Read CHAPTER XXVII. of Eugene Aram, free online book, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, on ReadCentral.com.

Aram’s secret expedition. ­A scene worthy the actors. ­Aram’s address and powers of persuasion or hypocrisy. ­Their result. ­A fearful night. ­Aram’s solitary ride homeward. ­Whom he meets by the way, and what he sees.

Macbeth.  Now o’er the one half world
Nature seems dead.

Donalbain.  Our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer.

Old Man.  Hours dreadful and things strange. 
­Macbeth.

“True,” said Aram to the above remark of Lester’s, as the two stood together without the door; “but do you feel quite secure and guarded against any renewed attack?”

“Why, unless they bring a regiment, yes!  I have put a body of our patrole on a service where they can scarce be inefficient, viz.  I have stationed them in the house, instead of without; and I shall myself bear them company through the greater part of the night:  to-morrow I shall remove all that I possess of value to ­(the county town) including those unlucky guineas, which you will not ease me of.”

“The order you have kindly given me will amply satisfy my purpose,” answered Aram:  “And so, there has been no clue to these robberies discovered throughout the day?”

“None:  to-morrow, the magistrates are to meet at ­, and concert measures:  it is absolutely impossible, but that we should detect the villains in a few days, viz. if they remain in these parts.  I hope to heaven you will not meet them this evening.”

“I shall go well armed,” answered Aram, “and the horse you lend me is fleet and strong.  And now farewell for the present; I shall probably not return to Grassdale this night, or if I do, it will be at so late an hour, that I shall seek my own domicile without disturbing you.”

“No, no; you had better remain in the town, and not return till morning,” said the Squire; “and now let us come to the stables.”

To obviate all chance of suspicion as to the real place of his destination, Aram deliberately rode to the town he had mentioned, as the one in which his pretended creditor expected him.  He put up at an inn, walked forth as if to visit some one in the town, returned, remounted, and by a circuitous route, came into the neighbourhood of the place in which he was to meet Houseman:  then turning into a long and dense chain of wood, he fastened his horse to a tree, and looking to the priming of his pistols, which he carried under his riding-cloak, proceeded to the spot on foot.

The night was still, and not wholly dark; for the clouds lay scattered though dense, and suffered many stars to gleam through the heavy air; the moon herself was abroad, but on her decline, and looked forth with a man and saddened aspect, as she travelled from cloud to cloud.  It has been the necessary course of our narrative, to pourtray Aram, more often than to give an exact notion of his character we could have altogether wished, in his weaker moments; but whenever he stood in the actual presence of danger, his whole soul was in arms to cope with it worthily:  courage, sagacity, even cunning, all awakened to the encounter; and the mind which his life had so austerely cultivated repaid him in the urgent season, with its acute address, and unswerving hardihood.  The Devil’s Crag, as it was popularly called, was a spot consecrated by many a wild tradition, which would not, perhaps, be wholly out of character with the dark thread of this tale, were we in accordance with certain of our brethren, who seem to think a novel like a bundle of wood, the more faggots it contains the greater its value, allowed by the rapidity of our narrative to relate them.

The same stream which lent so soft an attraction to the valleys of Grassdale, here assumed a different character; broad, black, and rushing, it whirled along a course, overhung by shagged and abrupt banks.  On the opposite side to that by which Aram now pursued his path, an almost perpendicular mountain was covered with gigantic pine and fir, that might have reminded a German wanderer of the darkest recesses of the Hartz; and seemed, indeed, no unworthy haunt for the weird huntsman, or the forest fiend.  Over this wood the moon now shimmered, with the pale and feeble light we have already described; and only threw into a more sombre shade the motionless and gloomy foliage.  Of all the offspring of the forest, the Fir bears, perhaps, the most saddening and desolate aspect.  Its long branches, without absolute leaf or blossom; its dead, dark, eternal hue, which the winter seems to wither not, nor the spring to revive, have, I know not what of a mystic and unnatural life.  Around all woodland, there is that horror umbrarum which becomes more remarkably solemn and awing amidst the silence and depth of night:  but this is yet more especially the characteristic of that sullen evergreen.  Perhaps, too, this effect is increased by the sterile and dreary soil, on which, when in groves, it is generally found; and its very hardiness, the very pertinacity with which it draws its strange unfluctuating life, from the sternest wastes and most reluctant strata, enhance, unconsciously, the unwelcome effect it is calculated to create upon the mind.  At this place, too, the waters that dashed beneath gave yet additional wildness to the rank verdure of the wood, and contributed, by their rushing darkness partially broken by the stars, and the hoarse roar of their chafed course, a yet more grim and savage sublimity to the scene.

Winding a narrow path, (for the whole country was as familiar as a garden to his footstep) that led through the tall wet herbage, almost along the perilous brink of the stream, Aram was now aware, by the increased and deafening sound of the waters, that the appointed spot was nearly gained; and presently the glimmering and imperfect light of the skies, revealed the dim shape of a gigantic rock, that rose abruptly from the middle of the stream; and which, rude, barren, vast, as it really was, seemed now, by the uncertainty of night, like some monstrous and deformed creature of the waters, suddenly emerging from their vexed and dreary depths.  This was the far-famed Crag, which had borrowed from tradition its evil and ominous name.  And now, the stream, bending round with a broad and sudden swoop, showed at a little distance, ghostly and indistinct through the darkness, the mighty Waterfall, whose roar had been his guide.  Only in one streak a-down the giant cataract, the stars were reflected; and this long train of broken light glittered preternaturally forth through the rugged crags and the sombre verdure, that wrapped either side of the waterfall in utter and rayless gloom.

Nothing could exceed the forlorn and terrific grandeur of the spot; the roar of the waters supplied to the ear what the night forbade to the eye.  Incessant and eternal they thundered down into the gulf; and then shooting over that fearful basin, and forming another, but a mimic fall, dashed on, till they were opposed by the sullen and abrupt crag below; and besieging its base with a renewed roar, sent their foamy and angry spray half way up the hoar ascent.

At this stern and dreary spot, well suited for such conferences as Aram and Houseman alone could hold; and which, whatever was the original secret that linked the two men thus strangely, seemed of necessity to partake of a desperate and lawless character, with danger for its main topic, and death itself for its colouring, Aram now paused, and with an eye accustomed to the darkness, looked around for his companion.

He did not wait long:  from the profound shadow that girded the space immediately around the fall, Houseman now emerged and joined the Student.  The stunning noise of the cataract in the place where they met, forbade any attempt to converse; and they walked on by the course of the stream, to gain a spot less in reach of the deafening shout of the mountain giant as he rushed with his banded waters, upon the valley like a foe.

It was noticeable that as they proceeded, Aram walked on with an unsuspicious and careless demeanour; but Houseman pointing out the way with his hand, not leading it, kept a little behind Aram, and watched his motions with a vigilant and wary eye.  The Student, who had diverged from the path at Houseman’s direction, now paused at a place where the matted bushes seemed to forbid any farther progress; and said, for the first time breaking the silence, “We cannot proceed; shall this be the place of our conference?”

“No,” said Houseman, “we had better pierce the bushes.  I know the way, but will not lead it.”

“And wherefore?”

“The mark of your gripe is still on my throat,” replied Houseman, significantly; “you know as well as I, that it is not always safe to have a friend lagging behind.”

“Let us rest here, then,” said Aram, calmly, the darkness veiling any alteration of his countenance, which his comrade’s suspicion might have created.

“Yet it were much better,” said Houseman, doubtingly, “could we gain the cave below.”

“The cave!” said Aram, starting, as if the word had a sound of fear.

“Ay, ay:  but not St. Robert’s,” said Houseman; and the grin of his teeth was visible through the dullness of the shade.  “But come, give me your hand, and I will venture to conduct you through the thicket: ­that is your left hand,” observed Houseman with a sharp and angry suspicion in his tone; “give me the right.”

“As you will,” said Aram in a subdued, yet meaning voice, that seemed to come from his heart; and thrilled, for an instant, to the bones of him who heard it; “as you will; but for fourteen years I have not given this right hand, in pledge of fellowship, to living man; you alone deserve the courtesy ­there!”

Houseman hesitated, before he took the hand now extended to him.

“Pshaw!” said he, as if indignant at himself, “what! scruples at a shadow!  Come,” (grasping the hand) “that’s well ­so, so; now we are in the thicket ­tread firm ­this way ­hold,” continued Houseman, under his breath, as suspicion anew seemed to cross him; “hold! we can see each other’s face not even dimly now:  but in this hand, my right is free, I have a knife that has done good service ere this; and if I feel cause to suspect that you meditate to play me false, I bury it in your heart; do you heed me?”

“Fool!” said Aram, scornfully, “I should dread you dead yet more than living.”

Houseman made no answer; but continued to grope on through the path in the thicket, which he evidently knew well; though even in daylight, so thick were the trees, and so artfully had their boughs been left to cover the track, no path could have been discovered by one unacquainted with the clue.

They had now walked on for some minutes, and of late their steps had been threading a rugged, and somewhat precipitous descent:  all this while, the pulse of the hand Houseman held, beat with as steadfast and calm a throb, as in the most quiet mood of learned meditation; although Aram could not but be conscious that a mere accident, a slip of the foot, an entanglement in the briars, might awaken the irritable fears of his ruffian comrade, and bring the knife to his breast.  But this was not that form of death that could shake the nerves of Aram; nor, though arming his whole soul to ward off one danger, was he well sensible of another, that might have seemed equally near and probable, to a less collected and energetic nature.  Houseman now halted, again put aside the boughs, proceeded a few steps, and by a certain dampness and oppression in the air, Aram rightly conjectured himself in the cavern Houseman had spoken of.

“We are landed now,” said Houseman, “but wait, I will strike a light; I do not love darkness, even with another sort of companion than the one I have now the honour to entertain!”

In a few moments a light was produced, and placed aloft on a crag in the cavern; but the ray it gave was feeble and dull, and left all beyond the immediate spot in which they stood, in a darkness little less Cimmerian than before.

“’Fore Gad, it is cold,” said Houseman shivering, “but I have taken care, you see, to provide for a friend’s comfort;” so saying, he approached a bundle of dry sticks and leaves, piled at one corner of the cave, applied the light to the fuel, and presently, the fire rose crackling, breaking into a thousand sparks, and freeing itself gradually from the clouds of smoke in which it was enveloped.  It now mounted into a ruddy and cheering flame, and the warm glow played picturesquely upon the grey sides of the cavern, which was of a rugged shape, and small dimensions, and cast its reddening light over the forms of the two men.

Houseman stood close to the flame, spreading his hands over it, and a sort of grim complacency stealing along features singularly ill-favoured, and sinister in their expression, as he felt the animal luxury of the warmth.

Across his middle was a broad leathern belt, containing a brace of large horse pistols, and the knife, or rather dagger, with which he had menaced Aram, an instrument sharpened on both sides, and nearly a foot in length.  Altogether, what with his muscular breadth of figure, his hard and rugged features, his weapons, and a certain reckless, bravo air which indescribably marked his attitude and bearing, it was not well possible to imagine a fitter habitant for that grim cave, or one from whom men of peace, like Eugene Aram, might have seemed to derive more reasonable cause of alarm.

The Scholar stood at a little distance, waiting till his companion was entirely prepared for the conference, and his pale and lofty features, hushed in their usual deep, but at such a moment, almost preternatural repose.  He stood leaning with folded arms against the rude wall; the light reflected upon his dark garments, with the graceful riding-cloak of the day half falling from his shoulder, and revealing also the pistols in his belt, and the sword, which, though commonly worn at that time, by all pretending to superiority above the lower and trading orders, Aram usually waived as a distinction, but now carried as a defence.  And nothing could be more striking, than the contrast between the ruffian form of his companion, and the delicate and chiselled beauty of the Student’s features, with their air of mournful intelligence and serene command, and the slender, though nervous symmetry of his frame.

“Houseman,” said Aram, now advancing, as his comrade turned his face from the flame, towards him; “before we enter on the main subject of our proposed commune ­tell me, were you engaged on the attempt last night upon Lester’s house?”

“By the Fiend, no!” answered Houseman, nor did I learn it till this morning; it was unpremeditated till within a few hours of the time, by the two fools who alone planned it.  The fact is, that myself and the greater part of our little band, were engaged some miles off, in the western part of the county.  Two ­our general ­spies, had been, of their own accord, into your neighbourhood, to reconnoitre.  They marked Lester’s house during the day, and gathered, (as I can say by experience it was easy to do) from unsuspected inquiry in the village, for they wore a clown’s dress, several particulars which induced them to think it contained what might repay the trouble of breaking into it.  And walking along the fields, they overheard the good master of the house tell one of his neighbours of a large sum at home; nay, even describe the place where it was kept:  that determined them; ­they feared, (as the old man indeed observed,) that the sum might be removed the next day; they had noted the house sufficiently to profit by the description given:  they resolved, then, of themselves, for it was too late to reckon on our assistance, to break into the room in which the money was kept ­though from the aroused vigilance of the frightened hamlet and the force within the house, they resolved to attempt no farther booty.  They reckoned on the violence of the storm, and the darkness of the night to prevent their being heard or seen; they were mistaken ­the house was alarmed, they were no sooner in the luckless room, than ­“Well, I know the rest; was the one wounded dangerously hurt?”

“Oh, he will recover, he will recover; our men are no chickens.  But I own I thought it natural that you might suspect me of sharing in the attack; and though, as I have said before, I do not love you, I have no wish to embroil matters so far as an outrage on the house of your father-in-law, might be reasonably expected to do: ­at all events, while the gate to an amicable compromise between us is still open.”

“I am satisfied on this head,” said Aram, “and I can now treat with you in a spirit of less distrustful precaution than before.  I tell you, Houseman, that the terms are no longer at your control; you must leave this part of the country, and that forthwith, or you inevitably perish.  The whole population is alarmed, and the most vigilant of the London Police have been already sent for.  Life is sweet to you, as to us all, and I cannot imagine you so mad, as to incur not the risk, but the certainty, of losing it.  You can no longer therefore, hold the threat of your presence over my head.  Besides, were you able to do so, I at least have the power, which you seem to have forgotten, of freeing myself from it.  Am I chained to yonder valleys? have I not the facility of quitting them at any moment I will? of seeking a hiding-place, which might baffle, not only your vigilance to discover me, but that of the Law?  True, my approaching marriage puts some clog upon my wing, but you know that I, of all men, am not likely to be the slave of passion.  And what ties are strong enough to arrest the steps of him who flies from a fearful death?  Am I using sophistry here, Houseman?  Have I not reason on my side?”

“What you say is true enough,” said Houseman reluctantly; “I do not gainsay it.  But I know you have not sought me, in this spot, and at this hour, for the purpose of denying my claims:  the desire of compromise alone can have brought you hither.”

“You speak well,” said Aram, preserving the admirable coolness of his manner; and continuing the deep and sagacious hypocrisy by which he sought to baffle the dogged covetousness and keen sense of interest with which he had to contend.  “It is not easy for either of us to deceive the other.  We are men, whose perceptions a life of danger, has sharpened upon all points; I speak to you frankly, for disguise is unavailing.  Though I can fly from your reach ­though I can desert my present home and my intended bride, I would fain think I have free and secure choice to preserve that exact path and scene of life which I have chalked out for myself:  I would fain be rid of all apprehension from you.  There are two ways only by which this security can be won:  the first is through your death; ­nay, start not, nor put your hand on your pistol; you have not now cause to fear me.  Had I chosen that method of escape, I could have effected it long since:  When, months ago, you slept under my roof ­ay, slept ­what should have hindered me from stabbing you during the slumber?  Two nights since, when my blood was up, and the fury upon me, what should have prevented me tightening the grasp that you so resent, and laying you breathless at my feet?  Nay, now, though you keep your eye fixed on my motions, and your hand upon your weapon, you would be no match for a desperate and resolved man, who might as well perish in conflict with you, as by the protracted accomplishment of your threats.  Your ball might fail ­(even now I see your hand trembles) ­mine, if I so will it, is certain death.  No, Houseman, it would be as vain for your eye to scan the dark pool into whose breast you cataract casts its waters, as for your intellect to pierce the depths of my mind and motives.  Your murder, though in self-defence, would lay a weight upon my soul, which would sink it for ever:  I should see, in your death, new chances of detection spread themselves before me:  the terrors of the dead are not to be bought or awed into silence; I should pass from one peril into another; and the law’s dread vengeance might fall upon me, through the last peril, even yet more surely than through the first.  Be composed, then, on this point!  From my hand, unless you urge it madly upon yourself, you are wholly safe.  Let us turn to my second method of attaining security.  It lies, not in your momentary cessation from persécutions; not in your absence from this spot alone; you must quit the country ­you must never return to it ­your home must be cast, and your very grave dug in a foreign soil.  Are you prepared for this?  If not, I can say no more; and I again cast myself passive into the arms of Fate.”

“You ask,” said Houseman, whose fears were allayed by Aram’s address, though, at the same time, his dissolute and desperate nature was subdued and tamed in spite of himself, by the very composure of the loftier mind with which it was brought in contact:  “You ask,” said he, “no trifling favour of a man ­to desert his country for ever; but I am no dreamer, to love one spot better than another.  I should, perhaps, prefer a foreign clime, as the safer and the freer from old recollections, if I could live in it as a man who loves the relish of life should do.  Show me the advantages I am to gain by exile, and farewell to the pale cliffs of England for ever!”

“Your demand is just,” answered Aram; “listen, then.  I am willing to coin all my poor wealth, save alone the barest pittance wherewith to sustain life; nay, more, I am prepared also to melt down the whole of my possible expectations from others, into the form of an annuity to yourself.  But mark, it will be taken out of my hands, so that you can have no power over me to alter the conditions with which it will be saddled.  It will be so vested that it shall commence the moment you touch a foreign clime; and wholly and for ever cease the moment you set foot on any part of English ground; or, mark also, at the moment of my death.  I shall then know that no farther hope from me can induce you to risk this income; for, as I should have spent my all in attaining it, you cannot even meditate the design of extorting more.  I shall know that you will not menace my life; for my death would be the destruction of your fortunes.  We shall live thus separate and secure from each other; you will have only cause to hope for my safety; and I shall have no reason to shudder at yours.  Through one channel alone could I then fear; namely, that in dying, you should enjoy the fruitless vengeance of criminating me.  But this chance I must patiently endure:  you, if older, are more robust and hardy than myself ­your life will probably be longer than mine; and, even were it otherwise, why should we destroy one another?  At my death-bed I will solemnly swear to respect your secret; why not on your part, I say not swear, but resolve, to respect mine?  We cannot love one another; but why hate with a gratuitous and demon vengeance?  No, Houseman, however circumstances may have darkened or steeled your heart, it is touched with humanity yet ­you will have owed to me the bread of a secure and easy existence ­you will feel that I have stripped myself, even to penury, to purchase the comforts I cheerfully resign to you ­you will remember that, instead of the sacrifices enjoined by this alternative, I might have sought only to counteract your threats, by attempting a life that you strove to make a snare and torture to my own.  You will remember this; and you will not grudge me the austere and gloomy solitude in which I seek to forget, or the one solace with which I, perhaps vainly, endeavour to cheer my passage to a quiet grave.  No, Houseman, no; dislike, hate, menace me as you will, I still feel I shall have no cause to dread the mere wantonness of your revenge.”

These words, aided by a tone of voice, and an expression of countenance that gave them perhaps their chief effect, took even the hardened nature of Houseman by surprise; he was affected by an emotion which he could not have believed it possible the man who till then had galled him by the humbling sense of inferiority, could have created.  He extended his hand to Aram.

“By ­,” he exclaimed, with an oath which we spare the reader, “you are right! you have made me as helpless in your hands, as an infant.  I accept your offer ­if I were to refuse it, I should be driven to the same courses I now pursue.  But look you; I know not what may be the amount of the annuity you can raise.  I shall not, however, require more than will satisfy wants, which, if not so scanty as your own, are not at least very extravagant or very refined.  As for the rest, if there be any surplus, in God’s name keep it for yourself, and rest assured that, so far as I am concerned, you shall be molested no more.”

“No, Houseman,” said Aram, with a half smile, “you shall have all I first mentioned; that is, all beyond what nature craves, honourably and fully.  Man’s best resolutions are weak:  if you knew I possessed aught to spare, a fancied want, a momentary extravagance might tempt you to demand it.  Let us put ourselves beyond the possible reach of temptation.  But do not flatter yourself by the hope that the income will be magnificent.  My own annuity is but trifling, and the half of the dowry I expect from my future father-in-law, is all that I can at present obtain.  The whole of that dowry is insignificant as a sum.  But if this does not suffice for you, I must beg or borrow elsewhere.”

“This, after all, is a pleasanter way of settling business,” said Houseman, “than by threats and anger.  And now I will tell you exactly the sum on which, if I could receive it yearly, I could live without looking beyond the pale of the Law for more ­on which I could cheerfully renounce England, and commence ‘the honest man.’  But then, hark you, I must have half settled on my little daughter.”

“What! have you a child?” said Aram eagerly, and well pleased to find an additional security for his own safety.

“Ay, a little girl, my only one, in her eighth year; she lives with her grandmother, for she is motherless, and that girl must not be left quite penniless should I be summoned hence before my time.  Some twelve years hence ­as poor Jane promises to be pretty ­she may be married off my hands, but her childhood must not be left to the chances of beggary or shame.”

“Doubtless not, doubtless not.  Who shall say now that we ever outlive feeling?” said Aram, “Half the annuity shall be settled upon her, should she survive you; but on the same conditions, ceasing when I die, or the instant of your return to England.  And now, name the sum that you deem sufficing.”

“Why,” said Houseman, counting on his fingers, and muttering “twenty ­fifty ­wine and the creature cheap abroad ­humph! a hundred for living, and half as much for pleasure.  Come, Aram, one hundred and fifty guineas per annum, English money, will do for a foreign life ­you see I am easily satisfied.”

“Be it so,” said Aram, “I will engage by one means or another to procure it.  For this purpose I shall set out for London to-morrow; I will not lose a moment in seeing the necessary settlement made as we have specified.  But meanwhile, you must engage to leave this neighbourhood, and if possible, cause your comrades to do the same, although you will not hesitate, for the sake of your own safety, immediately to separate from them.”

“Now that we are on good terms,” replied Houseman, “I will not scruple to oblige you in these particulars.  My comrades intend to quit the country before to-morrow; nay, half are already gone; by daybreak I myself will be some miles hence, and separated from each of them.  Let us meet in London after the business is completed, and there conclude our last interview on earth.”

“What will be your address?”

“In Lambeth there is a narrow alley that leads to the water-side, called Peveril Lane.  The last house to the right, towards the river, is my usual lodging; a safe resting-place at all times, and for all men.”

“There then will I seek you.  And now, Houseman, fare-you-well!  As you remember your word to me, may life flow smooth for your child.”

“Eugene Aram,” said Houseman, “there is about you something against which the fiercer devil within me would rise in vain.  I have read that the tiger can be awed by the human eye, and you compel me into submission by a spell equally unaccountable.  You are a singular man, and it seems to me a riddle, how we could ever have been thus connected; or how ­but we will not rip up the past, it is an ugly sight, and the fire is just out.  Those stories do not do for the dark.  But to return; ­were it only for the sake of my child, you might depend upon me now; better too an arrangement of this sort, than if I had a larger sum in hand which I might be tempted to fling away, and in looking for more, run my neck into a halter, and leave poor Jane upon charity.  But come, it is almost dark again, and no doubt you wish to be stirring:  stay, I will lead you back, and put you on the right track, lest you stumble on my friends.”

“Is this cavern one of their haunts?” said Aram.

“Sometimes:  but they sleep the other side of the Devil’s Crag to-night.  Nothing like a change of quarters for longevity ­eh?”

“And they easily spare you.”

“Yes, if it be only on rare occasions, and on the plea of family business.  Now then, your hand, as before.  Jesu! how it rains ­lightning too ­I could look with less fear on a naked sword, than those red, forked, blinding flashes ­Hark! thunder.”

The night had now, indeed, suddenly changed its aspect; the rain descended in torrents, even more impetuously than on the former night, while the thunder burst over their very heads, as they wound upward through the brake.  With every instant, the lightning broke from the riven chasm of the blackness that seemed suspended as in a solid substance above, brightened the whole heaven into one livid and terrific flame, and showed to the two men the faces of each other, rendered deathlike and ghastly by the glare.  Houseman was evidently affected by the fear that sometimes seizes even the sturdiest criminals, when exposed to those more fearful phenomena of the Heavens, which seem to humble into nothing the power and the wrath of man.  His teeth chattered, and he muttered broken words about the peril of wandering near trees when the lightning was of that forked character, accelerating his pace at every sentence, and sometimes interrupting himself with an ejaculation, half oath, half prayer, or a congratulation that the rain at least diminished the danger.  They soon cleared the thicket, and a few minutes brought them once more to the banks of the stream, and the increased roar of the cataract.  No earthly scene perhaps could surpass the appalling sublimity of that which they beheld; ­every instant the lightning, which became more and more frequent, converting the black waters into billows of living fire, or wreathing itself in lurid spires around the huge crag that now rose in sight; and again, as the thunder rolled onward, darting its vain fury upon the rushing cataract, and the tortured breast of the gulf that raved below low.  And the sounds that filled the air were even more fraught with terror and menace than the scene; ­the waving, the groans, the crash of the pines on the hill, the impetuous force of the rain upon the whirling river, and the everlasting roar of the cataract, answered anon by the yet more awful voice that burst above it from the clouds.

They halted while yet sufficiently distant from the cataract to be heard by each other.  “My path,” said Aram, as the lightning now paused upon the scene, and seemed literally to wrap in a lurid shroud the dark figure of the Student, as he stood, with his hand calmly raised, and his cheek pale, but dauntless and composed; “My path now lies yonder:  in a week we shall meet again.”

“By the fiend,” said Houseman, shuddering, “I would not, for a full hundred, ride alone through the moor you will pass.  There stands a gibbet by the road, on which a parricide was hanged in chains.  Pray Heaven this night be no omen of the success of our present compact!”

“A steady heart, Houseman,” answered Aram, striking into the separate path, “is its own omen.”

The Student soon gained the spot in which he had left his horse; the animal had not attempted to break the bridle, but stood trembling from limb to limb, and testified by a quick short neigh the satisfaction with which it hailed the approach of its master, and found itself no longer alone.

Aram remounted, and hastened once more into the main road.  He scarcely felt the rain, though the fierce wind drove it right against his path; he scarcely marked the lightning, though at times it seemed to dart its arrows on his very form; his heart was absorbed in the success of his schemes.

“Let the storm without howl on,” thought he, “that within hath a respite at last.  Amidst the winds and rains I can breathe more freely than I have done on the smoothest summer day.  By the charm of a deeper mind and a subtler tongue, I have then conquered this desperate foe; I have silenced this inveterate spy:  and, Heaven be praised, he too has human ties; and by those ties I hold him!  Now, then, I hasten to London ­I arrange this annuity ­see that the law tightens every cord of the compact; and when all is done, and this dangerous man fairly departed on his exile, I return to Madeline, and devote to her a life no longer the vassal of accident and the hour:  but I have been taught caution.  Secure as my own prudence may have made me from farther apprehension of Houseman, I will yet place myself wholly beyond his power:  I will still consummate my former purpose, adopt a new name, and seek a new retreat; Madeline may not know the real cause; but this brain is not barren of excuse.  Ah!” as drawing his cloak closer round him, he felt the purse hid within his breast which contained the order he had obtained from Lester; “Ah! this will now add its quota to purchase, not a momentary relief, but the stipend of perpetual silence.  I have passed through the ordeal easier than I had hoped for.  Had the devil at his heart been more difficult to lay, so necessary is his absence, that I must have purchased it at any cost.  Courage, Eugene Aram! thy mind, for which thou hast lived, and for which thou hast hazarded thy soul ­if soul and mind be distinct from each other ­thy mind can support thee yet through every peril:  not till thou art stricken into idiotcy, shalt thou behold thyself defenceless.  How cheerfully,” muttered he, after a momentary pause, “how cheerfully, for safety, and to breathe with a quiet heart, the air of Madeline’s presence, shall I rid myself of all save enough to defy want.  And want can never now come to me, as of old.  He who knows the sources of every science from which wealth is wrought holds even wealth at his will.”

Breaking at every interval into these soliloquies, Aram continued to breast the storm until he had won half his journey, and had come upon a long and bleak moor, which was the entrance to that beautiful line of country in which the valleys around Grassdale are embosomed:  faster and faster came the rain; and though the thunder-clouds were now behind, they yet followed loweringly, in their black array, the path of the lonely horseman.

But now he heard the sound of hoofs making towards him; he drew his horse on one side of the road, and at that instant a broad flash of lightning illumining the space around, he beheld four horsemen speeding along at a rapid gallop; they were armed, and conversing loudly ­their oaths were heard jarringly and distinctly amidst all the more solemn and terrific sounds of the night.  They came on, sweeping by the Student, whose hand was on his pistol, for he recognised in one of the riders the man who had escaped unwounded from Lester’s house.  He and his comrades were evidently, then, Houseman’s desperate associates; and they too, though they were borne too rapidly by Aram to be able to rein in their horses on the spot, had seen the solitary traveller, and already wheeled round, and called upon him to halt!

The lightning was again gone, and the darkness snatched the robbers and their intended victim from the sight of each other.  But Aram had not lost a moment; fast fled his horse across the moor, and when, with the next flash, he looked back, he saw the ruffians, unwilling even for booty to encounter the horrors of the night, had followed him but a few paces, and again turned round; still he dashed on, and had now nearly passed the moor; the thunder rolled fainter and fainter from behind, and the lightning only broke forth at prolonged intervals, when suddenly, after a pause of unusual duration, it brought the whole scene into a light, if less intolerable, even more livid than before.  The horse, that had hitherto sped on without start or stumble, now recoiled in abrupt affright; and the horseman, looking up at the cause, beheld the Gibbet of which Houseman had spoken immediately fronting his path, with its ghastly tenant waving to and fro, as the winds rattled through the parched and arid bones; and the inexpressible grin of the skull fixed, as in mockery, upon his countenance.