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[-326-]

CHAPTER CVII.

A DISCOVERY.

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 religious rites!
    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 coffin?"
    "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 o'clock to-night."
    "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 criminal career.
    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 the undertaker.
    "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 midnight labour.
    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 rest.
    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 underneath.
    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 touched it.
    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!

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