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“ I am,” returned Peter. It was harmony succeeded by dise
“ You, perhaps, can tell us, then," said the elderly lady, “whether the funeral is likely to take place to-night? We thought it possible that the storm might altogether prevent it.”
“The storm is over, as nearly as may be,” replied Peter. “The body will soon be on its way. I am but now arrived from the hall."
“ Indeed !” exclaimed the lady. “ None of the family will be present, I suppose. Who is the chief mourner?”
“ Young Sir Ranulph," answered the sexton. " There will be more of the family than were expected.”
“ Is Sir Ranulph returned ?" asked the young lady, with great agitation of manner. “I thought he was abroad—that he was not expected. Are you sure you are rightly informed ?"
“ I parted with him at the hall not ten minutes since,” replied Peter. “He returned from France to-night most unexpectedly."
“Oh, mother!” exclaimed the younger lady," that this should be—that I should meet him here. Why did we come?-let us depart."
« Impossible!” replied her mother; “ the storm forbids it. This man's information is so strange, I scarce can credit it. Are you sure you have asserted the truth?” said she, addressing Peter.
“I am not accustomed to be doubted," answered he. slings as strange have happened at the hall."
“What mean you?” asked the gentleman, noticing this last Jemark.
“ You would not need to ask the question of me, had you been there, amongst the other guests,” retorted Peter. “ Odd things, I tell you, have been done there this night, and stranger things may occur before the morning."
“ You are insolent, sirrah! I comprehend you not.”
“ Enough! I can comprehend you," replied Peter, significantly; “I know the count of the mourners invited to this ceremonial, and I am aware that there are three too many."
“Know you this saucy knave, mother?”
“ I cannot call him to mind, though I fancy I have seen him before."
“My recollection serves me better, lady,” interposed Peter. “I remember one who was once the proud heiress of Rookwood-ay, proud and beautiful. Then the house was filled with her gallant suitors. Swords were crossed for her. Hearts bled for her. Yet she favoured nonc, until one hapless hour. Sir Reginald Rookwood had a daughter; Sir Reginald lost a daughter. Ila!- I see I am right. Well, he is dead and buried; and Reginald, his son, is dead likewise; and Piers is on his road bither; and you are the last, as in the course of nature you might have been the first.
And, now that they are all gone, you do rightly to bury your grievances with them.”
“Silence, sirrah !” exclaimed the gentleman, " or I will beat your brains out with your own spade.”
“No; let bim speak, Vavasour," said the lady, with an expression of anguish—" he has awakened thoughts of other days."
“I have done,” said Peter," and must to work. Will you descend with me, madam, into the sepulchre of your ancestry? All your family lie within-ay, and the Lady Eleanor, your mother, amongst the number."
Mrs. Mowbray signified her assent, and the party prepared to follow him.
The sexton held the lantern so as to throw its light upon the steps as they entered the gloomy receptacle of the departed. Eleanor half repented having ventured within its dreary limits, so much did the appearance of the yawning catacombs, surcharged with mortality, and, above all, the ghostly figure of the grim knight, affect her with dread, as she looked wistfully around. She required all the support her brother's arm could afford her; nor was Mrs. Mowbray altogether unmoved.
“ And all the family are here interred, you say?" inquired the latter.
“ All,” replied the sexton.
“ Nothing of moment. But I thought you could, perhaps, inform me. He died young. ".
“ He did,” replied Peter, in an altered tonc—" very young; but not before he had lived to an old age of wretchedness. Do you know liis story, madain?"
“ I have heard it."
“From Sir Reginald Rookwood's-never. Call him not my father, sirrah; even here I will not have hiin named so to ine.”
“ Your pardon, madam,” returned the sexton. “ Great cruelty was shown to the Lady Eleanor, and may well call forth implacable resentiert in her child; yet methinks the wrong he did his brother Alan was the foulest stain with which Sir Reginald's black soul was dyed.”
“With what particular wrong dost thou charge Sir Reginald ?” demanded Major Mowbray. “What injury did he inflict upon bis' brother Alan?”
“He wronged his brother's honour,” replied the sexton;" he robbed him of his wife, poisoned his existence, and hurried him to an untimely grave."
Eleanor shudderingly held back during this horrible narration, the hearing of which she would willingly have shunned, had it been possible.
“Can this be true?" asked the major.
“And where lies the unfortunate Alan?" asked Major Mowbray.
1i 'Twixt two cross roads. Where else should the suicide lie?"
Evading any further question, Peter hastily traversed the vault, elevating the light so as to reveal the contents of each cell. One circumstance filled him with surprise and dismay-he could nowhere perceive the coffin of his daughter. In vain he peered into every catacomb—they were apparently undisturbed ; and, with much internal marvelling and misgiving, Peter gave up the search. “ That vision is now explained,” muttered he; the body is removed, but by whom? Death! can I doubt? It must be Lady Rookwood—who else can have any interest in its removal. She has acted boldly. But she shall yet have reason to repent her temerity.” As he continued his search, his companions silently followed. Suddenly he stopped, and, signifying that all was finished, they not unwillingly quitted this abode of horror, leaving him behind them.
“ It is a dreadful place," whispered Eleanor to her mother; “nor would I have visited it, had I conceived anything of its horrors. And that strange man who or what is he?"
“Ay, who is he?" repeated Major Mowbray.
“I recollect him now," replied Mrs. Mowbray; "he is one who has ever been connected with the family. He had a daughter, whose beauty was her ruin: it is a sad tale; I cannot tell it now: you have heard enough of misery and guilt: but that may account for his bitterness of speech. He was a dependent upon my poor brother."
“Poor man!” replied Eleanor; “if he has been unfortunate, I pity him. I am sorry we have been into that dreadful place. I am very faint: and I tremble more than ever at the thought of meeting Ranulph Rookwood again. I can scarcely support myself-I am sure I shall not venture to look
him.” “ Had I dreamed of the likelihood of his attending the ceremony, rest assured, dear Eleanor, we should not have been here: but I was informed there was no possibility of his return. Compose yourself, my child. It will be a trying time in both of us; but it is now incvitable.”
At this moment the bell began to toll. “ The procession has started,” said Peter, as he passed the Mowbrays. “That bell an. nounces the setting out."
“See yonder persons hurrying to the door,” exclaimed Eleanor, with eagerness, and treinbling violently. “They are coming. Oh! I shall never be able to go through with it, dear mother.”
Peter hastened to the church door, where he stationed himself, in company with a host of others, equally curious. Flickering lights in the distance, shining like stars through the trees, showed them that the procession was collecting in front of the hall. The rain had now entirely ceased; the thunder muttered from afar, and the lightning see ned only to lick the moisture from the trees. The bell continued to toll, and its loud booming awoke the drowsy echoes of the valley. On the sudden, a solitary, startling concussion of thunder was heard; and presently a man rushed down from the belfry, with the tidings that he had seen a ball of fire fall from a cloud right over the hall. Every ear was on the alert for the next sound; none was heard. It was the crisis of the storm. Still the funeral procession advanced not. The strong sheen of the torchlight was still visible from the bottom of the avenue, now disappearing, now brightly glimmering, as if the bearers were hurrying to and fro amongst the trees. It was evident that much confusion prevailed, and that some misadventure had occurred. Each man muttered to his neighbour, and few were there who had not in a measure surmised the cause of the delay. At this juncture, a person without his hat, breathless with haste and almost palsied with fright, rushed through the midst of them, and, stumbling over the threshold, sell headlong into the church.
6 What's the matter, Master Plant ? What has happened? Tell us! Tell us!” exclaimed several voices simultaneously.
“Lord have mercy upon us!" cried Plant, gasping for utterance, and not attempting to raise himself. “It's horrible! dreadful! oh!-oh!”
“What has happened?" inquired Peter, approaching the fallen man.
“And dost thou need to ask, Peter Bradley? thou, who foretold it all? but I will not say what I think, though my tongue itches to tell thee the truth. Be satisfied, thy wizard's lore has served thee right-he is dead.”
“Who? Ranulph Rookwood! Has anything befallen him, or the prisoner, Luke Bradley ?” asked the sexton, with eagerness.
A scream here burst forth from one who was standing behind the group; and, in spite of the efforts of her mother to withhold her, Eleanor Mowbray rushed forward.
“Has aught happened to Sir Ranulph?” asked she.
“Heaven be thanked for that!” exclaimed Eleanor. And then, as if ashamed of her own vehemence, and, it might seem, apparent indifference to another's fate, she inquired who was hurt?
“ It be poor neighbour Toft, that be killed by a thunderbolt, ma'am,” replied Plant.
Exclamations of horror burst from all around.
No one was more surprised at this intelligence than the sexton Like many other secrs, he had not, in all probability, calculated upon the fulfilment of his predictions, and he now stared aghast at the extent of his own foreknowledge.
“I tell’ee what, Master Peter," said Plant, shaking his bullethead; "it be well for the thou didn't live in my grandfather's time, or thou’dst ha' been ducked in a blanket; or may be burnt at the stake, like Ridley and Latimer, as we read on—but however that may be, ye shall hear how poor Toft's death came to pass, and nobody can tell'ee better nor I, seeing I were near to him, poor fellow, at the time. Well, we thought as how the storm were all over—and had all got into order of march, and were just beginning to step up the avenue, the coffin-bearers pushing lustily along, and the torches shining grandly, when poor Simon Toft, who could never travel well in liquor in his life, reeled to one side, and staggering against the first huge lime-tree, sat himself down beneath it, thou knowest the tree I mcan.”
“ The trec of fate," returned Peter. “I ought, methinks, to know it."
“Well, I were just stepping aside to pick him up, when all at once there comes such a crack of thunder, and, whizzing through the trees, flashed a great globe of red fire, so bright and dazzlin', it nearly blinded me; and when I opened my eyes, winkin' and waterin', I sce'd that which blinded me more even than the flashthat which had just ufore been poor Simon, but which was now a mass o' black smouldering ashes, clean consumed and destroyed his clothes rent to a thousand tatters—the earth and stones tossed up, and scattered all about, and a great splinter of the tree lying beside him."
“ Heaven's will be donc !” said the scxton; “this is an awful judgment.”
“And Sathan cast down; for this is a spice o' his handiwork,” muttered Plant; adding, as he slunk away, “ If ever Peter Bradley do comc to the blanket, dang me if I don't lend a helpin' hand."