Chapter 135844994

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Chapter NumberXCIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1891-10-02
Page Number2
Word Count2550
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleNewcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954)
Trove TitleMinnigrey: A Romance
article text MINNIGREY. A ROMANICE.. OHAPTER XCIV (Contiuedj/. The tone in which Geoffrey Howard uttered these few brief words was as sad and hopeless as if Satan had pro nounced them when the gates of Para dise were closed against him for ever. The old sexton regarded him wilh a feeling akin to pity. Even his rugged nature was touched. 'I have often thought' he said, ' that every disposition hasits peculiar vices; and God, as parson says, is very merciful.' All that remained of prido and ob stinacy in the temper of the aged aria, tocrat was stung at the air of com miseration with which the speaker re garded him. ..andrake meant it kindly, but kindness from such as him was only calculated to irritate, rather than soothe. 'The vault, you say, is open ?' .'-It is.' ':Wait for me here, then," continued Geoffrey. ' I wil descend alone. Fear not-I shall not detain you long.' 'Fear !' repeated the sexton, with' a look of surprise ' what do I fear ? The dead and I are well acquaintFd. I sometimes fancy, as I turn up the skulls of my old acquaintances with my mattock in the churchyard, that their fleshless chaps grin at me with a smile of recognition, as much as to say, 'Wait a little, old boy; you will soon be with us-soon know all that the grave contains-all that the worms can teach;' and then, he added, 'I wipe the mould fromn their gumless jaws and place them carefully back in their resting place ! lI either fear the dead nor the living, for I have never done .harm to either.' Without reply, the sexton's strange companion crossed the chancel and en tered the vault where rested the ashes of dso many of his race. As the dim light' of the lantern which he took with him disappeared beneath the low crowned arch, Mandrake shook his head. 'Hard nature,' he muttered; 'a hard nature, like all of his name. The speaker seated himself upon a tomb whose rudely-sculptured cross denoted that one of the e}rlier eccle siastics of the church was buried be neath, and fell into one of his usual fits of musing. So deep and unbroken was the silence of the place thatl had he not been completely .absorbed by his re flections he must have heard. the stealthy step of Lanah the gipsy, who had followed his visitors into the church, as he crept over the time-worn pavement. When Geoffrey Howard entered the vault, the first object which attracted his attention was the coffin of his nephew, the last Earl of Eserick,, whom he had attended in his profes sional character of Dr. Bawtree. The half-rotten velvet' hung in frag ments down the side. The lid had evidently been removed, and not screwed down again. .Trice did he extend his hand to draw it aside, but whether from the impressions which the.hour or place had conjured up, or that age had weakened his nerves, he shudderingly withdrew it. He feared to look upon his victim. ,' Pshaw !' he muttered; ' I grow old and infirm of purpose! It is the living whom I have to fear, and not the dead.' A third time he strotched forth his hand and exposed the remains of his nephew. As she old sexton had stated, they were wonderfully preserved-perhaps from the dryness of the vault, or, what is: more probable, from the nature of the drugs which had been long and gradually administered to him whilst living, the features were distinctly recogaisable. As his eyes fell upon them, the old poisoner started. He either saw, or imagined that be saw, a frown pass over the ghastly brow of the dead. As the candle was flickering in the lantern at the time, possibly it was only a shadow which deceived him. A brief examination assured him that the body had been disturbed for the purpose of a scientific examination -such as is generally made to further the ends of justice. The viscera had been removed. A cold, sarcastic smile passed over his thin lips, for so subtle had been the poison he had used-its tests so little known-that not more than three or four savants in Europe besides himself were acquainted with them. Still they were known. S'Do they thi, me such a bungler,' he said, 'that any tyro may trace my footstepa. Fools! Like destiny, I leave no characters which the ignorant can read to show the agency by which I work. In all Eugland,' he added, ' there is but one man besides myself who ever heard of the drug which sent my nephew to his final sleep.' The words had scarcely passed his lips when his eyes fell upon a card, which had either fallen by accident at the foot of the coffin, or been thrown away after some instructions pencilled on jthe back of it had been read. Geoffrey H ,ward raised it, and saw to his terror and surprise, the name he most feared. It was that of the savant he had just alluded to. Belshazzar, in his impious feast, was not more appalled by the handwriting on the wall foretolliag the destruction of his empire than the conscience. stricken assassin. His countenance became absolutely livid with rage and terror-the card fell from his palsicd hand, and he sank, nerveless as a child, upon the stone sarcophagus, which, according to tradition, con tained the ashes of the founder of his race. 'Blanche!' he.murmured; 'Blanche, it is her arm which strikes me from the grave.' He was right. The visit which the sister of the murdered earl had paid to the magistrate at Bow-street and the Lord Chief Justice of England, and the auspicious which she entertained tbhe instant she .knew who her brother's medical attendant really was, hsd given rice to the investigation. But in the choice which had been made of the man of science to whom the analy sis of the remains of her dead brother had been confided, a higher Hand than hers .was visible-one against whose blow no shield could guard. Life for any of its purer, better pur poses had long ceased to be valued by the assassin. He had only lived for vengeance, and that Eeemed to be ac complished. True, our hero existed, but that hero was a captive in a loath some den, at the mercy of his grand son, who had all the tiger's ferocious instincts, like Geoffrey Howard, and only lacked his courage. ' Why should I complain ?' he said, with sudden resolution. 'The purpose for which I have toiled and sinned is accomplished, or so nearly so, that I mry safely trust to Edward's hand to do the rest. My name,' he added, 'must not be dragged before the scoffing world-be branded by the voice of justice I have lived apart from my race; I at least shall die with them. The executioner of Geof frey Howard shall be no less illustrious than himself.' One touch of human feeling, and only one, did the speaker evince after he had made up his mind to baffle the work of justice-to seek refuge from the infamy of the scaffold in suicide. It was when his eye fell upon the coffin which contained the body of his mother. There are few hearts so hardened that the recollection of the being who smdiled upon us in infancy, or conn selled us in manhood, will not move them. Before attempting to put his dreadful purpose in execution, the out cast son knelt by the ashes of her who had borne him on her bosom. True, he dared not pray, but the strong man wept, and tears are sometimes prayers. As he was about to rise, an arm which for several seconds had been suspended over him-descended, and the keen blade of a long Spanish knife struck with unerring skill between his shoulders. The vertebrre was severed, and in an instant the guilty soul of Geoffrey Howard stood before the judgment seat. Lanabh, for it was the gipsy who had dealt the blow, quitted the church with a step as noiseless as the oe with which he had entered it. After waiting more than two hours for the return of his companion, the old sexton made iup his mind to seek him in the vault. The lantern was still burning when he entered it, and by its flickering light he dis covered the body of Geoffrey welling in a pool of blood. It was nearly cold. Mandrake's first impulse was to fly and call for assistance, but a few mo ments' reflection convinced him of the impolicy of the act. He felt that he might have some difficulty in account ing for his share in the transaction-his midnight visit to the vault. His mind was soon made up. Leaving the church with a hasty step, he made the best of his way to the tent in the north wood, where he was asEured of finding Hanac. The old gipsy had been his confidant for many a year-had disposed of the body of the man who had fallen in the attempt upon the lifo of Gus-and the sexton Et assured that he might rely upon his assistance in his present emergency. The loud barking of the lurcher, fastened by a cord in front of the tent, soon awoke the sleeper. A gipsy's toilette is very soon made, and two minutes had not elapsed after Haonae recognised the voice of his visitor before he was standing by his side. ' What, - in the name of all that is evil, has occurred?' he demanded. 'The wanderer has been with me,' replied the old man. ' Who ?' 'The wanderer,' repeated the sex ton. 'He whom so many years ago we both watched in the woods of Dingley-the outcast and dishonour of his race and name.' 'And what does he seek in this neighbourhood?' whispered Hanace, ' where there are so many witnesses living and dead-of his past crimes ?' 'He does not fear them,' observed Mandrake, shaking his head, 'for neither the living nor the dead can harm him now !' ' I do not understand you.' In as few brief words as possible, his old crony explained to the tenant of the woods the circumstance which had occurred and the embarrassing position in which it had placed him. ' Dead !' muttered Hanac; 'gone at last! I thought it would be sot He had a spirit as firm as his own-a wit as keen and a heart as re solute-to contend with !' 'Whose?' eagerly inquired the sexton. The gipsy, however, did not think proper to reply to him. Although so many years had elapsed since he had seen IMadge Lee, he had received re poeated proofs that she had neither forgotten him nor was ungrateful for his services, added to which he loved the hero of our tale with all the savage fidelity of his race. SStruck between the shoulders ?' he said. ' Ay,' replied Mandrake; 'the backbone must have been severed in an instant, for I neither heard cry nor groan.' ''There could not have been a struggle, then,' observed Hanac. ' You know there was not.' 'I! How should I know there was not?' demanded the gipsy. ' Bcacuse you know the way of your race. Tush, man I' continued his friend,; 'although I am no Romany myself, I have not passed so many hours under the tents of your people, listening to their wild and savage tales, without knowing something of their ways. Whoever it was that dealt the blow, he came upon him unperceived struck him whilst upon his knees, per haps in prayer. I hope,' added the old mtn, fervently, 'that he was in prayer. ' Why so ?' 'I can't tell yon-you would not un. derstand me, Hanac,' replied the sex ton. 'I am getting old-very old, and the thoughts of our age are not always the thoughts of our youth. Will you assist me?' ' What to do ?' ' To bury him.' 'Pshawl' observed the gipsy, con temptuously. ' Toss the dead carrion into the vault beneath the old tower. There is one there already that we know of to keep him company-the rats will soon give a good account of him.' 'No!' answered Mandrake. 'I have buried too many of his race for that, and I wonder, Hanae, that yon should propose it, for you and yours have hlived for many a year unmolested upon the lands of Dingley. Besides, I recollect him in his youth, before crime had traced such hard lines upon his brow-when his heart was as open as his hand-so, if you won't assist me, I will do it myself.' 'BMay I be hanged like a worthless hound if you do I' exclaimed the old gipsy, warmly, at the same time ex tending his. hand. 'I know you house.dwellers think more of where your bones may rest than the free dwellers of the tent. Since you hare set your mind on burying the old poi soner, I'll assist you.' Marmaduke returned the pressure and the two men who had so long been cronies started on their waiy:to Dingley Church. The sexton found the body of Geof frey Howard just as he had left it. It was evident no curious foot had pene trated to the vault. Hanac regarded the wound with the eye of an amateur. 'The old fellow was right,' he thought; 'the blow was dealt by one of our people,' and he secretly wondered whose hand had dealt it. ' Where do you intend to bury him?' he said aloud. Marmadnuke pointed to the sar tomb or coffin, in which, as we before stated, reposed the ashes of the Norman founder of the race of Eserick. He then left the vault and presently returned with a couple of cro vbars to force the ponderous lid. Both he and his companion strained and toiled for some time; the per spiration fell in heavy drops from their wrinkled brows before they suc. ceeded in removing the immense block of granite of which the coffin it might be termed such-was com posed; atlast it rolled slowly aside, and fell with a dull sound upon the floor of the vault; the last resting place of the valiant soldier of William the Con queror was exposed to their gaze. In the interior was a skeleton of gigantic proportions-such as had been assigned to the founder of the house of Eserick; the winding sheet in which it had been interred had long since fallen to dust. A rusty sword and several fragments of a baldrio lay disjointed beside it. ' Whew!' exclaimed the gipsy, wiping the perspiration from his brow; 'if this is greatness I would rather rest in the cool earth, with the grass and wild flowers waving above me, than in a box like this.' Mandrake peered curiously into the sarcophagus: death had been the study of his life; his daily occupation had made him familiar with it, and he could not contemplate without interest the resting-place and remains of the warrior, so many of whose descendants he had buried. To be Continued.