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[-54-]

CHAPTER XXI.

ATROCITY.

 GEORGE MONTAGUE placed his precious burden upon the bed, and for a moment contemplated her pale but beautiful countenance with mingled feelings of admiration, interest, and desire. The lips were apart, and two rows of pearl glittered beneath. The luxuriant light chestut hair rolled over his arm, on which he still supported that head of perfect loveliness: his hand thus played with those silken, shining tresses.
    Still she remained motionless-lifeless.
    Gently withdrawing his arm, Montague hastened to sprinkle her countenance with water. The colour returned faintly, very faintly to her cheeks; and her lips moved gently; but she opened not her eyes.
    For a moment he thought of summoning Louisa to her assistance; then, obedient to a second impulse, he hastily loosened the hooks of her semi-military frock-coat.
    Scarcely had his hand thus invaded the treasures of her bosom, when she moved, and unclosed the lids of her large melting hazel-eyes.
    "Where am I?" she exclaimed, instinctively closing her coat over her breast.
    "Fear not, dearest," whispered Montague; "it is I - I who love you."
    The scene with the burglars instantly flashed to the mind of the lady; and she cried in a tone tendered tremulous by fear- "And those horrible men - are they all three gone?"
    "They are gone - and you are safe."
    "Oh! you will pardon me this weakness," continued Walter, hastily moving from the bed to a chair; "but two of those villains - I recognised them but too well - were the men who threw me down the trap-door in the old house near Smithfield."
    "Hence their alarm - their panic, when they saw you," exclaimed Montague: "they fancied that they beheld a spirit instead of a reality. This accounts for their sudden and precipitate flight, till this moment unaccountable to me."
    "And you, George," said the lady, glancing tenderly towards the young man - "you are my saviour from a horrible death! Another moment, and it would have been too late - they were going to murder me! Oh! how can I sufficiently express my gratitude."
    She tendered him her hand, which he pressed rapturously to his lips ;- and she did not withdraw it.
    "I heard a noise of a shutter closing violently, and of a pane of glass breaking," said Montague: "I started from my bed and listened. In a few moments afterwards I heard footsteps on the stairs —"
    "Those were mine, as I descended," interrupted Walter; "for I was alarmed by the same disturbance."
    "And, then, while I was hastily slipping an my clothes," added Montague, "I heard a scream. Not another moment did I wait; but —"
    "You came in time, I repeat, to save my life. Never - never shall I sufficiently repay you."
    Again did Montague press the fair hand of that enchanting woman to his lips; and then, as he leant over her, their eyes met, and they exchanged glances of love - hers pure and chaste, his ardent and brimful of desire. He was maddened - he was emboldened by those innocent tokens of affection upon her part; and, throwing his arms around her, he imprinted hot and burning kisses upon her lips.
    With difficulty did she disengage herself from his embrace; and she cast upon him a look of reproach mingled with melancholy.
    "Pardon me, dearest one," he exclaimed, seizing her hand once more and pressing it to his lips, "is it a crime to love you so tenderly - so well ?"
    "No, George - no: you are my saviour - you soon will be my husband - you need not ask for my forgiveness. But now leave me - retire to your own room as noiselessly as you can; and to-morrow - to-morrow," she added with a blush, "it is not necessary that Louisa should know that you were here."
    "I understand you, dearest," returned Montague; "your wishes shall ever be my commands. Good night, beloved one!"
    "Good night, dear George," said the lady ;- and in another moment she was again alone in the boudoir.
    Montague returned to his apartment, full of the bliss which he had derived from the caresses enjoyed in a chamber that seemed sacred to mystery and love. He paced his own room with hasty and agitated steps: his brain was on fire.
    His own loose ideas of morality induced him to put but little faith in the reality of female virtue. He moreover persuaded himself that the principles of rectitude - supposing that they had ever existed - in the bosom of the enchanting creature he had just left, had been undermined or destroyed by the cheat which she was practising with regard to her sex. And, lastly, he fancied that her affections were too firmly rivetted on him to refuse him anything.
    Miserable wretch! he was blinded by his own mad desires. He knew not that woman's virtue is as real, as pure, and as precious as the diamond; he remembered not that the object of his licentious passion was innocent of aught criminal in the disguise which she had assumed ;- he reflected not that the caresses which she had ere now permitted him to snatch, were those which the most spotless virgin may honourably award to her lover.
    He paced his room in a frenzied manner - allowing his imagination to picture scenes and enjoyments of the most voluptuous kind. By degrees his passion became ungovernable: he was no longer the cool, calculating man he hitherto had been ;- a new chord appeared to have been touched in his heart.
    At that moment he would have signed a bond, yielding up all hopes of eternal salvation to the Evil One, for a single hour of love in the arms of that woman whom he had left in the boudoir!
    His passion had become a delirium :- he would have plunged into the crater of Vesuvius, or throw himself from the ridge of the Alpine mountain into the torrent beneath, had she gone before him.
    An hour thus passed away, and he attempted not to subdue his feelings: he rather encouraged their wild and wayward course by recalling to his imagi-[-55-]nation the charms of her whose beauty had thus strangely affected him, - the endearing words which she had uttered, - the thrilling effect of the delicious kiss he had received from her moist vermilion lips, - and the voluptuous contours of that snowy bosom which had been for a moment revealed to his eyes.
    An hour passed: he opened the door of his chain her and listened.
    A dead silence prevailed throughout the house.
    He stole softly along the passage and through the anteroom which led to the boudoir.
    When he reached the door of that chamber he paused for a moment. What was he about to do? He waited not to answer the question, nor to reason within himself: he only chose to remember that a thin partition was all that separated him from one of the most beauteous creatures upon whom the sun ever shone in this world.
    His fingers grasped the handle of the door he turned it gently ;- the door was not locked!
    He entered the boudoir as noiselessly as a spectre. The lamp was extinguished; but the fire still burnt in the grate ; and its flickering light played tremulously on the various objects around, bathing in a rich red glare the downy bed whereon reposed the heroine of the villa.
    The atmosphere was warm and perfumed.
    The head of the sleeper was supported upon one naked arm, which was round, polished, and of exquisite whiteness. The other lay outside the clothes, upon the coverlid. Her long hair flowed in undulations upon the snowy pillows. The fire shone with Rembrandt effect upon her countenance, one side of which was completely irradiated, while the other caught not its mellow light. Thus the perfect regularity of the profile was fully revealed to him who now dared to intrude upon those sacred slumbers.
    "She shall be mine! she shall be mine!" murmured Montague; and he advanced toward the bed.
    At that moment - whether aroused by a dream, or startled by the almost noiseless tread of feet upon the carpet, we cannot say - the lady awoke.
    She opened her large hazel eyes; and they fell upon a figure to whom her imagination, thus suddenly surprised, and the flickering light of the fire, gave a giant stature.
    Her fears in one respect were, however, immediately relieved; for the voice of Montague fell upon her ears almost as soon as her eyes caught sight of him.
    'Pardon - pardon, dearest one!" he said in a hurried and subdued tone.
    'Ah is it so?" quickly ejaculated the lady, who in a moment comprehended how her privacy had been outraged; and passing her arm beneath the pillow, she drew forth a long, sharp, shining dagger.
    Montague started back in dismay.
    "Villain, that you are - approach this bed, and, without a moment's hesitation, I will plunge this dagger into your heart!"
    "Oh! forgive me - forgive me!" ejaculated the young man, cruelly embarassed. "Dazzled by your beauty - driven mad by your caresses - intoxicated, blinded with passion - I could not command myself - I had no power over my actions."
    "Attempt no apology!" said the lady, with a calm and tranquil bitterness of accent that showed how profoundly she felt the outrage - the atrocity, - that he, whom she loved so tenderly, had dared to meditate against her: "attempt no apology but leave this room without an instant's delay, and without another word. Within my reach is a bell-rope - one touch of my finger and I can call my servants to my assistance. Save me that exposure - save yourself that disgrace. To-morrow I will tell you my opinion of your conduct."
    There was something so determined - so cool - so resolute in the manner and the matter of this address, that Montague felt abashed - humbled - beaten down to the very dust. Even his grovelling soul at that moment comprehended the Roman mind of the woman whom he would have disgraced: a coward when burglars menaced her life, she was suddenly endowed with lion-daring in defence of her virtue.
    The crest-fallen young man again attempted to palliate his intrusion: with superb scorn she waved her hand imperiously, as a signal to leave the room.
    Tears of vexation, shame, and rage, started into his eyes, as he obeyed that silent mandate which he now dared no longer to dispute.
    The moment the wretch had left the boudoir, the lady sprang from the bed and double-locked the door.
    She then returned to her couch, buried her head in the pillow, and burst into an agony of tears. 

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