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- The Mysteries of Udolpho - 140/153 -
Blanche's heart now sunk with horror. Her first impulse was to retreat from the door, but, when she would have gone, her trembling frame refused to support her, and, having tottered a few paces, to a more obscure part of the passage, she was compelled to listen to the dreadful councils of those, who, she was no longer suffered to doubt, were banditti. In the next moment, she heard the following words, 'Why you would not murder the whole GANG?'
'I warrant our lives are as good as theirs,' replied his comrade. 'If we don't kill them, they will hang us: better they should die than we be hanged.'
'Better, better,' cried his comrades.
'To commit murder, is a hopeful way of escaping the gallows!' said the first ruffian--'many an honest fellow has run his head into the noose that way, though.' There was a pause of some moments, during which they appeared to be considering.
'Confound those fellows,' exclaimed one of the robbers impatiently, 'they ought to have been here by this time; they will come back presently with the old story, and no booty: if they were here, our business would be plain and easy. I see we shall not be able to do the business to-night, for our numbers are not equal to the enemy, and in the morning they will be for marching off, and how can we detain them without force?'
'I have been thinking of a scheme, that will do,' said one of his comrades: 'if we can dispatch the two chevaliers silently, it will be easy to master the rest.'
'That's a plausible scheme, in good faith,' said another with a smile of scorn--'If I can eat my way through the prison wall, I shall be at liberty!--How can we dispatch them SILENTLY?'
'By poison,' replied his companions.
'Well said! that will do,' said the second ruffian, 'that will give a lingering death too, and satisfy my revenge. These barons shall take care how they again tempt our vengeance.'
'I knew the son, the moment I saw him,' said the man, whom Blanche had observed gazing on St. Foix, 'though he does not know me; the father I had almost forgotten.'
'Well, you may say what you will,' said the third ruffian, 'but I don't believe he is the Baron, and I am as likely to know as any of you, for I was one of them, that attacked him, with our brave lads, that suffered.'
'And was not I another?' said the first ruffian, 'I tell you he is the Baron; but what does it signify whether he is or not?--shall we let all this booty go out of our hands? It is not often we have such luck at this. While we run the chance of the wheel for smuggling a few pounds of tobacco, to cheat the king's manufactory, and of breaking our necks down the precipices in the chace of our food; and, now and then, rob a brother smuggler, or a straggling pilgrim, of what scarcely repays us the powder we fire at them, shall we let such a prize as this go? Why they have enough about them to keep us for-- '
'I am not for that, I am not for that,' replied the third robber, 'let us make the most of them: only, if this is the Baron, I should like to have a flash the more at him, for the sake of our brave comrades, that he brought to the gallows.'
'Aye, aye, flash as much as you will,' rejoined the first man, 'but I tell you the Baron is a taller man.'
'Confound your quibbling,' said the second ruffian, 'shall we let them go or not? If we stay here much longer, they will take the hint, and march off without our leave. Let them be who they will, they are rich, or why all those servants? Did you see the ring, he, you call the Baron, had on his finger?--it was a diamond; but he has not got it on now: he saw me looking at it, I warrant, and took it off.'
'Aye, and then there is the picture; did you see that? She has not taken that off,' observed the first ruffian, 'it hangs at her neck; if it had not sparkled so, I should not have found it out, for it was almost hid by her dress; those are diamonds too, and a rare many of them there must be, to go round such a large picture.'
'But how are we to manage this business?' said the second ruffian: 'let us talk of that, there is no fear of there being booty enough, but how are we to secure it?'
'Aye, aye,' said his comrades, 'let us talk of that, and remember no time is to be lost.'
'I am still for poison,' observed the third, 'but consider their number; why there are nine or ten of them, and armed too; when I saw so many at the gate, I was not for letting them in, you know, nor you either.'
'I thought they might be some of our enemies,' replied the second, 'I did not so much mind numbers.'
'But you must mind them now,' rejoined his comrade, 'or it will be worse for you. We are not more than six, and how can we master ten by open force? I tell you we must give some of them a dose, and the rest may then be managed.'
'I'll tell you a better way,' rejoined the other impatiently, 'draw closer.'
Blanche, who had listened to this conversation, in an agony, which it would be impossible to describe, could no longer distinguish what was said, for the ruffians now spoke in lowered voices; but the hope, that she might save her friends from the plot, if she could find her way quickly to them, suddenly re-animated her spirits, and lent her strength enough to turn her steps in search of the gallery. Terror, however, and darkness conspired against her, and, having moved a few yards, the feeble light, that issued from the chamber, no longer even contended with the gloom, and, her foot stumbling over a step that crossed the passage, she fell to the ground.
The noise startled the banditti, who became suddenly silent, and then all rushed to the passage, to examine whether any person was there, who might have overheard their councils. Blanche saw them approaching, and perceived their fierce and eager looks: but, before she could raise herself, they discovered and seized her, and, as they dragged her towards the chamber they had quitted, her screams drew from them horrible threatenings.
Having reached the room, they began to consult what they should do with her. 'Let us first know what she had heard,' said the chief robber. 'How long have you been in the passage, lady, and what brought you there?'
'Let us first secure that picture,' said one of his comrades, approaching the trembling Blanche. 'Fair lady, by your leave that picture is mine; come, surrender it, or I shall seize it.'
Blanche, entreating their mercy, immediately gave up the miniature, while another of the ruffians fiercely interrogated her, concerning what she had overheard of their conversation, when, her confusion and terror too plainly telling what her tongue feared to confess, the ruffians looked expressively upon one another, and two of them withdrew to a remote part of the room, as if to consult further.
'These are diamonds, by St. Peter!' exclaimed the fellow, who had been examining the miniature, 'and here is a very pretty picture too, 'faith; as handsome a young chevalier, as you would wish to see by a summer's sun. Lady, this is your spouse, I warrant, for it is the spark, that was in your company just now.'
Blanche, sinking with terror, conjured him to have pity on her, and, delivering him her purse, promised to say nothing of what had passed, if he would suffer her to return to her friends.
He smiled ironically, and was going to reply, when his attention was called off by a distant noise; and, while he listened, he grasped the arm of Blanche more firmly, as if he feared she would escape from him, and she again shrieked for help.
The approaching sounds called the ruffians from the other part of the chamber. 'We are betrayed,' said they; 'but let us listen a moment, perhaps it is only our comrades come in from the mountains, and if so, our work is sure; listen!'
A distant discharge of shot confirmed this supposition for a moment, but, in the next, the former sounds drawing nearer, the clashing of swords, mingled with the voices of loud contention and with heavy groans, were distinguished in the avenue leading to the chamber. While the ruffians prepared their arms, they heard themselves called by some of their comrades afar off, and then a shrill horn was sounded without the fortress, a signal, it appeared, they too well understood; for three of them, leaving the Lady Blanche to the care of the fourth, instantly rushed from the chamber.
While Blanche, trembling, and nearly fainting, was supplicating for release, she heard amid the tumult, that approached, the voice of St. Foix, and she had scarcely renewed her shriek, when the door of the room was thrown open, and he appeared, much disfigured with blood, and pursued by several ruffians. Blanche neither saw, or heard any more; her head swam, her sight failed, and she became senseless in the arms of the robber, who had detained her.
When she recovered, she perceived, by the gloomy light, that trembled round her, that she was in the same chamber, but neither the Count, St. Foix, or any other person appeared, and she continued, for some time, entirely still, and nearly in a state of stupefaction. But, the dreadful images of the past returning, she endeavoured to raise herself, that she might seek her friends, when a sullen groan, at a little distance, reminded her of St. Foix, and of the condition, in which she had seen him enter this room; then, starting from the floor, by a sudden effort of horror, she advanced to the place whence the sound had proceeded, where a body was lying stretched upon the pavement, and where, by the glimmering light of a lamp, she discovered the pale and disfigured countenance of St. Foix. Her horrors, at that moment, may be easily imagined. He was speechless; his eyes were half closed, and, on the hand, which she grasped in the agony of despair, cold damps had settled. While she vainly repeated his name, and called for assistance, steps approached, and a person entered the chamber, who, she soon perceived, was not the Count, her father; but, what was her astonishment, when, supplicating him to give his assistance to St. Foix, she discovered Ludovico! He scarcely paused to recognise her, but immediately bound up the wounds
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