Auriol; Or, the Elixir of Life
Auriol; Or, the Elixir of Life
BOOK THE FIRST
THE RUINED HOUSE IN THE VAUXHALL ROAD
Late one night, in the spring of 1830, two men issued from a low, obscurely situated public-house, near Millbank, and shaped their course apparently in the direction of Vauxhall Bridge. Avoiding the footpath near the river, they moved stealthily along the farther side of the road, where the open ground offered them an easy means of flight, in case such a course should be found expedient. So far as it could be discerned by the glimpses of the moon, which occasionally shone forth from a rack of heavy clouds, the appearance of these personages was not much in their favour. Haggard features, stamped deeply with the characters of crime and debauchery; fierce, restless eyes; beards of several days' growth; wild, unkempt heads of hair, formed their chief personal characteristics; while sordid and ragged clothes, shoes without soles, and old hats without crowns, constituted the sum of their apparel.
One of them was tall and gaunt, with large hands and feet; but despite his meagreness, he evidently possessed great strength: the other was considerably shorter, but broad-shouldered, bow-legged, long-armed, and altogether a most formidable ruffian. This fellow had high cheek-bones, a long aquiline nose, and a coarse mouth and chin, in which the animal greatly predominated. He had a stubby red beard, with sandy hair, white brows and eyelashes. The countenance of the other was dark and repulsive, and covered with blotches, the result of habitual intemperance. His eyes had a leering and malignant look. A handkerchief spotted with blood, and tied across his brow, contrasted strongly with his matted black hair, and increased his natural appearance of ferocity. The shorter ruffian carried a mallet upon his shoulder, and his companion concealed something beneath the breast of his coat, which afterwards proved to be a dark lantern.
Not a word passed between them; but keeping a vigilant look-out, they trudged on with quick, shambling steps. A few sounds arose from the banks of the river, and there was now and then a plash in the water, or a distant cry, betokening some passing craft; but generally all was profoundly still. The quaint, Dutch-looking structures on the opposite bank, the line of coal-barges and lighters moored to the strand, the great timber-yards and coal-yards, the brewhouses, gasworks, and waterworks, could only be imperfectly discerned; but the moonlight fell clear upon the ancient towers of Lambeth Palace, and on the neighbouring church. The same glimmer also ran like a silver belt across the stream, and revealed the great, stern, fortress-like pile of the Penitentiary-perhaps the most dismal-looking structure in the whole metropolis. The world of habitations beyond this melancholy prison was buried in darkness. The two men, however, thought nothing of these things, and saw nothing of them; but, on arriving within a couple of hundred yards of the bridge, suddenly, as if by previous concert, quitted the road, and, leaping a rail, ran across a field, and plunged into a hollow formed by a dried pit, where they came to a momentary halt.
"You ain't a-been a-gammonin' me in this matter, Tinker?" observed the shorter individual. "The cove's sure to come?"
"Why, you can't expect me to answer for another as I can for myself, Sandman," replied the other; "but if his own word's to be taken for it, he's sartin to be there. I heerd him say, as plainly as I'm a speakin' to you-'I'll be here to-morrow night-at the same hour--'"
"And that wos one o'clock?" said the Sandman.
"Thereabouts," replied the other.
"And who did he say that to?" demanded the Sandman.
"To hisself, I s'pose," answered the Tinker; "for, as I told you afore, I could see no one vith him."
"Do you think he's one of our perfession?" inquired the Sandman.
"Bless you! no-that he ain't," returned the Tinker