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[-361-]  

CHAPTER CXVII.

THE RATTLESNAKE. 

HERE the Rattlesnake abruptly broke off. 
    The Resurrection Man was asleep in his chair. It had not been without a motive that the woman so readily complied with the desire of the Resurrection Man that she should amuse him with the history of her life; and as she saw him gradually becoming more and more drowsy as her narrative progressed, an ill-concealed expression of joy animated her countenance.
    At length, when the hand of the watch over the mantelpiece pointed to eight, and the Resurrection Man fell back in his chair fast asleep, she could hardly suppress an ejaculation of triumph.
    She broke off abruptly in the midst of her narrative, and listened.
    The nasal sounds that emanated from her companion convinced her that he slept.
    Not a moment was now to be lost.
    She knew full well that whenever Anthony Tidkins was overtaken by a nap in such a manner as the present, he invariably awoke a short time before the hour at which be had any business to transact; for that strange but fearful individual exercised a marvellous control over all his natural wants and propensities.
    Rising cautiously from her seat, the Rattlesnake advanced towards the Resurrection Man, and steadfastly examined his countenance.
    [-362-] There could be no doubt that he slept profoundly.
    She was, however, resolved to assure herself as far as possible on that head; and she purposely agitated the fire-irons against each other.
    The Resurrection Man started slightly, but did not awake.
    Perfectly satisfied on this point, Margaret Flathers hastened into the adjoining room, and put on her bonnet and shawl.
    Having provided herself with her skeleton keys and some lucifer matches, she descended the stairs and went out of the house.
    It was not, however, without an intense apprehension of danger that she proceeded to the execution of her scheme. Were the Resurrection Man to awake suddenly, and entertain any suspicion on discovering her absence, she knew that her life would not be worth an hour's purchase.
    Still the temptation that now lured her to dare this terrific chance was so great - it was irresistible!
    Her hesitation, when she stood in the street, was only of a moment's existence; and, calling all her courage to her aid, she plunged into the alley.
    The door in that dark passage was opened in another moment: she closed and locked it carefully, and then entered the back room on the ground floor.
    Having obtained a light, she raised the mysterious trap-door, and boldly descended the steps leading into the subterranean passage.
    One of her keys soon opened the door of the cell in which the Resurrection Man had buried his treasure; but her joy at this disappearance of the only difficulty which she had apprehended, was adulterated by a sentiment of invincible terror, as she still thought of the possibility of detection by him whose desperate character inspired her with this tremendous alarm.
    Nevertheless, she was resolved to dare every thing In the enterprise which she had undertaken.
    "Fortune seemed to favour me this afternoon when I watched him," she murmured to herself; "and surely it will not desert me at the last moment."
    Then she boldly entered the cell.
    To take up the stone which covered the treasure, and possess herself of the bag that contained the gold over which she had a few hours previously beheld the Resurrection Man gloating in so strange a manner, - this was the work of only a few moments.
    She replaced the stone: she clutched the bag with a feeling of wild joy commingled with terrific alarm; and she was hurrying from the cell, when something at the opposite side of the pas. sage met her view, and for a moment riveted her to the spot.
    A light was streaming from beneath the door of a dungeon facing the one on the threshold of which she stood.
    Circumstances, which in the excitement of her present daring proceedings she had forgotten, now rushed like an overwhelming torrent to her memory.
    The mysterious visits of the Resurrection Man in a mask and dark cloak to that subterranean place, - the bread and water which she had seen in the cupboard up stairs, - and the fearful scream that on one occasion had emanated from the depths where she now found herself,  -all these circumstances flashed very vividly across her mind.
    There was no longer any doubt: a human being - a female, most probably, judging by the tone of that agonising shriek which now seemed to ring in her ears at if its vibration had never once ceased - was immured in that dungeon whence the light streamed!
    This conviction dissipated the alarm Into which the sudden glare of that light had plunged the Rattlesnake.
    Urged by several motives, - curiosity, a desire to obtain the reinforcement of a companion in case of the sudden appearance of the Resurrection Man, and, to do her justice, a feeling of compassion for a victim whom she believed to be of her own sex, - urged, we say, by these motives, which all presented themselves to her mind with the rapidity of lightning, the Rattlesnake hastened to open the door of that dungeon whence the light emanated.
    She boldly entered the cell; and at the same moment Viola awoke.
    Starting up from the bed, that unhappy lady· glanced wildly around, and exclaimed, "Where am I?"
    "Hush! not a word," said the Rattlesnake, advancing towards her. "I am come to save you - follow me! "
    Viola did not hesitate a single moment: the manner in which the woman addressed her, and a profound sense of the certainty that no treachery was needed to draw her into any position worse than her present one, since she was so completely in the power of the terrible master of that establishment, induced her to yield instantaneous compliance with the directions of the Rattlesnake.
    "Fear nothing, lady," observed the latter; "only be silent, and lose not a moment."
    She then hastened from the cell, followed by Viola, who did not even wait to put on her bonnet and shawl.
    They ascended the steps leading to the back room, both hearts palpitating violently.
    The Rattlesnake did not stop to close the mouth of the subterranean vaults, but hastened to apply the skeleton key to the door leading into the alley.
    Her hand trembled to such an extent that she could not turn the key.
    "O heavens!" she exclaimed in a tone of despair, "if he should come!"
    "Have you the right key?" demanded Viola in a hurried tone.
    "The one that has opened it before," replied Margaret ;-" but it appears that - it will not turn - and, ah! my God, I hear steps approaching!"
    The affrighted woman fell upon her knees, as if already to supplicate for her life.
    Viola listened during half a minute of the moat agonising suspense; but no sound from without met her ears.
    "It was a false alarm," she exclaimed; then applying her band to the key, she turned it with ease, for fear alone had prevented the Rattlesnake from moving it.
    In another instant the door was opened.
    "Thank God!" cried Margaret Flathers, starting from her suppliant posture, and clutching the bag of gold beneath her left arm.
    "Come - let us not lose a moment," said Viola; and she darted into the alley, followed by the Rattlesnake.
    There was no one to oppose their egress ; but they could scarcely believe that they were really safe even when they found themselves in the street.
    And now they ran - they ran, as if that terrible individual whom they both feared so profoundly [-363-] were at their heels;- they ran, doubting the fact, the one that she was free, the other that she was safe ;- they ran - they ran, reckless of the way which they were pursuing, but each alike impressed with the conviction that it was impossible to place too great a distance between them and the dwelling of the Resurrection Man!
    Margaret Flathers carried her treasure as if it were a thing of no weight: Viola Chichester forgot that she had neither bonnet nor shawl to protect her against the bitter chill of that wintry evening.
    And thus, together, did they pursue their way - the virtuous wife and the abandoned woman,- the former thinking not what might be the character of her companion-the latter having now no curiosity to know the circumstances that had plunged the lady by her side into the captivity from which she had just been released.
    At length they reached the New Church facing the Bethnal Green Road; and there they halted, both completely out of breath and exhausted.
    "We are now safe," said Margaret Flathers.
    "We are now safe," echoed Viola Chichester.
    "Still this place is lonely —"
    "And if that dreadful man were on our track  —"
    "We might yet repent  —"
    "Yes - we might yet repent our proceeding."
    The minds of those two women - so distinct in all other respects - were now entirely congenial in reference to one grand absorbing idea.
    In spite of the alarm which yet filled their imaginations, they lingered against the palings surrounding the field at the back of the New Church, for they were too exhausted to continue their flight for a few moments.
    That interval of rest enabled them to direct their attention to other matters besides the immense danger from which they had just escaped, and the sense of which was still uppermost in their minds.
    "Which way are you going, madam?" asked the Rattlesnake, who saw by Viola's air - in spite of the disadvantages under which her outward appearance laboured - that she was not one of the poorer orders.
    "My own house is close by," answered Mrs. Chichester. "But you - whither are you going? Will it not be better for you to come with me - and —"
    "No, lady," replied Margaret Flathers; "you are not aware who and what I am, or you would not make me that generous offer."
    "Generous!" exclaimed Viola: "have you not saved me from a fearful dungeon? It is true that my persecutors promised to release me this evening: but, alas I their word was not to be depended upon."
    "Ah! madam," said Margaret, "if you trusted to Anthony Tidkins to give you your freedom, you would have been woefully disappointed - unless, indeed, he had no longer any interest in keeping you a prisoner."
    "Well - well," observed Viola, "we will talk of all that hereafter. In the mean time, I insist upon your accompanying me to my home."
    "I will see you safe to your own door, madam," returned Margaret; "and there I shall leave you."
    "And why will you refuse an asylum at my abode? " demanded Viola.
    "I dare not remain in London," answered the Rattlesnake. "Oh! you know not the perseverance, the craft, and the wickedness of the man from whose power you have just escaped. But there is one favour, madam, which you can grant me  —"
    "Name it," exclaimed Viola: "it is already conferred, if within my power."
    "You can have no difficulty in fulfilling my request," said the Rattlesnake, "because it is simple, and consists only in forbearance. I mean, madam, that you will amply reward me for the service I have been able to render you, if you will promise not to take any measures to punish or molest Anthony Tidkins. He has been more or less good to me; and I should not like to know that he was injured through me. Besides, his revenge would only be the more terrible, if ever you or I again fell into his hands."
    "I give you the promise which you require," said Viola; " although I must confess that it is somewhat repugnant to my feelings to allow such a wretch to be at large with impunity."
    "But for my sake, lady  —"
    "For your sake, I give my most solemn pledge not to do aught that may injure that man on account of his past offences."
    "A thousand thanks!" ejaculated the Rattlesnake. " Let us now proceed. But, heavens I you have got nothing on your head nor on your shoulders; and I did not notice that before! Take my bonnet and shawl, madam - I am more accustomed to the cold than you."
    "No," said Viola; "in five minutes I shall be at my own house. Come - let us proceed."
    Mrs. Chichester and the Rattlesnake hastened towards the Cambridge Heath gate.
    On reaching the door of her abode, Viola again pressed her companion to accept of her hospitality but the Rattlesnake firmly, though respectfully, refused the offer.
   " In another hour, madam," she said, "I shall not be in London. Then only shall I consider myself safe."
    "At least allow me to supply you with some money for your immediate purposes. I have none about me, and I know not whether my husband has left a single shilling in the house; but any of my tradesmen in the neighbourhood will honour my draft; and if you will walk in for a few minutes  —"
    "Thank you, madam - thank you for your kind consideration but I am well supplied;" and she shook the bag that she hugged beneath her arm.
    Viola heard the jingling of the gold, and ceased to press her offer.
    "At all events," she observed, "should you ever require a friend, do not hesitate to apply to Mrs. Chichester."
    "Mrs. Chichester!" ejaculated the Rattlesnake: "surely I have heard that name before? Oh! I recollect - I have taken to the post-office letters from Tidkins to a Mr. Chichester, who, I suppose, must be your husband."
    "The same," said Viola, with a profound sigh.
    "Farewell, madam," cried the Rattlesnake: "I feel that I shall not breathe with freedom until I am far beyond London. Farewell."
    "Farewell," said Mrs. Chichester, extending her hand towards her deliverer.
    Margaret Flathers pressed it warmly, and then hurried away.
    Viola knocked at the door, and was speedily admitted once more into her own dwelling.
    The servant who received her, uttered an ejaculation of surprise when she beheld the condition in which her mistress had returned.
    "Make fast the door with chain and bolt, and bring me the key," said Viola, taking no heed of her domestic's exclamation. "See also that the [-364-] shutters of the windows are well secured; and bring me your master's pistols."
    "Mr. Chichester came this morning early, ma'am," returned the servant, "and took away every thing belonging to him."
    "Heaven be thanked!" cried Viola. "Perhaps he will molest me no more? God grant that the separation may be eternal! Nevertheless, secure the door and the windows: this house is not safe! Tomorrow I shall leave it, and hire lodgings in the very heart of London. There, perhaps," she murmured to herself, "no violence can be offered to me !"

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