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MYSTERIES OF THE GROUND-FLOOR ROOMS.
THE Buffer was interrupted at this point by the return of his wife, woo in
spite of the protection of the Resurrection Man's umbrella, was dripping wet.
We must observe that we have taken the liberty of altering
and improving the language, in which the Buffer delivered his autobiography, to
the utmost of our power: we have moreover embodied his crude ideas and reduced
his random observations into a tangible shape. We should add that the man was
not deficient in intellectual sharpness, in spite of the stolid expression of
his countenance; and thus the observations which he made relative to prison
discipline and the neglect of government to adopt means of preventing crime in
preference to punishing it when committed, need excite no astonishment in those
who peruse them.
But to return to the thread of our narrative.
When the Buffer's wife had taken a warm seat by the fire, and
comforted herself with a tolerably profound libation of steaming gin-and-water,
she proceeded to give an account of her mission.
"I went down to Globe Lane," she said; "and a
miserable walk it was, can assure you. The rain falls in torrents, and the
wind blows enough to carry the Monument into the Thames. By the time I got down
to the undertaker's house I was drenched. Then Banks wasn't at home; but his
wife asked me to stop till he came in; and as I thought that the business was
pressing, I agreed. I waited - and waited till I was tired: one hour passed -
then half an hour more; and I was just coming back when Banks walks in."
"And so you gave him the note," said the
Resurrection Man, who had listened somewhat impatiently to this prelude.
"Yes - I gave him the note," continued Moll Wicks;
"and he put on a pair of spectacles with round glasses as big as the
bottoms of wine-glasses. When he had read it, he said he would attend to it, and
should call his-self on you to-morrow morning by nine o'clock."
"Well and good," exclaimed the Resurrection Man.
"What are you going to do, Tony?" demanded the
"Never do you mind now," answered the Resurrection
Man. "I will tell you all to-morrow."
"But I haven't quite done yet," cried the Buffer's
wife. "Just as I came out of the undertaker's shop I met the surgeon that
attended upon the old gentleman at Mrs. Smith's. He beckoned me under an
archway, and asked when the old gentleman was going to be buried? I told him
that I knew nothing about it. He hesitated, and was going away; and then he
turned round suddenly, and said, 'Do you think your husband would mind a job
that would put ten pounds into his pocket?' I don't know whether he had ever
seen Jack, or not
"To be sure he has," interrupted the Buffer. "Didn't I go to him when I
cut my band with the hatchet, chopping wood one day?"
"Ah! I forgot that," said Moll. " Well, so I told him that my
husband wasn't at all the man to refuse a ten pun' note; and even then he didn't
seem to like to trust me. But after a little more hesitation, he says, says he,
'I should like to know what that old gentleman died of; I can't make out at all.
I wonder whether his friends would have any objection to my opening the body;
for I spoke to Mrs. Smith, and she won't hear of it.' I told him that the poor
old feller had no friends; but I saw very well what the sawbones wanted; and so
I says, 'Why don't you have him up again if so be you want so partickler to know
what he died of?' - 'That's just the very thing,' he says. 'Do you think your
husband would do the job? I once [-311-] knew a famous feller,' he says,
'one Anthony Tidkins' "
"And so do I know him," interrupted the Resurrection Man. "Doesn't
he live in the Cambridge Road, not far from the corner of Bethnal Green Road?"
"The same," answered the Buffer's wife.
"Well - what took place then?"
"He only told me to tell my husband to call upon him -
and that was all."
"Here's more work, you see, Jack," said the Resurrection Man. "Leave
this business to me. I'll take care and manage it. When we meet to-morrow night,
I'll explain all my plans about the money this old fellow has left behind him;
and then I'll tell you what arrangement I've made with this surgeon. You must
mind and be with me at nine tomorrow night, Jack; because we won't keep young
Markham waiting for us."
These last words were uttered with a low chuckle and an expression of
countenance that indicated but too well the diabolical hopes and intentions of
the Resurrection Man.
The Buffer and his wife then took leave of their friends, and departed to
their own abode.
"Now, Meg," said the Resurrection Man, "it is nearly twelve o'clock; and
you may get ready to go to bed. I am just going out for a few minutes "
"As usual, Tony," cried the Rattlesnake, impatiently. "Why do you
always go out now - every night?"
"I have told you over and over again not to pry into my secrets," returned the
Resurrection Man, furiously. " You mind your own business, and only meddle
in what I tell you to take a part; or else "
"Well, well, Tony - don't be angry now," said the Rattlesnake, in her most
wheedling tone. " I will never ask you any more questions. Only I thought
it strange that you should have gene out every night for the last three weeks -
matter what weather "
"And you may think it strange a little longer if you like," once more
interrupted the terrible Resurrection Man, with a sinister lowering of his
countenance which checked the reply that was rising to the lips of his companion.
The Rattlesnake lighted a candle, and passed into the adjoining apartment.
The Resurrection Man poured some raw spirits into a wine glass, tossed it
off, and putting on his hat, left the room.
He descended the precipitate staircase leading to the front door of the
house, and in another moment reached the street.
Simply closing, without locking, the door behind him, he turned sharply round
into the dark alley which ran beneath a sombre and narrow arch, along one side
of the house.
But his footsteps, on this occasion, were closely followed by the
Unable to restrain her curiosity any longer - and, perhaps, influenced
other motives of a less superficial nature,- Margaret Flathers had determined to
follow her paramour this night; and, scarcely had he closed the street door,
when she was already at the bottom of the staircase.
The moment she stepped into the street, she saw the dark form of the
Resurrection Man turn down the alley above mentioned; and she muttered to
herself, "I thought so! and now perhaps I shall find out why he never would
allow me to set foot in the rooms of the lower storey."
The Resurrection Man passed half-way up the alley, and taking a key from his
pocket, proceeded to open a door that communicated with the ground-floor of his
He entered, and the Rattlesnake hurried up to the door. She applied her ear
to the key-hole - listened - and heard his footsteps echoing upon the boarded floor of the back-room, in
a few moments the grating of a lucifer-match upon the wall met her ear; and
applying her eye for a moment to the key-hole, she saw that there was now a
Impelled by an invincible curiosity, or other motives of a powerful
nature, - if not both, - the Rattlesnake cautiously raised the latch, and opened the
door to the distance of nearly a foot.
With the utmost care, she now ventured to look into the interior of that part
of the house, in respect to which a species of Blue-beard restriction had
existed for her ever since she first became the companion of the Resurrection
Man in that mysterious abode.
Glancing cautiously in, we say, she saw a small passage communicating with
two rooms - one at each end, front and back. The door of the front room was
closed: that of the back one was open. She accordingly directed all her
attention to the back-room.
Against the wall facing the door was a candle, burning in a bright tin shade
or reflector; and in the middle of the room, between the door and the light,
stood the Resurrection Man. He had his back towards the Rattlesnake ; but she
could watch all his proceedings with the greatest facility.
And how strange were those proceedings! - The Resurrection Man enveloped
himself in a large dark cloak, and fixed a black cloth mask over his
countenance. He then advanced towards a cupboard, which he opened, and whence be
took several articles, the precise nature of which the Rattlesnake could not
ascertain, in consequence of the position in which her paramour was then
standing. She however observed that he placed those articles in a basket at his
feet; and when this task was accomplished, he lifted the basket in his hand, and
turned so abruptly round to leave the room, that the Rattlesnake trembled from
head to foot lest he should have caught a glimpse of her head protruded through
the opening of the door.
She drew herself back and pulled the door towards her. For a moment she felt
inclined to best a precipitate retreat to her own quarters; but curiosity
compelled her to remain.
What could mean that strange disguise? - Why that cloak ?-Wherefore that mask ?- And what were the objects which the
Resurrection Man had consigned to his basket ?- Lastly, whither was he going?
With the most extreme caution she again pushed the door
partly open, and
again did she glance into the interior of that mysterious division of the house.
But all was now dark; the light had disappeared, or was extinguished, and the
place was involved in total obscurity.
Nevertheless, all was not silent. The measured tread of receding footsteps
fell upon the woman's ear: those sounds seemed to come from heavy feet
descending stone stairs.
Fainter and fainter became the sounds, until at length they merged into the
low wind, which whistled gloomily and monotonously through the lower part of the
Margaret Flathers felt alarmed: she scarcely knew why.
[-312-] Was it that being aware of the diabolical character of the Resurrection Man,
she naturally associated his present strange proceedings with some deed of
darkness whose very mystery made her shudder?
Was it that she trembled at the idea of being in the power of a miscreant
whose ability to work evil seemed as unbounded as his inclination?
Suddenly her thoughts received an interruption which was by
calculated to tranquillize her mind.
A scream, apparently coming from the very bowels of the earth, echoed through
the lower part of that house - a scream expressive of an agony so intense, an
anguish so acute, that it smote even her hardened and ruthless heart!
That scream was not repeated; but its echoes rang long throughout the place,
and vibrated in a strange and terrible manner on the ears of the Rattlesnake.
Then followed low mutterings, in a hoarse and subdued tone; but as they
gradually grew louder, she could recognise the menacing voice of the Resurrection Man.
Fear now completely triumphed over the motives which had induced the woman to
seek to penetrate into the secrets of her paramour. The dark cloak - the black
mask - the basket - the piercing scream - and the threatening voice, all combined to
bewilder her imagination, and fill her with vague but not less terrible alarms.
Hastily closing the door, she retreated with precipitate speed from the dark
alley, and ascended the steep staircase leading to the upper rooms of the house.
To throw off her clothes and betake herself to rest was the occupation of but
a few minutes: nevertheless, as she laid aside her garments, she cast timid and furtive
glances behind her - as if she were afraid that her eyes would encounter some
horrible spectre - or some masked figure of appalling aspect.
In a quarter of an hour after she had returned from the contemplation of
those mysterious proceedings that had filled her mind with such ineffable
horror, the Resurrection Man entered the bed-room.
A light was burning upon the table, and when the door opened the Rattlesnake
glanced with profound terror in that direction - for she feared lest he should
appear in his long dark cloak and black mask. She was inured to crime ;- but it
was that crime which she could contemplate face to face; and thus the idea that
she was in a house where deeds of unknown horror and machinations of an
undefined degree of blackness were the business of the terrible man with whom
her fortunes were now linked, prostrated all her courage, and filled her with
alarms the more profound, because so ominously vague.
In order to avoid the risk of betraying her trepidation to the Resurrection
Man, she soon affected to fall asleep; and, when at length slumber really
overtook her, her dreams were filled with gaunt forms clad in long black cloaks,
and wearing upon their countenances dark masks, through the holes of which their
eyes glared with fearful brightness.
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