The Mummy (Loudon)/Volume 2/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII.

 

In the mean time, what had become of Edric and Dr. Entwerfen? Gloomy indeed were the reflections of our travellers when they found themselves immured in a dungeon, so far from all they loved or reverenced, without friends, and accused of a horrible crime, from the guilt of which they felt it would be vain for them to attempt to free themselves. Days and weeks rolled on, yet no change took place in their destiny. Every night the grating of a rusty key in the lock announced the arrival of the gaoler, bringing their daily pittance of bread and water, but he never spoke, nor could the most earnest entreaties of the doctor and Edric bring one word from his lips.

Despair at length began to invade the bosoms of the travellers; till one day, as they were examining, for the thousandth time, the hieroglyphics on the stones in the wall, Edric perceived that one of them was loose. With infinite difficulty they removed the stone, and found a long vaulted passage, dimly lighted by an opening at the farther extremity. The transport of the prisoners, on making this discovery, was unbounded, and can only be imagined by those who have felt the loss of liberty, and rejoiced at its recovery.

When their first raptures had a little abated, they began to consult upon the best means of availing themselves of their good fortune, and preventing pursuit. The doctor had luckily several chemical preparations in his walking-stick; with one of these he dissolved the iron of their chains, so as to free Edric and himself from their weight, and then, smearing them over with the remainder of the composition, he laid them in a heap, exclaiming with a laugh, "The jailors will be dreadfully frightened when they find these fetters; for though they look perfect to the eye, they will crumble to pieces at the slightest touch."

Edric was too anxious to effect his escape, to listen to his tutor's exultation; and his arrangements being made, the travellers, with trembling steps and throbbing hearts, explored the vaulted passage, and found, to their infinite delight, that it had led them to the borders of the Nile. A small boat was anchored to the shore, and its crew, an old man and his son, who gained their living by conveying goods up the Nile, were peaceably taking their supper on the bank.

Edric and the doctor had taken the precaution to replace the stone that had concealed the vaulted passage, and having smeared the opposite wall with phosphorus, they had no doubt that when the jailor entered the prison, which he generally did in darkness, he would be too much alarmed to take any effectual means for pursuing them till it should be too late. Having luckily also plenty of money, that certain road to the human heart, they easily persuaded the old man to take them on board, and in a short time they embarked in his fragile vessel and set sail.

Slowly and silently they floated along the majestic river, which rolled in solemn waves like an inland sea, and swept proudly on to the ocean, seeming to scorn the degenerate land it left behind; and without one pang did our travellers quit for ever the fertile plains and gorgeous cities of Egypt. One only thought swelled in their bosoms, and that was joy at their escape. Offering up silent prayers of thanksgiving, our travellers continued their progress down the river, and, when morning dawned, and the enormous forms of the Pyramids were seen grimly frowning through the mist, they shuddered involuntarily, and, devoutly crossing themselves, muttered new prayers for protection and deliverance.

After a long and tedious voyage, our travellers at length reached the sea in safety. The mouths of the Delta were at that time the seat of extensive, and almost universal commerce; and our travellers trembled lest they should here encounter some emissary of their enemies, who might re-convey them to the prison from which they had so miraculously escaped. They found, however, the belief of their supernatural disappearance too strongly impressed upon the minds of the multitude for even a suspicion of their existence to remain; and they stood upon that sumptuous quay, surrounded by Greeks, Russians, Egyptians, Arabs, and Turks, without exciting a single remark, or obtaining the slightest attention. They wished to proceed to Constantinople, then the capital of the powerful empire of Greece, and entered into conversation with the master of a felucca, for that purpose.

"I will attend to you directly, gentlemen," said the sailor, leaving some persons with whom he had been previously talking: "but I have been listening to such a horrid tale!"

"What was it?" asked Edric, suspecting the subject, but aware that to seem incurious upon such an occasion, might betray that they were already only too well informed.

"Two sorcerers," returned the man, "have been taken into custody, for blowing up the Pyramids and bewitching the mummies!"

"And how were they punished?" asked Edric.

"Oh, you haven't heard half they did yet!" said the man. "When they were put in prison for their pranks, the Old One came to their help, and carried them off in a flame of fire, leaving a long train of light after them in the sky, like the tail of a blazing comet. Dick Jones, who was telling me, swears he saw them all going off together. The old one hanging by the Devil's horn, and the young one keeping fast hold of his tail!"

"Shocking!" said Edric; scarcely able, however, to repress a smile at this proof of the vividness of Dick Jones's imagination.

"I haven't told you half," resumed the man. "All Sumatra rings with it; several have gone mad, and others died with fear; and the man who was with Dick Jones, and who was one of the soldiers of the guard set over them, assured me as a positive fact, that the chains they had had on, and left behind them, crumbled between his fingers like a bit of rotten wood."

"It is very awful!" said Edric.

"Ay, is it not?" rejoined the man; "thank God I was not there to see! I am sure the very look of one of those conjurors would have driven me mad! I never could abide such things."

Edric now, with some difficulty, persuaded the man to return to the subject of their transit.

"I am very sorry, Sir," said he; "but I don't think there'll be a vessel going out to Constantinople for this week at least; for they've got the plague there, and our magistrates won't let a ship that has been there, return to our harbour again without performing quarantine; and that is such a hindrance to trade that our folks don't like it. But perhaps you're in no hurry, and can wait?"

"Oh yes, we can wait quite well!" said the doctor, trembling with anxiety to be off.

The sailor, however, had no occasion to say more; for the bare mention of the plague was quite sufficient to deter our travellers from visiting Constantinople; and finding he was bound for Malta, and that no other vessel would quit the harbour that day, they hastily embarked, notwithstanding his vessel was old and inconvenient, and not forwarded by steam, and though the superior certainty of the steam-packets was now so generally felt and acknowledged by all, that perhaps this was the only common sailing-boat in the harbour. The joy of our travellers at their deliverance was, however, too great to permit them to dwell upon trifles; and as the cabin was scarcely habitable, they resolved to remain on deck the whole of the voyage, being determined to submit to any thing sooner than delay their departure. Accordingly they stretched themselves upon their cloaks, and, reclining against some ropes, watched attentively the lovely scene around them. The evening was beautiful, and, as the shores of Egypt swiftly receded from their view, they felt their minds soothed by the contemplation of the grand scene that presented itself. There is, indeed, something in the awful majesty of the world of waters, which, like the gigantic monuments of Egypt, powerfully affects the mind by its very simplicity, and, by raising the soul far above the common trifling occurrences of life, soothes it to tranquillity.

The voyage was long, for contrary winds impeded their progress; and one evening, after Dr. Entwerfen had remained for some time gazing steadfastly on the water, with a look of deep abstraction, he exclaimed suddenly, "There will be a storm!"

"Impossible!" returned Edric. "The sun set in unwonted splendour, spreading its rays of purple and gold through the waters like a jewelled diadem; and the wind is even now dying away to a gentle breeze, which scarcely curls the surface of the ocean as our bark dances gaily over it."

"That is a bad sign," said the doctor. "Have you not often heard that a storm is generally preceded by a calm? You will find it no metaphor now."

The moon soon shone brightly; and as the ship ploughed her way slowly through the almost motionless waves, its beams sparkled through the spray, which fell in silvery showers over the prow. All now was still except the heaving of the vessel, and the monotonous splashing of the waters as she slowly worked her way through them. The wind gradually sunk, and the sails only feebly flapped in the breeze that could no longer inflate them, till at last even that failed, and the vessel, completely becalmed, lay like a log upon the water, which spread like a vast and tranquil mirror around her.

Bitterly now did our travellers regret the precipitate haste that had made them embark in such a frail, unmanageable boat; and they regarded with longing eyes the compact steam-packets that glided past them; their black smoke curling in the air as they were wafted swiftly along. It was too late, however, to repent; and the doctor consoled himself by taking advantage of the effect produced by the thick black smoke, as they saw it rising in the distance, to illustrate the lecture he had formerly given his pupil, on the theory of combustion and decomposition of amphlites, till he fairly lulled him to sleep.

Morning came, but brought not with it the wished-for breeze. Edric rose, and walking upon deck, encountered the doctor. "How still all seems!" said he; "Nature seems to sleep: but 'tis an awful stillness, such as falls upon a dying patient, prophetic of his end. Nature seems exhausted, and I could fancy is seeking a short repose to rally her energies for some decisive blow."

"You are fanciful, Edric," said the doctor; "you alarm yourself unnecessarily. The violent shock your nerves have sustained, unfits you for exertion, and renders you disposed to see every thing in a gloomy light."

"I beg your pardon. Sir," said a ragged English sailor, who happened to be on board; "in my opinion the gentleman is right, for every thing portends a storm. Cirro-strati streak the sky, and as they join with the fleecy cumuli below them in cumulus-strati, nothing can more clearly indicate wind and rain, and probably thunder. And see, too, how the dark, frowning nimbus spreads its black shade along the edge of the horizon, and how the birds fly cowering, almost touching the waters with their wings as they flit along. Now it begins, hark!"

Whilst the sailor had been speaking, the clouds had thickened gradually, and the sky had grown dark as night. A hollow murmuring was heard, which seemed to gather fury as it came, till it burst over the devoted vessel with terrific violence, and rent the sails to atoms, whistling round in fearful gusts, as though mocking the mischief it had done. The sea now heaved mountains high. The forked lightning played like writhing serpents along the deep black sky; now streaming like floating ribands in the air, and then darting downwards like fiery arrows. Thunder rolled heavily in the distance, approaching however nearer and nearer, every peal reverberating through the sky, as though echoed back by unseen rocks, till at last a tremendous crash announced the fall of the electric fluid. Our travellers were preparing to retire below, when, just as they reached the cabin stairs, the heavens seemed to open, and a ball of light-blue fire, of a most vivid brightness, shot downwards from the chasm, and struck the mast of the labouring ship. Immediately after, a loud crackling noise rattled over their heads, and then all again was still, save the howling winds, and the groans of some prostrate seamen, wounded by the scattered fragments of the splintered mast.

The rain now descended in torrents, and the feeble vessel, at one moment raised to a fearful height, then dashed down, and apparently engulphed by the heavy seas that washed over her, seemed every instant doomed to destruction, and to escape only by a miracle. The shouts of the seamen, and creaking of the strained timbers of the ship, mingled horribly with the howling of the wind, and roar of the billows. Every instant it was expected she must go to pieces; for she had sprung a leak, and the water rose so fast as to baffle every attempt made to check its progress. The seamen were now in despair: they broke open their trunks, and dressing themselves in their best clothes, they filled their pockets with all the valuables they could find: then, whilst some went to prayers, others broke open the captain's spirit-chest, and many rolled overboard in a state of intoxication, whilst the ship, now become a perfect wreck, drifted before the wind, and was rapidly sinking. The storm, however, seeming to abate, the master ordered out the boat, and all the seamen who retained their senses, eagerly sprang on board. Our travellers attempted to follow, but the seamen pushed them back, and exclaiming the boat was full, rowed off, leaving them to their fate.

The English sailor had been in the act of stepping on board the boat, the very moment she pushed off, and the sudden shock precipitated him into the sea. A piercing scream burst from his lips, as his body, with a dying effort, sprang from the waves, which seemed to rise after him and suck him back into their gulph. Our friends heard the cry, and rushed to the side of the vessel, but alas! they were powerless to save him: the ship drifted rapidly by, they saw his hands gleam for a moment through the waves, as he raised them in agony, and then the roaring billows rolled on, deep, black, and gloomy as before.

The horror of Edric and the doctor was excessive; but the impending terrors of their own fate prevented the possibility of their minds dwelling long upon his. The storm, however, visibly abated, and the dismantled hulk they were upon, lightened by the desertion of the sailors, still swam: light, fleecy clouds now scudded rapidly along the skies, and the moon, struggling to break forth from behind them, shed a faint and watery gleam upon the scene. Our travellers now, by the feeble light afforded by the moonbeams, perceived the boat labouring heavily through the dark-grey sea, and struggling to reach a long black line of rocks, distinctly marked in the distance, against which the still boiling waters broke with tremendous roar, curling in whitened foam as they laved their craggy sides; whilst the wreck our travellers were upon, seemed rapidly drifting upon the same point. Death now appeared inevitable, as it was impossible their shattered bark could resist the shock, if it should be tossed against these jagged crags; and every moment she seemed rising upon a wave that must dash her upon them, and floating back to escape only by a miracle. The doctor and Edric became giddy with these repeated shocks, and in despair fancied themselves resigned; or rather, stunned by the misfortunes which had followed each other with such overwhelming rapidity upon their devoted heads, they awaited their fate with an apathy which they mistook for resignation.

The seamen in the boat still continued labouring on, straining every nerve to reach the shore, though ineffectually; for the foaming surge beat them back with repeated, with resistless violence. With anxious eyes and beating hearts, our friends marked the progress of the boat; till, giddy with watching, and feeling their spirits exhausted as they surveyed the fruitless struggle of the toiling boatmen, they hid their faces with their hands, and shut it from their sight.

At this instant a wild and piercing cry rang in their ears:—'twas from the boat. She had swamped; the human beings she contained were all swallowed up in the boiling waves, and that shriek of agony was their funeral knell. A horrid silence followed this appalling scream, unbroken save by the lashing of the billows against the rocks, and the low, half suppressed moaning of the winds,—till the senses of the travellers became bewildered, and they shrieked in agony. Their peril indeed grew every moment more intense, for every wave carried them nearer and nearer to those frowning crags, whilst their dark sides, rearing themselves in awful majesty, seemed mustering their strength to repel the insolent intruders that sought to invade their territory. The doctor and Edric, in the mean time, suffering a thousand deaths in the protracted horrors they were compelled to endure, and which they could neither mitigate nor evade, shrank back with the shivering of affrighted nature trembling at dissolution, every time the wave on which their vessel floated seemed to dash against the shore.

At length, however, the fate they had so long dreaded arrived. Their shattered hulk was raised on a tremendous billow, and thrown with fearful violence upon the rocks, with a force that shivered it to atoms, and engulphed the doctor and Edric in the boiling surge. The next wave, however, returning, swept them along in its bosom, and threw them, perfectly insensible, though locked in each other's arms, upon the shore.