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[-342-]

CHAPTER CXII.

VIOLA. 

THE Resurrection Man and the stock-broker pursued their way in silence to the very entrance of the alley leading to the side door of the dwelling of the former.
    There they halted, the Resurrection Man observing that they must wait for Mr. Chichester.
    Tomlinson took advantage of the interval to implore the Resurrection Man not to communicate to Chichester the secret relating to Michael Martin.
    "Do not be afraid," was the answer: "I am as close as Newgate-door when people conduct themselves as they ought to do. One individual for whom I do business never knows what I am engaged in for another - unless his own bad behaviour forces me to blab. So make yourself quite easy upon that score."
    Chichester now made his appearance; and the Resurrection Man led the way up the alley.
    Having opened the door of the house, he admitted his two companions into the back-room on the ground-floor, and then struck a light.
    The appearance of the place was precisely the same as when we described it on the first occasion of the Rattlesnake's visit to that department of the building.
    Tomlinson shuddered as he cast his eyes around the naked and gloomy walls.
    "Holloa!" ejaculated Chichester, taking up the mask, which lay on the table, in his hands: "I suppose that this —"
    "Hush!" said the Resurrection Man, glancing towards Tomlinson, as much as to desire Chichester not to allow the stock-broker to know more of the secrets connected with the treatment of the prisoner, than was possible; for Tidkins, who possessed a profound knowledge of human nature, was well aware that certain compunctious feelings still floated in the mind of Tomlinson, and that he was, after all, but a very coward in the ways of crime.
    Chichester covered the mask with the cloak, while the stock-broker was engaged in scanning the appearance of the chamber.
    When Tomlinson had completed his survey, and while he was still wondering where the means of communication with the apartment of the alleged lunatic could be, he happened to turn in the direction of the chimney-piece, when to his surprise he perceived the hearth-stone raised, and the Resurrection Man half down the subterranean staircase which that strangely contrived trap-door had disclosed to view.
    Tomlinson shuddered - and hesitated whether he should proceed further in the matter; but his scruples vanished when he heard the voice of the Resurrection Man desiring - or rather commanding him - to follow him down that flight of stone steps.
    Guided by Tidkins, who carried the candle, which was fixed in one of the large tin shades before described, Tomlinson descended the stairs, end found himself in a vaulted passage, about twenty feet long, and four broad. There were four strong doors, studded with thick iron nails, on each side.
    "You see, this house was built for a lunatic asylum many - many years ago, when treatment wasn't quite so humane as it is now," whispered the Resurrection Man to Tomlinson; "but it hadn't been used as such for the last thirty year. till the other day."
    "And did you hire the establishment for the [-343-] purpose of restoring it to its original uses?" demanded Tomlinson, shuddering, as he glanced around on the damp walls on which the strong light of the candle fell.
    "Not I, indeed," answered Tidkins, abruptly.
    C,hicbester had now descended into the subterranean passage.
    "This is the cell," said the Resurrection Man; and, approaching one of the doors, he placed a key in the lock.
    During the few seconds that intervened until the door was thrown open, Tomlinson experienced a perfect age of mental agony. He felt as if he were about to perpetrate some hideous crime - a murder of the blackest dye. The perspiration poured off his forehead: he trembled from head to foot; his brain felt oppressed; there was a weight upon the pit of his stomach; his eye balls throbbed.
    Yes - he was a very coward in guilt!
    The door flew open.
    The Resurrection Man entered first, and advanced into the middle of a small arched cell - a stone tomb, built to immure the living!
    A decent bed, a table, a chair, a wash-hand-stand, and a lamp, which was lighted, together with a few other necessaries, composed the furniture of that dungeon.
    And stretched upon the bed, with her clothes on, lay the victim of this cruel persecution.
    The glare of the Resurrection Man's candle fell upon a pale, but not unpleasing countenance: the long chesnut hair spread, dishevelled, over the arm that supported the head.
    The sleep of that lady was deep but uneasy - such a slumber as might be supposed to fall upon the eyes of the criminal the night before his execution.
    Her bosom heaved convulsively; and from her lips escaped a stifled sob as the three men entered the cell.
    Chichester was about to place his hand upon her shoulder in order to arouse her, when she opened her eyes, and started up to a sitting posture on the bed.
    "Villains!" she exclaimed: "would you murder me?"
    "No such thing, my dear," said Chichester. "We have merely come to terminate this unpleasant business in the way proposed by Mr. Tidkins."
    "The wretch!" cried Viola, casting a glance of doubt and uncertainty at both Tomlinson and the Resurrection Man.
    "Ah! I dare say I am, ma'am, in your estimation," said Tidkins, cooly. "Oh! you needn't look at me in that way, ma'am. I will acknowledge that I am your keeper in this establishment; and that it's me who has been good enough to bring you food every night."
    "The wretch!" again cried the unhappy lady, while a profound shudder seemed to convulse her whole frame as she surveyed the Resurrection Man from head to foot. " It is you, then," she continued, leaping from time bed, and confronting the miscreant, "it is you who have dared to practise upon my fears in a manner the most diabolical - the most cowardly ; - you who have chosen the solemn hour of midnight for your visits, and who have come in a guise calculated to fill my mind with the most horrible imaginings!"
    "Remember our agreement, ma'am," said Tidking, sternly. "You pledged yourself to forget the past upon certain conditions: we are here to fulfil these conditions. Do you mean to keep your word? or must we leave you to your solitude ?"
    "Who is this gentleman?" demanded Viola, casting a penetrating glance upon Tomlinson.
    "The stock-broker, my dear," answered Chichester: "the person who will receive your signature to a certain little paper —"
    "Then, sir," interrupted the lady, addressing herself to James Tomlinson, "as you exercise an honourable profession, prove yourself an honourable man in this respect. You see before you a powerless female, who was weak enough to bestow her hand upon a villain - a villain that has immured her, by the aid of another villain of even a deeper dye than himself, in this horrible vault! Perhaps they have told you that I am mad, sir; but do I speak like one whose reason has abandoned her? or would you receive the signature of a person who knew not what she signed? Oh! no, sir - you cannot believe that I am in mental darkness! you must perceive the full extent of the villany that has been practised against me, for the purpose of plundering me of that property which I received from my former husband! Oh! if you be a man possessing one spark of honour - as I must suppose that you are —"
    "Come - a truce to all this," said Mr. Chichester. "The gentleman to whom you are addressing yourself knows the whole affair, and will act with and for me."
    "Is this true, sir?" asked the unhappy lady, casting a glance of mingled terror and supplication upon the stock-broker, and clasping her hands together: "can this be true? Is it possible that a person exercising an honourable profession can league with wretches of their stamp?"  - and she pointed disdainfully towards the Resurrection Man and Chichester. "Oh! no, it cannot be! At least, hear me! I married that man —"
    "Don't I tell you that Mr. Tomlinson knows all," cried Chichester, impatiently. "We did not come to debate upon the past, but to settle for the future."
    "You have come, then, to plunder a weak, helpless, persecuted female," continued Viola. "But do you know, sir, the terrible means that have been adopted to wring from me a consent to part with half the property which was bequeathed to me by a man that loved me - a man who toiled for years and years to amass the fortune that must now be devoted to the extravagances of a spendthrift? Would you believe to what an extent the cruelty, the cowardice of that man," - and she pointed to Tidkins,- "has been carried to terrify me into compliance with the demands of his employer? Sir, for three weeks and three days have I been a prisoner in this dungeon; and every night - without fail - has that miscreant visited me in a disguise which, in such a place, and at such an hour, would make the stoutest heart palpitate with horror, - a disguise of such a nature that this is the first time that I have seen his face; for on the fatal evening when I was seized and brought to this dungeon, every thing was involved in utter obscurity ; - and then, when the door opened again, and a light gleamed in upon me, - O God! it was carried by a person dressed in a dark cloak and a white mask - like a being of another world!"
    "Surely you did not go to such extremes as this?" exclaimed Tomlinson, turning sharply round upon the Resurrection Man.
    "Whatever I did, or did not, is nothing to the present business," replied Tidkins, brutally. " If anything is going to be done, let it be done at once; if not, the lady will remain here till she [-344-] chooses to consent to the terms proposed to her."
    Tomlinson glanced, with a look of deep sympathy, towards the lady, who stood in an attitude of supplication and despair before him. Her dishevelled hair hung loosely over her shoulders: her countenance, though not beautiful, was naturally interesting, and was now rendered more so by its extreme pallor and by the expression of profound melancholy which it wore; and her mild blue eyes ware raised towards him as if to implore his aid - his compassion.
    "Now, what is to be done?" demanded Chichester.
    "It is for this gentleman to decide," said the lady, still gazing upon Tomlinson's countenance. " You may well suppose that I am desirous to recover the liberty which has thus been infamously violated ; - but if you, sir, possess one germ of generous feeling - one spark of honour - one gleam of humanity in your soul, do not - do not lend yourself to this infamy! Command those men to restore me to freedom - they cannot refuse to obey you! Oh! sir - hear me - do not avert your head: hear me - hear me, I implore you!"
    "This is quite enough of folly for one time," ejaculated the Resurrection Man: "I have been an idiot myself to listen to it so long. Mr. Tomlinson, are you prepared to receive the signature of this lady to the deed that will transfer to her husband a certain portion of her property?" - then, approaching his lips to the stock-broker's ear, he murmured in a low whisper, "Hesitate - and I denounce your late clerk within an hour!"
    These words operated like magic upon the weak-minded and timid James Tomlinson. He no longer beheld the supplicating woman before him: he only saw his own danger.
    Accordingly, he advanced towards the table, drew forth a document from his pocket, and said, in a cold tone, "I am ready to receive that lady's signature."
    The Resurrection Man produced an ink -bottle and pens (with which he had purposely provided himself beforehand) from his pocket; and placed them upon the table.
    Tomlinson seated himself in the chair, and proceeded to fill up the paper.
    "In whose favour is the transfer to be made?" he demanded.
    "Then, sir, you are determined to league with my oppressors?" said Viola, in a tone expressive of concentrated feelings of indignation and despair.
    "Madam, I am unfortunately compelled —"
    "Say no more, sir," interrupted the lady, with a contemptuous curl of the lip. "If you came hither a villain, I must be mad indeed to hope to make you an honest man by any reasoning of mine."
    "Madam, you wrong me, by heavens!" ejaculated Tomlinson, throwing down the pen.
    But at the same moment his wrist was seized with a grasp of iron, and a well-known voice whispered in his ear, "Hesitate another moment, and I denounce you and your cashier together!"
    Tomlinson became docile as a child, resumed the pen, and said, " In whose favour is this transfer to be made?"
    "In that of Mr. Arthur Chichester," answered Viola, firmly.
    "What is the amount to be so transferred?"
    "Eight thousand pounds, being part of a sum now standing in my name in the Three-and-a-Half per cents.," replied the injured woman, still with an outward composure, which was not, however, the redaction of her inward feelings.
    Tomlinson filled up the paper according to the instructions which he received.
    Then, addressing himself to Viola, but without turning his eyes towards her, he said, "You are aware, madam, that this document is ante-dated by two months?"
    "I am, sir."
    "Nothing now remains, then, madam, save for you to sign it."
    Viola advanced slowly towards the table, took up the pen, and seemed to be about to affix her signature to the deed, when - as if suddenly recollecting herself - she turned towards the stock-broker, and exclaimed, "What guarantee have I that my freedom is to follow this concession on my part?"
    "To-morrow evening, at dusk, you shall be conveyed home," exclaimed Chichester, seeing that Tomlinson gave no answer.
    "And why not this evening - now - the moment that document is signed?"
    " Because I should prefer laying my hand on the money first," was the reply.
    "Mr. Tomlinson," cried the lady, " I have more confidence in you than in either of these men: I am willing even to believe that some circumstance, unknown to me, compels you unwillingly to become their instrument on this occasion."
    "By heavens, you speak the truth, madam!" ejaculated Tomlinson, warmly.
    "I believe you. Now, sir, promise me on your most solemn word of honour - by every thing you consider sacred - that to-morrow evening at nine o'clock I shall be released from this dungeon."
    "I promise - I swear that you shall be conveyed home to-morrow evening at nine o'clock," answered Tomlinson. " But, in return, madam, will you pledge yourself as solemnly that your lips shall ever remain closed with regard to this proceeding?"
    "Oh! yes - I do - I do," answered the poor creature, clasping her hands together - for she could even feel grateful to the man who, while leagued with others against her, yet pledged himself to her release from that horrible cell.
    "Secresy on all sides is one of the conditions of the present arrangement," said Chichester.
    "And if the lady breaks that condition," added the Resurrection Man, "she would repent it; for let her be surrounded by friends - let her be protected by a regiment of soldiers - let her take refuge in the Queen's palace, I would still find means to tear her away, and bring her back to this dungeon."
    Tomlinson and the lady both cast a glance of mingled horror and surprise at the formidable individual who thus spoke so confidently of his power and resolution.
    There was a moment's pause.
    Viola then took up the pen, and, with a firm hand, affixed her signature to the document.
    "I am now at your mercy," she said, in a tone rather of supplication than of menace or mistrust.
    "You need not be afraid that we shall deceive you, my dear," observed Chichester, with a smile.
    A reply rose to the lips of his injured wife; but she suppressed it - though with difficulty. She was no doubt afraid to irritate the man in whose power she still found herself, by giving utterance to her thoughts.
    "No - there's nothing to be afraid of," said the Resurrection Man. "The lady has fulfilled her part of the bargain, and we will perform ours. As for her keeping this little business dark, I feel confident about that; she would not like to stand the chance, of coming here again: and, as for making a [-345-]

disturbance merely to get back the money, that would be useless, when once it had found its way into the pockets of her husband."
    Having concluded this brutal speech, the Resurrection Man desired his companions to await his return for a moment, while he proceeded to fetch the lady her provisions for the next four-and-twenty hours.
    He accordingly hastened up the steps to the little back room, whence he speedily returned with his basket in his hand.
    "You see that I expected how all this would end," he observed, with a hideous smile; "and so I prepared a little treat for the lady. Here's a prime fowl; that brown paper contains ham; here's a new loaf; and this is a bottle of as excellent sherry as one need drink."
    The Resurrection Man placed the articles, as he enumerated them, upon the table; and Viola was pleased as she contemplated them - because she perceived in this indulgence an earnest that the promise of her persecutors would be fulfilled with respect to her restoration to liberty.
    "We must now take leave of Mrs. Chichester," said Tidkins. "To-morrow evening, ma'am, at nine precisely, you shall be free."
    The three men then left the dungeon.
    But ere the door closed upon the inmate once more, she moved forward, caught Tomlinson by the hand, and said in an emphatic tone, "Remember your solemn promise!"
    "Do not be alarmed, madam. There can be no interest to detain you here beyond to-morrow."
    Viola retreated into the dungeon; and the door was shut.
    She heard the three persons who had just left her retire from the subterranean prison: the closing of the trap-door also fell upon her ears.
    Clasping her hands together, she exclaimed, "God grant that they may not deceive me!"
    And then a vague terror stole upon her, - a horrible, an absorbing dread lest those men intended to immure her for life in that solitary cell, or else restore her to liberty only when they should have extorted from her the remainder of her fortune.
    "Oh! fool that I was, to sign that paper!" she exclaimed, in a paroxysm of despair. " Will men, who are capable of such villany, such atrocity [-346-] as this that they have practised towards me - will they remain satisfied with a portion of the gold that has allured them to violate every principle of honour and humanity? Oh! no - no! and perhaps - to conceal their crime the more effectually - they will not hesitate to imbrue their bands in my blood!"
    Overpowered by this idea, the unhappy woman shrew herself upon the bed, and wept bitterly.
    That torrent of tears relieved her; and in a few minutes she grew somewhat composed.
    Then came reflections of a less painful nature.
    "Still - still there was something honest in the appearance of that stock-broker: there was something feeling in his words! He was performing a task against which his soul revolted. He commiserated my condition: oh! yes - he sympathised with me! In him is my hope - my only hope! I need not quite despair!"
    She thus reasoned herself into a state of comparative calmness; and then a feeling of weakness came over her. She grew faint - her head swam round.
    She rose, and walked up and down the cell to dispel the sensation that thus oppressed her; and suddenly she recollected that many hours had e1apsed since she had eaten any thing. Her eyes fell upon the viands which the Resurrection Man had placed on the table; and she hastened to break her long fast. When she had partaken of a morsel of food, she poured some wine into a glass and drank it.
    Scarcely, however, had she swallowed the liquor, when she felt herself overpowered by a deep drowsiness; the glass dropped from her hands; she rose from the chair, advanced a few paces, and then fell upon the bed in a state of insensibility.

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