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[-388-]

CHAPTER CCXLIX.

THE RESURRECTION MAN'S LAST FEAT AT RAVENSWORTH HALL.

    "HOLY God protect me!" shrieked Adeline, staggering to a sofa, on which she fell.
    But her senses did not leave her: a profound conviction of the terrible position in which she was again placed, suddenly nerved her with a courage and a strength that astonished even herself; and starting from the sofa, she confronted the Resurrection Man, saying, "What do you here?"
    "That's my business," answered Tidkins, gruffly. "You see that I am here:  here I have been for a long time-and here I shall remain as much longer as it suits my purpose. That is," he added, with a significant leer, "unless you make it worth my while to take myself off."
    "Detestable extortioner!" ejaculated Adeline: "am I never to know peace again?"
    "Well  now that's your business, my lady," replied the Resurrection Man. "The fact is, I find this place so much to my liking, and it answers my views as well as my safety so well, that I am in no hurry to quit it. You may look as black as you please: but you ought to know by this time that Tony Tidkins is not the man to be frightened by a lady's frown."
    "The law will protect me," said Adeline, now labouring under the most painful excitement.
    "Yes  and punish you too," added the Resurrection Man, coolly.
    "Now listen to me," continued Lady Ravensworth, speaking with hysterical volubility: "human forbearance has limits  human patience has bounds. My forbearance is exhausted  my patience is worn out. Sooner than submit to your persecutions  [-389-] sooner than be at the mercy of your extortions,  I will seek redress at the hands of justice  aye, even though I draw down its vengeance upon my own head at the same time!"
    And she flew towards the bell-pull.
    But the Resurrection Man caught her ere her hand could reach the rope; and dragging her back, he pushed her brutally upon the sofa. Then, drawing a pistol from his pocket, he said in a terribly ominous tone, "If you attempt that dodge again, I'll shoot you through the head as sure as you're now a living woman."
    Adeline contemplated him with eyes expressive of the wildest alarm.
    "You see that it's no use to play tricks with me, young lady," continued the Resurrection Man, as he replaced the pistol in his pocket.
    "What is it that you require?" asked Adeline, in a faint and supplicating tone: "what can I do to induce you to depart and never molest me more? Oh! have mercy upon me, I implore you-have mercy upon me! I have no friends to protect me. I am widowed and childless. My poor boy has been snatched from me  my sole earthly solace is gone! But why do you persecute me thus? Have I ever injured you? If you hate me  if you look upon me as an enemy, kill me outright:  do not do not take my life by inches. Your presence is slow torture!"
    "Will you listen to reason?" demanded Tidkins "can you speak calmly for a few minutes?"
    "I will  I can," returned Adeline, shuddering dreadfully as the Resurrection Man drew nearer to her.
    "Well, then  if you keep your word, our business will soon be brought to an end," he said, planting himself coolly in a chair opposite to her. "You must know that I've been living in this house almost ever since you left it."
    "Living here!" cried Adeline, indignation mastering a considerable portion of her terror.
    "Yes  living here as snug as a bug in a rug," returned Tidkins, chuckling as if he considered the fact to be an excellent joke. "The truth is I had certain reasons of my own for being either in or near London: and I looked about for a safe place. Happening to pass this way a few weeks after that business about Vernon, you know  "
    "Proceed  proceed!" said Adeline, impatiently.
    "I'm in no hurry," replied Tidkins.
    "But my servant may come  Quentin will be here shortly  I expect him every minute  "
    "He won't hurt me, my lady," said Tidkins, calmly. "If he attempted to lay a hand on me, I'd shoot him on the spot. However, I will go on quicker  since you wish it. Well, as I was saying, I passed by this way and saw the house all shut up. Inquiries at the village down yonder let me know that you was gone, and that there was no one but an old man and his wife about the premises. Nothing could suit me better: I resolved to take up my quarters here directly;  and I pitched upon the very room where Vernon threw himself out of the window. One day I heard the two old people talking in the next apartment, which they were dusting out; and I found, by their discourse, that they believed in ghosts. That was a glorious discovery for me: I soon saw that certain little devices which I practised made them think that Vernon's spirit haunted the place  and so I boldly opened the shutters and made myself comfortable, when I took it into my head. They weren't at the house, it seems, when I was staying here two years ago; and so they didn't know who I really was. Thus, when they saw me standing in the balcony  which I often did just to amuse myself by frightening them a little  they firmly believed it was Gilbert Vernon's spirit that haunted the place. Lord! how I have laughed sometimes at the poor old souls!"
    "It is you, then," cried Adeline, a sudden idea striking her, "who have been plundering the Hall during my absence?"
    "Well  you may call it by that name, if you like," said Tidkins, with the most provoking calmness. "I don't hesitate to admit that I have now and then walked off with a small picture  or a time-piece  -or a mantel ornament  or what not  just to raise supplies for the time being. But you ought to be very much obliged to me that I've left any thing at all in the whole place. Such forbearance isn't quite in keeping with my usual disposition."
    "Villain! this to me-and said so coolly!" cried Lady Ravensworth, again starting from her seat.
    "Pray keep where you are, ma'am," observed Tidkins, pushing her back again upon the sofa; "you promised to listen to reason."
    "Reason!" exclaimed Adeline: "and do you call it reason when I am compelled to hear the narrative of your villanies  the history of your depredations on my property?"
    "You knew what I was when you sought my acquaintance," said the Resurrection Man; "and after all, I've only just been taking the little liberties which one friend may use with another."
    "Friend!" repeated Adeline, in a tone expressive of deep disgust, as she retreated as far back upon the sofa as possible.
    "Come-we're only wasting time by all this disputing," said the Resurrection Man. "The whole thing lies in a nut-shell. You've come home again  and you want to enjoy undisputed possession of your own house. Well  that is reasonable enough. But, by so doing, you turn me out of doors; and I don't exactly know where I shall find a crib so safe and convenient as this. I must have an indemnity, then: and that is also reasonable on my part."
    "Until you told me that you had robbed the house," exclaimed Adeline, in a tone of almost ungovernable indignation,  such as she had not experienced for a long, long time,  "I was prepared to purchase your departure with a sum of money: but now,  now that I have the most convincing proofs of your utter profligacy  even if such proofs were wanting,  now that I see the folly of reposing the slightest trust in one who studies nothing save his own wants and interests,  I will think of a compromise no longer."
    "You will repent your obstinacy," said Tidkins. Remember how you have dared me on a former occasion, and how I reduced you to submission."
    "True!" ejaculated Adeline, in a calmer and more collected tone than she had yet assumed during this painful interview: "but at that time I was crushed by the weight of difficulties  overwhelmed with embarrassments and perils of the most formidable nature. I would then have committed any new crime to screen the former ones: I would have effected any compromise in order to avert danger. But now  what is there to bind me [-390-] to existence? Nothing  unless it be the enjoyment of seclusion and tranquillity. These are menaced by your prosecutions: and I will put an end to this intolerable tyranny  or perish in the attempt. This is my decision. Let us be at open war, if you will: and 'tis thus I commence hostilities!"
    Rapid as thought, she darted towards the bell-rope: but Tidkins, who had divined her intention, intercepted her as before.
    Placing his iron hand on the nape of her neck, he thrust her violently back upon the sofa: then, ere he withdrew his hold, he said in a low, hoarse, and ferocious tone:
    "This is the last time I will be trifled with. By Satan! young woman, I'll strangle you, if this game continues  just as I strangled your Lydia Hutchinson!"
    And pushing her with contemptuous rudeness from him, he released her from his grasp.
    For a few moments Adeline's breath came with so much difficulty, and her bosom heaved so convulsively, that the Resurrection Man feared he had gone too far, and had done her some grievous injury; but when he saw her recover from the semi-strangulation and the dreadful alarm which she had experienced in consequence of his treatment, his eyes glistened with ferocious satisfaction.
    "Let us make a long business short," he said, in a coarse and imperious tone. "If I told you just now that I had helped myself to a few of the things in this house, it was only to convince you that I am not likely to stick at trifles in respect to you or yours. You have money  and I want some. Give me my price  and you shall never see me again."
    "No  you may murder me if you will" cried Adeline, hysterically: "but I will not submit to your tyranny any more. Oh! you are a terrible man-and I would sooner die than live in the constant terror of your persecution!"
    "Foolish woman, give up this screeching  or, by hell! I'll settle you, and then help myself to all I want," cried Tidkins, ferociously.
    And at the same moment Adeline, whose face was buried in her hands, felt his iron grasp again upon the nape of her neck.
    She started up with a half-stifled scream, and endeavoured to reach the bell-rope a third time. But once more was she anticipated in her design; and the Resurrection Man now held her firmly round the waist by his left arm.
    Then drawing forth the pistol with his right hand, he placed the muzzle against Adeline's marble forehead.
    "I must put an end to this nonsense at once," he said, in a ferocious tone. "There is something now in the house, proud and obstinate woman as you are  that will make you fall on your knees and beseech me to remove it from your sight. But we will try that test: and remember, this pistol that touches your forehead is loaded. Attempt to raise an alarm  and I blow your brains out."
    "Release me-let me go-I implore you!" murmured Adeline, who experienced greater loathing at that contiguity with the Resurrection Man, than fear at the weapon which menaced her with instantaneous death.
    "No  you shall come," returned Tidkins, brutally: "I am sick of this reasoning, and must bring you to the point at once."
    "Let me go  and I swear to follow whither you may choose to lead," said Adeline.
    "Well  now I release you on that condition," was the reply: and the horrible man withdrew his arm and the pistol simultaneously.
    But still keeping the weapon levelled at the wretched lady, and taking a candle in his left hand, he made a sign for her to accompany him.
    She was now reduced to that state of physical nervousness and mental bewilderness, that she obeyed mechanically, without attempting to remonstrate  without even remembering to ask whither they were going.
    They left the room, and proceeded along the passage towards the southern extremity of the building,  Adeline walking on one side of the corridor, and Tidkins on the other  the latter still keeping the pistol levelled to over-awe the miserable woman.
    But she saw it not: she went on, because she mechanically obeyed one in whose power she felt herself to be, and whose loathsome contiguity she trembled to dare again.
    At length they stopped at a door: and then Adeline's memory seemed to recover all its powers  her ideas instantly appeared to concentrate themselves in one focus.
    "Oh! no  not here! not here!" she said, with a cold shudder, as she suddenly awoke as it were from a confused dream, and recognised the door of her boudoir  the boudoir!
    "Then give me a thousand pounds  and I will leave the house this minute," returned Mr. Tidkins.
    "No  you shall kill me first!" ejaculated Adeline, again recovering courage and strength, as if by instinct she knew herself to be standing upon some fearful precipice. "I will resist you to the death; you have driven me to desperation!"
    And, springing towards the Resurrection Man, she made a snatch at the pistol which he held in his hand.
    But, eluding her attack, he thrust the weapon into his pocket: then, clasping her with iron vigour in his right arm, and still retaining the light in his left hand, he burst open the door of the boudoir with his foot.
    Adeline uttered a faint scream, as he dragged her into the room, the door of which he closed violently behind him.
    Then, holding the light in such a manner that its beams fell upon the floor, and withdrawing his arm from Adeline's waist, he exclaimed in a tone of ferocious triumph:
    "Behold the remains of the murdered Lydia Hutchinson!"
    Lady Ravensworth threw one horrified glance upon the putrid corpse; and uttering a terrific scream expressive of the most intense agony, she fell flat upon the floor-her face touching the feet of the dead body.
    Tidkins raised her: but the blood gushed out of her mouth.
    "Perdition! I have gone too far," cried the Resurrection Man. "She is dead  and I have done as good as cut my own throat!"
    It was indeed true: Adeline had burst a blood. vessel, and died upon the spot.
    Tidkins let her fall heavily upon the floor, and throwing down the candle, fled from the mansion, reckless whether the light were extinguished or not.

***

    Half an hour afterwards Quentin was on his return to the Hall, in a hackney-coach containing, besides the baggage which he had cleared at the Custom-House, several hampers filled with the purchases he had been making in the City.
    [-391-] As he was thus proceeding through the park, he suddenly observed a strong and flickering light appearing through the windows at the southern extremity of the building; and in a few moments the whole of that part of the Hall was enveloped in flames.
    Leaping from the coach, which, being heavily laden, dragged slowly along, the valet rushed to the mansion, where the presence of the fire had already alarmed the gardener and his wife, and the French servant.
    But of what avail were their poor exertions against the fury of the raging and devouring element?
    A search was immediately instituted for Lady Ravensworth: but she was not to be found in either of the drawing-rooms. Nor was she in any of the chambers in the northern part of the building; and it was impossible to enter the southern wing, which seemed to be one vast body of flame.
    The domestics, finding their search to be useless, were compelled to form the dreadful conclusion that their mistress had perished in the conflagration.
    For six hours did the fire rage with appalling fury; and though the inhabitants of the adjacent village and the immediate neighbourhood flocked to the scene of desolation and rendered all the assistance in their power, the splendid mansion was very speedily reduced to a heap of charred and blackened rains.    

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