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THE youthful stranger had listened with
ineffable surprise and horror to the conversation of the two ruffians. His
nerves had been worked up by all the circumstances of the evening to a tone
bordering upon madness - to that pitch, indeed, when it appeared as if there
were no alternative left save to fall upon the floor and yield to the delirium
tremens of violent emotions.
He had restrained his feelings while he heard the burglary at
Mr. Markham's dwelling coolly planned and settled; but when the discourse of those
two monsters in human shape developed to his imagination all the horrors of the
fearful place in which he had sought an asylum, - when he heard that he was
actually standing upon the very verge of that staircase down which innumerable
victims had been hurled to the depths of the slimy ditch beneath, - and when he
thought how probable it was that his bones were doomed to whiten in the dark and
hidden caverns below, along with the remains of other human beings who had been
barbarously murdered in cold blood, - reason appeared to forsake him. A cold
sweat broke forth all over him; and he seemed about to faint under the
impression of a hideous nightmare.
He threw his hat upon the floor - for he felt the want of
air. That proud forehead, that beautiful countenance were distorted with indescribable
horror; and an ashy pallor spread itself over his features.
Death, in all its most hideous forms, appeared to follow - to
surround - to hem him in. There was no escape - a trap-door here - a well, communicating
with the ditch, there - or else the dagger; - no matter in what shape - still
Death was before him - behind him - above him - below him - on every side of
It was horrible - most horrible!
Then was it that a sudden thought flashes across his brain:
he resolved to attempt a desperate effort to escape. He summoned all his courage
to his aid, and opened the door so cautiously that, though the hinges were old
and rusted, they did not creak.
The crisis was now at hand. If he could clear the landing
unperceived, he was safe. It was true that, seen or unseen, he might succeed in
escaping from the house by means of his superior agility and nimbleness; but he
reflected that these men would capture him again, in a few minutes, in the midst
of a labyrinth of streets with which he was utterly unacquainted, but which they
knew so well. He remembered that he had overheard their secrets and witnessed
their mysterious modes of concealment; and that, should he fall into their
power, death must inevitably await him.
These ideas crossed his brain in a moment, and convinced him
of the necessity of prudence and extreme caution. He must leave the house
unperceived, and dare the pitiless storm and pelting rain; for the tempest still
He once more approached the window to ascertain if there were
any chance of stealing across the landing-place unseen. Unfortunately he drew
too near the window: the light of the candle fell full upon his countenance,
which horror and alarm had rendered deadly pale and fearfully convulsed.
It was at this moment that the ruffian, in the midst of his
unholy vaunts, had caught sight of that human face - white as a sheet - and with
eyes fixed upon him with a glare which his imagination rendered stony and
The youth saw that he was discovered; and a full sense of the
desperate peril which hung over him, rushed to his mind. He turned, and
endeavoured to fly away from the fatal spot; but, as imagination frequently
fetters the limbs in a nightmare, and involves the sleeper in danger from which
he vainly attempts to run, so did his legs now refuse to perform their office.
His brain whirled - his eyes grew dim : he grasped at the
wall to save himself from falling - but his senses were deserting him - and he
sank fainting upon the floor.
He awoke from the trance into which he had fallen, and became
aware that he was being moved along. Almost at the same instant his eyes fell
upon the sinister countenance of Dick, who was carrying him by the feet. The
other ruffian was supporting his head.
They were lifting him down the staircase, upon the top step
of which the candle was standing.
All the incidents of the evening immediately returned to the
memory of the wretched boy, who now only too well comprehended the desperate
perils that surrounded him.
The bottom of the staircase was reached: the villains
deposited their burden for a moment in the passage, while Dick retraced his
steps to fetch down the candle.
And then a horrible conflict of feelings and inclinations
took place in the bosom of the unhappy youth. He shut his eyes; and for an
instant debating within himself whether he should [-7-]
remain silent or cry out. He dreamt of immediate - instantaneous death and yet
he thought that he was young to die - oh, so. young - and that men could not be
But when the two ruffians stooped down to take him up again,
fear surmounted all other sentiments, feelings, and inclinations; and his deep -
his profound - his heartfelt agony was expressed in one long, loud, and piercing
And then a fearful scene took place.
The two villains carried the youth into the front room upon
the ground-floor, and laid him down for a moment.
It was the seine room to which he had first found his way
upon entering that house.
It was the room in which, by the glare of the evanescent
lightning, he had seen that black square upon the dirty floor.
For a few instants all was dark. At length the candle was
brought by the man in the fustian coat.
The youth glanced wildly around him, and speedily recognised
He remembered how deep a sensation of horror seized him when
that black square upon the floor first caught his eyes.
He raised himself upon his left arm, and once more looked
Great God! was it possible?
That ominous blackness - that sinister square was the mouth
of a yawning gulf, the trap-door of which was raised.
A fetid smell rose from the depths below, and the gurgling of
a current was faintly heard. The dread truth was in a moment made apparent to
that unhappy boy - much more quickly than it occupies to relate or read. He
started from his supine posture, and fell upon his knees at the feet of those
merciless villains who had borne him thither.
"Mercy, mercy! I implore you! Oh! do not devote me to so
horrible a death! Do not - do not murder me!"
"Hold your noisy tongue, you fool," ejaculated
Bill, brutally. "You have heard and seen too much for our safety ; we can't
"No, certainly not," added Dick. "You are now
as fly to the fakement as any one of us."
"Spare me, spare me, and I will never betray you! Oh! do
not send me out of this world, so young - so very young! I have money, I have
wealth, I am rich, and I will give you all I possess!" ejaculated the
agonized youth; his countenance wearing an expression of horrible despair.
"Come; here's enough. Bill, lend a hand!" and Dick
seized the boy by one arm, while his companion took a firm hold of the other.
"Mercy, mercy!" shrieked the youth, struggling
violently; but struggling vainly. "You will repent when you know - I am not
what I "
He said no more: hit last words were uttered over the mouth
of the chasm ere the ruffians loosened their hold; - and then he fell.
The trap-door was closed violently over the aperture, and
drowned the scream of agony which burst from his lips.
The two murderers then retraced their steps to the apartment
on the first floor.
* * * *
* * * *
On the following day, about one o'clock, Mr. Markham, a gentleman of fortune
residing in the northern environs of London, received the following letter : -
"The Inscrutable decree, of Providence hare enabled the
undersigned to warn you, that this night a burglarious attempt will be made upon
your dwelling. The wretches who contemplate this infamy are capable of a crime
of much blacker die. Beware!
"AN UNKNOWN FRIEND"
This letter was written in a beautiful feminine hand. Due
precaution was adopted at Mr. Markham's mansion; but the attempt alluded to in
the warning epistle was, for some reason or another, not made.
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