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[-310-]    

CHAPTER C.

THE 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 Rattlesnake.
    "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 - no 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 Rattlesnake.
    Unable to restrain her curiosity any longer - and, perhaps, influenced by 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 singularly-built house.
    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 light within.
    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 house.
    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 no means 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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