Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 9
Chapter IX: Marietta—The Chase
At this crisis of our tale, had you crossed the beautiful Mystic, turned —— street, and so continued on until you come to No. ——, you would,—or as the phrase goes—might have seen on the second story of an elegant wooden house, at one of the front windows, with the venitian blinds, a young female of angelic loveliness, who was apparently recovering from long sickness.
A mild saddened expression sat upon her fair, pale cheek, upon which, though the remorseless hand of disease had been laid, was not the less attractive, but on the contrary, it had lent a greater charm to her features. She turned her large soul-illuminated eyes upon the radiant sun, and its beams seemed to enlighten some dark spot in her heart. The blood mounted with a richer, warmer glow to her cheek—her chest heaved with a new energy, while bright, clear drops, started from beneath the “fringed lids.” They were not the messengers of grief—those tears—but joy, deep, heartfelt, overflowing joy. Her head was now thrown back, and her hair streaming loosely upon her shoulders, her beautifully expressive eyes raised to heaven, while her hands were clasped in the attitude of prayer. Her lips moved, and she spoke with eloquent fervor of a “wonderful preservation” of an “almost miraculous interposition of Providence,” and a “salvation from a worse than death, and for this wonderful manifestation of God’s mercy, she thanked and extolled His preserving goodness.” This done, she leaned upon the window-case, and was lost in meditation, while her eyes seemed to be fastened as by a spell on a ring which was on the middle finger of her left hand.
Lady, why dost thou gaze thus upon that sparkling bauble—what charmed interest rivets on it thy attention? Dost thou know, lady? Or can’st thou not analize thy own heart. Was it the gift of a lover? or is there some secret mystery connected with that ring.—Speak ! dreamer, speak ! Yes, there was a mystery, a strange unaccountable secret connected with that ring, which she could not unravel, though she strove to do so.
She drew it for the hundredth time from her tiny finger, and held it up to the light, and turned it “o’er and o’er,” many times, yet she was not satisfied, but apparently was as much perplexed as before.
Upon the inside of that ring were the letters M. L., on which the gaze of the young lady was fixed long, and thoughtfully. At this moment she was interrupted by the entrance of a dark eyed girl, who bounded lightly to her side, and in a tender manner commenced playing with her long tresses, while thus in a soft voice she addressed her.
“Oh ! how thankful I am that you have been thus miraculously restored to our arms, even after we had laid you sorrowfully and bitterly in the grave,—looked our last, as we believed, upon that beautiful face—heard the earth thrown with that hollow, horrible sound upon you. I thought my poor heart would break then, Marietta. It throbbed so violently, and such a desolate feeling crept over me—such an indescribable sensation of utter loneliness. Oh ! Marietta, I can hardly believe that I am waking, or that I am really looking at you. It is only when I am encircling you thus, that I can credit my senses.”
“Dear Ada, my feelings are not unlike yours. It requires an effort,—a great effort, for me to convince myself that I am not the victim of some horrible delusion. Can it be? I sometimes say to myself, can it be that I am indeed living, and with my friends? It seems more like a dream, the illusion of which will soon vanish.”
“How fortunate that your parents were absent, and did not receive the news of your supposed death.”
“I am thankful that they were spared the grief such tidings would have caused them. I shall soon be able to return to that home, which came so near being made desolate by my living inhumation.”
The young lady whom we have introduced as Ada, now proceeded to dress a small wound upon the neck of her companion, which had the appearance of being made with some sharp instrument, by a single downward stroke.
We now return to Cecil. After the conversation with Levator, she awaited in the momentary expectation of her lover’s appearance. Hour after hour passed, still he came not. How tardily the time passed away, and how heavily it hung upon her hands. Still she counted impatiently each moment that dragged itself wearily along. She heard with saddened heart the clock tell the hour of ten, eleven, and then twelve. She had abandoned the idea that Eugene would make his appearance.
Throwing herself upon her couch, she fell into a troubled sleep, in which she lived o’er again the last few months of her life. But in every scene that passed before her vision she saw the lifeless, ghastly remains of her seducer, as on the night of its exhumation by the body-snatchers.
The remembrance of that revolting sight had never been absent from her thoughts a moment, and in her dreams it came back with terrible distinctness. Often, in an agony of fear, had she sprung from her bed, while a cold perspiration forced itself from every pore of her body.
She had slept perhaps an hour when she was aroused from its restless embrance—such a state was not rest—by what sounded to her like a key turning cautiously in the door. With a vague apprehension of danger she sprang from her couch, and placed herself in such a manner that when the door opened, it would swing towards her.
The bolt was thrown back with as little noise as possible, while a person advanced softly in the direction of the bed, which she had just left. He carried no light, but by that which was admitted by the door she had no difficulty in recognizing the uncouth, misshapen form of Thick, the body-snatcher.
Every limb of the poor girl trembled with extreme fear. There was no human being in the world whose presence she dreaded so much, and whom she held in such utter abhorrence as the man before her. She had never looked upon him without a shudder, or thought of him without fear, more especially since she had learned the secret of his horrid trade, and seen the corpse of her false lover in his possession. She had also good reason to suppose that to all his other crimes he had added that of murder.
Alice Conway occupied the apartment adjoining hers, and although she had been the victim of a disgusting disease which would ultimately have proved the means of her death, she felt almost certain she might have lived several months had she not been in the hands of Thick, and his accomplice—the virago. She had seen her about as usual the very day of her death, and had no suspicion of the approaching catastrophe. She had entered the room the morning ensuing her last meeting with Eugene, and found it without an occupant, while the clothes, tattered and torn, were scattered about the room in the greatest confusion. Her amazement was turned to fear when she saw that the few articles of dress belonging to the wretched girl were all as they had been thrown off the previous night, and a ring which had been given her by her destroyer, whose mistress she had once been, was lying on the floor.
A horrible suspicion crossed her mind, nor was it lessened by the discovery of an empty vial, which emitted a strong acid odor. She returned pale with fright to her room, and soon learned from the hag that Alice was dead. This circumstance increased the fear she had always entertained for the body snatcher, and she associated with him every thing that was base and wicked.
It was not singular, then, that a sensation of terror greater than she had ever before experienced, shook her frame, and blanched her cheeks, while her heart throbbed as though it were about to leap through the walls of its narrow prison. Thick stepped towards her bed, and she fancied she heard his hurried breathing, as panting with expectation he listened to learn if his victim was yet aware of his approach. Again he lifted carefully his foot, and placed a greater distance between himself and the door, which, in his eagerness to make sure of his prize, he had forgotten to close or secure, as his natural shrewdness would have dictated in calmer moments.
That was a fearful moment to Cecil, whose limbs were scarcely able to support her, and who could with difficulty refrain from shrieking with fright. She knew that he would soon discover that the bed was without an occupant, and immediately search every corner of the room to find her, as he had good reason to suppose that she had not escaped. Another step was made, and the body-snatcher, with the hellish fires of brutal lust burning in his bosom, imagined himself so much nearer the consummation of his wishes. Cecil hears, as with trembling eagerness he draws his hot breath through his fixed teeth. He felt sure that the desired object was in his power, and he should soon clasp her in his arms—possess her; and it stirred up that wild tumult in his breast which his savage nature was susceptible of feeling.
The victim stood still, afraid to move, as the least noise would reveal her hiding place, and yet she knew, to remain where she was, would ensure the consequence which she feared. She resolved many times to emerge quietly and stealthily from behind the door, and flee, but her limbs refused to obey, and half fainting, she maintained her position. He reached the bed, and Cecil heard the wild beatings of his heart as he stood for an instant preparing to reach forth his arms, throw himself upon the bed, and then make sure of his victim. Ah! he finds he is baffled when he thought the very moment of possession had arrived. With an imprecation too dreadful to repeat, he was about to turn from the bed, when gathering the remains of her strength and energy, Cecil darts like a spectre from the apartment.
As quick and noiseless as is that movement, he observes it, and showering curses upon her for her cunning, with fiendish eagerness starts in pursuit, guided only by the light, and almost inaudible footsteps of her who flies like a frightened deer at his approach.
But whither shall she go, or where escape? She knows not, she cares not, if she elude only the monster upon her track, scenting her steps as a fierce bloodhound, in sight of his prey.
Quicker than the wind she flies through many rooms, entries, and dark passages, guided only by an instinct imparted by fear. Now she ascends swiftly a flight of steps, while a short distance behind, she hears the heavy, hasty tread of Thick, who, in a hoarse voice, bids her desist.
But he still feels certain of his prey, and confident that she cannot ascend much farther, and can find no means of egress. She is at the top of the stairs, and again darts onward through the thick darkness, like one endowed with supernatural power, and upheld by another’s strength.
With a surprising skill, and celerity she throws open doors, springs through forsaken chambers, whose floors shake beneath the light pressure of her feet—through many windings, and mazes, and again mounts a crumbling stair-case. She is considerably in advance of her pursuer, who in vain taxes every faculty to attain his object. Many of the boards over which he hastens bend fearfully beneath his weight, and threaten to precipitate him to the story below, but he heeds not the danger, thinks only of the one hellish passion that is consuming him, and its gratification.
The stairs shake and creak beneath his heavy tramp, although they scarcely gave any indications of the zephyr-like movements of Cecil.
Onward still they fly, the pursuer and the pursued, through passages long untrodden, deserted and decayed.—Another flight of steps is mounted. She is on the third story, and still hears behind her the footsteps of her persecutor, but he advances with more caution, as if fearful that the floor will yield beneath him. And now she hears his voice calling more franticly than ever upon her to stop, for death lay before her if she proceed. One that she dreaded more than death, was behind, and she heeded not the warning.
“In God’s name go no farther,” shrieked Thick, “or you fall to the first floor. Cecil ! Cecil ! hear me,” continued the body snatcher, mounting with more care than heretofore, the third flight of stairs. “You are rushing to certain death, stop mad woman, I warn you of the danger.”
Thick was right ; there was danger before her, although he cared little for her safety, yet feared that his prey might escape by the hand of death, before she had satisfied his brutal desire. She is upon the fourth flight of steps—they totter beneath her weight, but she presses onward, and gains the top in safety. She now believed she had gained a place of comparative safety, believing that her pursuer would not dare to trust himself upon the decaying stairs, and she pauses a moment to rest. He stands at the foot of the steps, listening to hear what direction she has taken. He heard nothing, and stung to madness resolved to ascend. Cecil hears him place his foot upon the first step, then the second, and so upward, and with throbbing heart she momentarily expects the frail fabric with a crash, will give way beneath him. Horror, he has ascended nearly to the top, and she turns to flee, fearful that he may gain her hiding-place in safety : but in a moment she hears a crash, that told her that the steps had fallen. But where was her pursuer? He had caught with his powerful hands the floor upon each side, and with an extraordinary exhibition of strength, drawn himself safely to the fourth story. Tired with the unwonted exertion, he paused to rest, while Cecil continues her flight.
“Stop, Cecil, stop,” again cried Thick, in tones of fear, “advance to yonder room and you are dashed to pieces. I will not harm you—for God’s sake hear me—will you rush to certain destruction?”
That part of the basement story over which they now stood, had been formerly used as a ware-house ; and the others over it, for places of storage, the heavier articles being raised from the lower story, by means of a windlass through an opening in the several floors.