Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 6
Chapter VI: A Discovery
He was about abandoning the search as hopeless when he was struck with the peculiar appearance of what resembled in some respects a sliding panel. After considerable exertion he succeeded to his great joy in effecting an entry.—He now found himself in a long narrow passage which led he knew not whither. Pulling up the wick of the lamp, to enable him to see better, with soft tread he moved onward. His further progress was soon arrested by a door at the extreme end of the passage-way. It was not fastened. Opening it he found himself at the foot of a stair-case. Mounting to the top of the stairs, he paused, and conjectured he heard voices below. Turning to his right he proceeded in the direction of the sounds until he stood by another flight of steps which he resolved to descend, as he saw no signs of life in the chambers through which he had been traversing. From the bottom of the stairs he had gone a few steps when he heard sounds in a room near him. Putting his ear to the wall he heard suppressed weeping. It was a female he felt well assured, and his curiosity was excited to the utmost to learn more. He had remained in the attitude of listening but a few moments when he heard approaching footsteps. What could he do to escape detection. He saw no place where he might secrete himself, and to stay where he was, he knew to be the most ready way of bring about that which he feared. But a short time was allowed him to decide upon what course to pursue, for the sounds of moving feet were now more distinct, and he saw the glimmer of a light which was carried by the person approaching. He moved quickly, but softly, in an opposite direction, when fortunately his attention was arrested by a door standing ajar. It was on the same side of the passage as that which he had just left. He looked in: it was vacant. Entering, he closed and secured the door as best he could, and extinguished the light. Meanwhile the person from whose approach he had fled, stopped at the door he had just left, and in a cracked, angry voice demanded an entrance. Seating himself upon the floor, as near the partition which separated him from the individuals in the next room as possible, he heard the following conversation.
“Have you reflected on what I proposed to you to-day and yesterday,” said the same unmusical voice which had so unceremoniously and peremptorily demanded admission, and which he knew to be that of a female somewhat advanced in years.
“Yes, I have,” replied a subdued soft voice.
“Well : what is your decision ? You have concluded of course like a reasonable girl to meet him here when convenient, or when it suits his wishes.”
“On the contrary, I will not receive him at all. I told you so then, and so I tell you now.”
“Won’t receive him,” screamed the old hag in a paroxism of rage. “Who are you talking to; do you know, you jilt! You will not! ha! but I say you shall.”
“I tell you, woman,” replied the girl, “that I never will accede to his proposals; so importune me no further on this subject, for you only waste words. You know that I receive the visits of only one person, and that I have always refused to see any one else, that fearful man much less. He is a savage, a monster. I would sooner share my couch with an Indian fresh from his native forest. You know my antipathy to him. I wish to hear no more on that hateful subject.”
Here the anger of the old woman knew no bounds, and seizing the girl by the arm, she shook her violently.
“Impudent hussy—a very fine way you have of doing as you please—very nice words you make use of; I will teach you Miss, that you, are under my control while here. You won’t admit him to your room, will you! won’t indeed!”
“Let me go, woman—release me—you have no authority over me like this.”
“You lie, jilt! I have as long as you remain in my house, and you will not leave it soon, madam, I assure you, so you may content yourself to submit to my will as soon as may be; do you hear, vixen?”
During this harangue she still retained her grasp on the arm of the girl, who groaned under the pain of the infliction.
“This is too much,” she sobbed, wrenching her arm with a sudden effort from the hag. “I cannot submit to this usage; desist woman! desist! or I will call for help.”
“Call for help and I will not leave the breath of life in your dainty little body,” shrieked the virago, preparing to renew the attack.
“Do not harm me, I warn you,” cried Cecil—it was she, “lay violent hands on me at your peril; and you shall repent with tears of blood.”
“What do you mean by that, beautiful and chaste young lady,” retorted the elder female, laughing in such a fiendish manner as made even Levator shudder. “A very conscientious and exemplary prostitute you are indeed. I can deal with you though.”
“Do not strike me,” said Cecil, still retreating. “I have warned you once, and I warn you again, do me no violence. I can reveal what would make you look through iron grates all your days. Do you hear me?”
“What can you reveal,” replied the virago, in a voice which she meant should be indicative of indifference, but which truly manifested much alarm, “What secrets have you that can work me any harm?”
“Enough to imprison you for life—ninety-nine years—if not sufficient to hang you by the neck, and I am not quite certain that the latter would not be the case.”
“Speak, ungrateful wretch,” (in a loud voice,) “tell me or I will strike you to the floor,” (lifting her clenched hand menacingly,) “what is the secret? Speak quickly.”
“What I have told you.”
“You have told me nothing, hussy,” shrieked the hag, impatiently.
“To convince you that I can do what I have affirmed a few words will suffice, and you may now listen to those few words.” Holding up her finger mysteriously and menacingly to her tormentor, she said distinctly these words— “The body snatchers. Alice Conway. The vial!”
The effect these words had upon the virago was magical. Her hand fell powerless by her side, and for a moment she stood speechless, gazing at Cecil with an air of dread and deepest hatred. Then in a low and subdued voice she asked, “how knew you of this? What evil demon sent you here to work my destruction! Yes, you have said truly you know enough if disclosed to the ears of Justice to cause me to look through the iron grates of a prison for life. But this does not intimidate me. You cannot escape from my control should you wish to. Or if you should, the evidence of a prostitute would avail but little in a court of Justice. But you may be well assured that I shall take the best of measures to secure your silence on that subject.”
There was a peculiar meaning conveyed in the last sentence, by the significant manner of the hag, that made the young girl turn pale, and stirred up an indefinable emotion of dread.
“You must see that man of whom I have spoken, to-morrow evening,” continued the virago, in a firm resolute tone. “Do you hear me, Miss.”
“I shall never! I would die sooner.”
“Take that for your insolence.” Striking Cecil a blow which prostrated her to the floor, she left the room, locking the door after her.
When Levator could no longer hear the sound of her retreating footsteps he relighted his lamp, and unfastening the door he proceeded to that of Cecil’s apartment. Rapping gently he awaited the result. He heard the tread of a light foot, and soon the sound of a soft voice enquiring who knocked.
“A friend,” replied Levator, mildly.
“No : that is not my name. I have just overheard a conversation between yourself and another person, and have come to offer you my assistance. You now know the object of my visit. Can I serve you?”
“No—yes—stop a moment. If I could see your face I could tell better whether to trust you or not. Your voice falls kindly on my ears.—I think you can do me a favor.”
“Look through the key-hole and you can see my face.” Here Levator held up the lamp in such a manner as to throw a light full upon him, while a pair of bright eyes looked out through the key-hole. “Do I look like a corsair or a high-way man, young woman.”
“Not at all, I like the looks of you. You resemble Eugene. I will trust a person with such a face. But you see I cannot let you in. The door is locked on the outside, and I have no key.”
“I will force it open if you wish me to?”
“No ; don’t do that.”
“I fancied you might wish to escape from your imprisonment, for it seems like this to me.”
“I do wish it, but there are other means of doing so, which I think would be better, beside I know of no where else to go.”
“Then you do not wish for my assistance,” replied the student, in a somewhat disappointed tone.
“You are mistaken, Sir ; it is through your agency that I hope to obtain my object.”
“How can I serve you?”
“I wish you to see Eugene. Do you know Eugene?”
“I am acquainted with several persons of that name.”
“The one I mean is handsome, not quite so pale as you.”
“Ah ! young woman, how shall I know him by that description,” replied the student, smiling at the naivete of Cecil.
“He is a medical student.”
“I left him not an hour ago, or rather he left me.”
“Yes, the very same.”
“Are you acquainted with him?”
“Yes ; he is my intimate friend, and lives in —— Street, No. ——.”
“’Tis the same, how fortunate. You must visit him if you would do me an act of kindness. Inform him of all you have seen and heard to-night. Beg of him to come to me immediately. If he cannot enter by any other means, he must by force. I believe I hazard my life by tarrying here.”
“I fear you do, unfortunate girl. Did you receive much injury from the rough usage of the old woman?”
“My face is a little swolen from the effects of the blow, and my arm aches, yet, nothing very serious I believe.”
“I have now a favor to ask?”
“What is it?” asked Cecil quickly, and with trepidation in her manner. “Nothing that I shall be obliged to deny you, I hope.”
“I trust not young woman. It is this; you have seen my face, and now I wish to look a moment upon yours.”
“Oh ! is that all,” said she laughing. “I can grant it in a minute. Stop until I pull up the wick of the lamp that you may see better. I think you can now have a tolerably fair view of my face through the key hole.”
The student quickly obeyed the directions of Cecil, and thought he had never gazed upon handsomer features, but once, and then in that instance the features were those of the dead.
“You are very pretty.”
“I am glad my looks please you. I don’t think I am handsome, though perhaps I am good looking enough.”
“Believe me, you are handsome. What is your name, if I may be allowed to ask?”
“Ah ! yes, I remember. I have heard Eugene speak of you. Cecil, that was the name. Have you anything further to communicate?”
“Nothing in particular, I believe. Tell him, if you please, not to delay.”
“Had I not better attempt your release now—myself, Cecil? I can easily force the door, and we can make good our escape from this den at once.”
“You would—believe me—make too much noise. There may be persons within our hearing that would come to disturb our exit, against whose number you may be unable to contend, although you were armed.”
“I am armed, Cecil, but fear nothing. Give me the slightest intimation that you wish me to make the attempt, and I will burst the door open.”
“No ; you must not. What you propose I am persuaded is quite impracticable. You cannot struggle successfully with such odds as the slightest alarm would bring against you.”
“I acquiesce in your decision. I believe you are right. It would perhaps be a risk to attempt it, beside I hardly know how to find my way out of this labyrinth myself.”
“You will not forget my perilous situation, sir, I hope,” said Cecil in a mournful voice, as she heard Levator preparing to depart.
“Forget you, Cecil. It is impossible. Your safety shall be my only care until it is effected. I will not fail to do as you wish. Farewell, Cecil, I go to Eugene.”