chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
| > next chapter >
AT two o'clock precisely the funeral entered the cemetery.
Four villanous-looking fellows supported a com-[-327-]mon
coffin, over which was thrown a scanty pall, full of holes, and so ragged at the
edges that it seemed as if it were embellished with a fringe.
Mr. Banks, with a countenance expressing only a moderate
degree of grief, attended as a mourner, accompanied by the surgeon and the
Buffer. The truth is that Mr. Banks had a graduated scale of funeral expressions
of countenance. When he was uncommonly well paid, his physiognomy denoted a
grief more poignant than that of even the nearest relatives of the deceased:
when he was indifferently paid, as he considered himself to be in. the present
case, he could not afford tears, although he was not so economical as to
dispense with a white pocket-handkerchief.
In front of the procession walked the Resurrection Man, clad
in a surplice of dingy hue, and holding an enormous prayer-book in his hand.
This miscreant performed one of the most holy - one of the most sacred of
Start not, gentle reader! This is no exaggeration - no
extravagance on our part. In all the poor districts in London, the undertakers
have their own men to solemnise the burial rites of those who die in poverty, or
who have no friends to superintend their passage to the grave.
The Resurrection Man,- a villain stained with every crime - a
murderer of the blackest dye - a wretch whose chief pursuit was the violation of
the tomb, - the Resurrection Man read the funeral service over the unknown who
was now consigned to the grave.
The ceremony ended; and Jones hastened to throw the earth
back again into the grave.
The surgeon exchanged a few words with the Resurrection Man,
and then departed towards his home.
Mr. Banks and the Buffer accompanied the Resurrection Man to
his own abode, where they found a copious repast ready to be served up to them
by the Rattlesnake. The Buffer's wife was also there; and the party sat down
with a determination to enjoy themselves.
To accomplish this most desirable aim there were ample means.
A huge round of beef smoked upon the board, flanked with sundry pots of porter;
and on a side-table stood divers bottles of "Booth's best."
"Well," said Mr. Banks, "the worst part now is
over. We have got the body under ground —"
"And we must soon get it up again," added the
Resurrection Man drily. "You are sure the old woman put the money in the
"I see her do it," answered the undertaker.
"She wrapped it up in a old stocking which belonged to
the blessed defunct —"
"Blessed defunct indeed!" said the Rattlesnake,
with a coarse laugh.
"You see, ma'am, I can't divest myself of my
professional lingo," observed Mr. Banks. " It comes natural to me now.
But as I was a saying, I see the old woman wrap the thirty-one quids up in the
toe of a stocking, and put it on his breast —"
"On the shroud, or underneath?" demanded the
Resurrection Man eagerly.
"Underneath," replied Banks: "I took good care
of that. I knowed very well that you'd want to draw the body up by the head, and
that the money must be so placed as to come along with it."
"Of course," said the Buffer; "or else we
should nave to dig out all the earth, and break open the lid of the coffin; and
that takes twice as long as to do the job t'other way."
"At what time is the sawbones coming down to the
grave-yard? " asked Banks.
"He isn't coming at all," returned the Resurrection
Man,: "but I promised that we would be at his place at half-past one
"Too early!" exclaimed the Buffer. "We can't
think of beginning work afore twelve. The place ain't quiet till then."
"Well, and an hour will do the business," said the
Resurrection Man. "Besides, the saw-bones will set up for us. Now then,
Meg, clear away, and let's have the blue ruin and hot water. I must just write a
short note to a gentleman with whom I have a little business of a private
nature; and you can run and take it to the post presently."
The Resurrection Man seated himself at a little side-table,
and penned a hasty letter, which he folded, sealed, and addressed to
"ARTHUR CHICHESTER, ESQ., Cambridge Heath, near Hackney."
Margaret Flathers took it to the post-office, which was in
the immediate neighbourhood.
On her return, the Resurrection Man said, "Now you and
Moll try your hands at some punch, - and make it pretty stiff too - just as you
like it yourselves."
This command was obeyed; and the three men betook themselves
to their pipes, while the women set to work to brew a mighty jorum of gin-punch
in an earthenware pitcher that held about a gallon and a half. The potent
beverage was speedily served up; and the conversation grew animated. Even the
moroseness of the Resurrection Man partially gave way before the exhilarating
fluid; and he narrated a variety of incidents connected with the pursuits of his
Then the women sang songs, and Mr. Banks told a number of
anecdotes showing how he was enabled to undertake funerals at a cheaper rate
than many of his competitors, because he had always taken care to league himself
with body-snatchers, to whom he gave information of a nature serviceable to
them, and for which they were well contented to pay a handsome price. Thus,
whenever he was intrusted with the interment of a corpse which he fancied would
make a "good subject," he communicated with his friends the
resurrectionists, and in a night or two the body was exhumed for the benefit of
some enterprising surgeon.
In this manner the time slipped away;-hour after hour passed;
supper was served up; "another glass, and another pipe," was the order
of the evening; and although these three men sate drinking and smoking to an
immoderate degree, they rose from their chairs, at half-past eleven o'clock, but
little the worse for their debauch.
The Resurrection Man filled a flask with pure gin, and
consigned it to his pocket.
"We must now be off," he said. "You, Banks,
can go home and get the cart ready: the Buffer and me will go our way."
"At what time shall I come with the cart?" demanded
"At a quarter past one to a second - neither more nor
less," answered Tidkins.
Banks then took his departure.
"Are you going to stay here with Meg, or what?"
asked the Buffer of his wife.
"I shall go to bed," said the Rattlesnake hastily.
"Tony can take the key with him."
"Then I shall be off home," observed Mall.
"Besides, Mrs. Smith may think it odd if we both remain out so late."
[-328-] The Buffer's wife
accordingly took her leave.
"Now come, Jack," said the Resurrection Man.
"We have no time to lose. There's the tools to get out."
The two men descended the stairs, and issued from the house.
They hastened up the little alley: the Resurrection Man opened the door of the
ground-floor rooms; and they entered that part of the house together.
"Bustle about," said Tidkins, when they found
themselves in the front room; arid having lighted a candle, he hastily gathered
together the implements which they required.
Laden with the tools, the two men were about to leave the
room, when the Buffer suddenly exclaimed, "What the devil was that? I could
have sworn I heard some one moaning."
"Nonsense," said the Resurrection Man ; but, as he
spoke, he observed by the glare of the candle, that the countenance of his
companion had suddenly become ashy pale.
"Well, I never was more deceived in my life,"
observed the Buffer.
"You certainly never was," answered the
Resurrection Man: then, hastily extinguishing the light, he pushed the Buffer
into the alley, and locked the door carefully behind himself.
The two body-snatchers then proceeded to the scene of their
We take leave of them for a short space, and follow the
movements of the Rattlesnake.
It was not without an object that this woman had got rid of
the company of the Buffer's wife, by declaring that she was about to retire to
She permitted ten minutes to elapse after the Resurrection
Man and his companion had left the room then, deeming that sufficient time had
been allowed for them to provide themselves with the implements necessary for
their night's work, she started from her chair, Involuntarily exclaiming aloud,
"Now for the great secret!"
From an obscure corner of a shelf in the bedroom she drew
forth a bunch of skeleton keys, which she had procured on the preceding day.
She then provided herself with a dark-lantern, and descended
to the alley.
In five minutes she lighted upon a key, after many vain
attempts with the others, which turned in the lock. The door opened, and she
entered the ground floor.
Having closed the door, she immediately proceeded into the
back room, the appearance of which was the same as when she last visited it. The
mysterious cloak and mask were there; but in the cupboard, which was before
empty, were now a loaf and a bottle of water.
"Then there is a human being concealed somewhere
hereabouts!" she said to herself: "or else why that food! And it must
have been the supply of bread and water that I saw him put into his
basket the other night."
She listened; but no sound fell upon her ear. Then she
carefully examined the room, to discover any trap-door or secret means of
communication with a dungeon or subterranean place. She knew, by the situation
of the house in respect to those on either side of it, that there could be no
inner room level with the ground-floor; she therefore felt convinced that if
there were any secret chamber or cell connected with the premises, it must be
She scrutinized every inch of the floor, and could perceive
no signs of a trap-door. The boards were all firm and tight. She advanced
towards the chimney, which was divested of its grate; and suddenly she felt the
hearth-stone move with a slight oscillation beneath her feet.
Her countenance became animated with joy; she felt convinced
that her perseverance in examining that room was about to be rewarded.
She placed the lantern upon the floor, and endeavoured to
raise the atone; but it seemed fixed in its setting, although it trembled as she
Still she was not disheartened. She scrutinized the boards in
the immediate vicinity of the stone; but her search was unavailing. No evidence
of a concealed lock - no trace of a secret spring met her eyes. Yet she was
confident that she was on the right scent. As she turned herself round, while
crawling upon her hands and knees the better to pursue her examination, her
rustling silk dress disturbed a portion of the masonry in the chimney, where a
grate had once been fixed.
A brick fell out.
The heart of the Rattlesnake now beat quickly.
She approached the lantern to the cavity left by the
dislodged brick; and at the bottom of the recess she espied a small iron ring.
She pulled it without hesitation; the ring yielded to her
touch, and drew out a thick wire to the distance of nearly a foot.
The Rattlesnake now tried once more to raise the stone, and
succeeded. The stone was fixed at one end with stout iron hinges to one of the
beams that supported the floor, and thus opened like a trapdoor.
When raised, it disclosed a narrow flight of stone steps, at
the bottom of which the most perfect obscurity reigned.
The Rattlesnake now paused - in alarm.
She longed to penetrate into those mysterious depths - she
panted to dive into that subterranean darkness; but she was afraid.
All those terrible reminiscences which were associated with
her knowledge of the Resurrection Man, rushed to her mind; and she trembled to
descend into the vault at her feet, for fear she should never return.
These terrors were too much for her. She, moreover, recalled
to mind that nearly an hour had now elapsed since the Resurrection Man and the
Buffer had departed; and she knew not how speedily they might conclude their
task. Besides, some unforeseen accident or sudden interruption might compel them
to beat a retreat homewards ; and she knew full well that if she were discovered
there, death would be her portion.
She accordingly determined to postpone any further
examination into the mysteries of that house until some further occasion.
Having closed the stone trap-door and replaced the brick in
the wall of the chimney, she hastened back to the upper-floor, where she
speedily retired to bed.
We may as well observe that during the time she was in the
lower room, no sound of a human tongue met her ears.
But perhaps the victim slept!
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
| > next chapter >