Page:Marietta, or the Two Students.djvu/49

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Cecil was now within a few paces of the apperture; hence the warning of the body snatcher. To fall from that height would be to meet a horrible death. What now should she do! Her persecutor was advancing towards her. Her resolution was soon taken. By the feeble light admitted through the fissures, and crevices of the old walls, she could just discern the chasm before her, and stepping as near it as her safety would allow, she said in a resolute voice: "Advance another step and I throw myself off, and am dashed to pieces."

Her pursuer halted, fearful that she might put her threat in execution, then moved carefully towards his victim.

"Another step, and I take the fearful leap," continued Cecil, inclining her body towards the chasm, and placing her feet in attitude of springing from the dangerous position. Again the body snatcher paused, with his whole frame trembling with rage and disappointment. "Curse you" he muttered through his fixed teeth, "Curse your ingenuity. But you shall be mine yet.

Her eyes becoming more accustomed to the darkness, and gazing intently about, to her joy she beheld another flight of steps, passing directly over the opening, into the attic. It was evident that they were not built there in the first instance, but had been placed there recently.

"I will risk all upon that treacherous fabric," said Cecil to herself, "and he will not dare follow."

In another moment, she was upon the decaying structure, ascending fearlessly to the top, unmindful of the shouts and entreaties of Thick to desist, who expected to see it yield beneath her, causing her destruction. But her feet seemed scarcely to touch the rotten boards. In an instant more he beheld her at the top in safety, while a cry of astonishment, and incensed anger arose coupled with an oath, to her ears. For the present, at least, she considered herself safe; for she believed that he had not sufficient temerity to induce him to attempt to follow. She was mistaken. Being so many times baffled, had stimulated him to greater exertion, and deprived him of discretion. Uttering shocking blasphemies, he begins the ascent. Cecil in her turn, warns him of the danger, and rashness of the attempt. Her words fell upon deaf ears. He is half to the top, the crumbling steps are tottering under him, and with terror, he hears the rotten wood yielding. Ah! now he discovers his error, but to retreat is as hazardous, or more so, than to proceed. Half frozen with horror, he continues to ascend, the treacherous fabric still settling beneath him, threatening the next instant, to plunge him into the yawning chasm below, breaking in the descent every bone in his body. That was a terrible moment to the wretched man—an age of suspense and terror. He has accomplished two thirds of the distance, and is reaching forth his hands to grasp the floor above, when with a startling crush, the structure upon which he has trusted himself falls, and Cecil hears it with fearful distinctness whirling through the several appertures, and striking with a still louder crash at the bottom.

But where was her pursuer. He had caught as before, by his hands, and was now clinging with all the energy of despair, to his slight uncertein support. He held only by his fingers, and with a frightful desperation, he put forth his strength to lift his body to a place of safety. He could not do that, though his strength were doubled. His powers are fast failing. His fingers cannot much longer retain their hold, and see! the blood starts from under his nails, in his efforts to raise himself. He entreats Cecil to assist him in the most abject manner.

"Stretch forth your hand and save me. I swear by heaven—I will not harm you. An instant more, and I shall be dashed in pieces—horrible—I shall not be in the shape of a human being—a mass of bruised trembling flesh. In the name of God help me. I am not fit to die Cecil—I cannot die,—for there are