere, owing to the inequality of the ground. He had cast away his gun as useless. But even without that incumbrance, he dared not hazard the delay of climbing the palings. At this juncture a deep breathing was heard close behind him. He threw a glance over his shoulder. Within a few yards was a ferocious bloodhound, with whose savage nature Luke was well acquainted; the breed, some of which he had already seen, having been maintained at the hall ever since the days of grim old Sir Ranulph. The eyes of the hound were glaring, blood-red; his tongue was hanging out, and a row of keen white fangs was displayed, like the teeth of a shark. There was a growl—a leap—and the dog was close upon him.

Luke's courage was undoubted. But his heart failed him as he heard the roar of the remorseless brute, and felt that he could not avoid an encounter with the animal. His resolution was instantly taken: he stopped short with such suddenness, that the dog, when in the act of springing, flew past him with great violence, and the time, momentary as it was, occupied by the animal in recovering himself, enabled Luke to drop on his knee, and to place one arm, like a buckler, before his face, while he held the other in readiness to grapple his adversary. Uttering a fierce yell, the hound returned to the charge, darting at Luke, who received the assault without flinching; and in spite of a severe laceration of the arm, he seized his foe by the throat, and hurling him upon the ground, jumped with all his force upon his belly. There was a yell of agony—the contest was ended, and Luke was at liberty to pursue his flight unmolested.

Brief as had been the interval required for this combat, it had been sufficient to bring the pursuers within sight of the fugitive. Hugh Badger, who from the acclivity had witnessed the fate of his favorite, with a loud oath discharged the contents of his gun at the head of its destroyer. It was fortunate for Luke that at this instant he stumbled over the root of a tree—the shot rattled in the leaves as he fell, and the keeper, concluding that he had at least winged his bird, descended more leisurely towards him. As he lay upon the ground, Luke felt that he was wounded; whether by the teeth of the dog, from a stray shot, or from bruises inflicted by the fall, he could not determine. But, smarting with pain, he resolved to wreak his vengeance upon the first person who approached him. He vowed not to be taken with life—to strangle any who should lay hands upon him. At that moment he felt a pressure at his breast. It was the dead hand of his mother!

Luke shuddered. The fire of revenge was quenched. He mentally cancelled his rash oath; yet he could not bring himself to surrender at discretion, and without further effort. The keeper and his assistants were approaching the spot where he lay, and searching for his body. Hugh Badger was foremost, and within a yard of him.

"Confound the rascal!" cried Hugh, "he's not half killed; he seems to breathe."

The words were scarcely out of his mouth ere the speaker was dashed backwards, and lay sprawling upon the sod. Suddenly and unexpectedly, as an Indian chief might rush upon his foes, Luke arose, dashing himself with great violence against Hugh, who happened to stand in his way, and before the startled assistants, who were either too much taken by surprise, or unwilling to draw a trigger, could in any way lay hands upon him, exerting all the remarkable activity which he possessed, he caught hold of a projecting branch of a tree, and swung himself, at a single bound, fairly over the paling.

Hugh Badger was shortly on his legs, swearing lustily at his defeat. Directing his men to skirt alongside the fence, and make for a particular part of the plantation which he named, and snatching a loaded fowling-piece from one of them, he clambered over the pales, and guided by the crashing branches and other sounds conveyed to his quick ear, he was speedily upon Luke's track.

The plantation through which the chase now took place was not, as might be supposed, a continuation of the ring fence which Luke had originally crossed on his entrance into the park, though girded by the same line of paling, but, in reality, a close pheasant preserve, occupying the banks of a ravine, which, after a deep and tortuous course, terminated in the declivity heretofore described as forming the park boundary. Luke plunged into the heart of this defile, fighting his way downwards, in the direction of the brook. His progress was impeded by a thick undergrowth of brier, and other matted vegetation, as well as by the entanglements thrown in his way by the taller bushes of thorn and hazel, the entwined and elastic branches of which, in their recoil, galled and fretted him, by inflicting smart blows on his face and hands. This was a hardship he usually little regarded. But, upon the present occasion, it had the effect, by irritating his temper, of increasing the thirst of vengeance raging in his bosom.

Through the depths of the ravine welled the shallow stream before alluded to, and Hugh Badger had no sooner reached its sedgy margin than he lost all trace of the fugitive. He looked cautiously round, listened intently, and inclined his ear to catch the faintest echo. All was still: not a branch shook, not a leaf rustled. Hugh looked aghast. He had made sure of getting a glimpse, and, perhaps, a stray shot at the "poaching rascal," as he termed him, "in the open space, which he was sure the fellow was aiming to reach; and now, all at once, he had disappeared, like a will-o'-the-wisp or a boggart of the clough." However, he could not be far off, and Hugh endeavored to obtain some clue to guide him in his quest. He was not long in detecting recent marks deeply indented in the mud on the opposite bank. Hugh leaped thither at once. Further on, some rushes were trodden down, and there were other indications of the course the fugitive had taken.

"Hark forward!" shouted Hugh, in the joy of his heart at this discovery; and, like a well-trained dog, he followed up with alacrity the scent he had opened. The brook presented still fewer impediments to expedition than the thick copse, and the keeper pursued the wanderings of the petty current, occasionally splashing into the stream. Here and there, the print of a foot on the soil satisfied him he was in the right path. At length he became aware, from the crumbling soil, that the object of his pursuit had scaled the bank, and he forthwith moderated his pace. Halting, he perceived what he took to be a face peeping at him from behind a knot of alders that overhung the steep and shelving bank immediately above him. His gun was instantly at his shoulder.

"Come down, you infernal deer-stealing scoundrel," cried Hugh, "or I'll blow you to shivers."

No answer was returned: expostulation was vain; and, fearful of placing himself at a disadvantage if he attempted to scale the bank, Hugh fired without further parley. The sharp discharge rolled in echoes down the ravine, and a pheasant, scared by the sound, answered the challenge from a neighboring tree. Hugh was an unerring marksman, and on this occasion his aim had been steadily taken. The result was not precisely such as he had anticipated. A fur cap, shaken by the shot from the bough on which it hung, came rolling down the bank, proclaiming the ruse that had been practised upon the keeper. Little time was allowed him for reflection. Before he could reload, he felt himself collared by the iron arm of Luke.

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