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[-413-]

CHAPTER CXXXVI.

THE SECRET TRIBUNAL.

    HALF AN hour after the occurrences just related, a strange and terribly romantic scene took place at the Gipsies' Palace in Saint Giles's.
    The principal room on the ground-floor was lighted up with numerous candles. At the head of the long table sate King Zingary, clad in a black robe or gown, and wearing a black cap upon his head.
    The gipsies, who had all dressed themselves in the interval which had occurred since the alarm, were seated at the board,  the men on on. side, the women on the other.
    Aischa alone was absent.
    At the lower end of the table sat Margaret Flathers,  her countenance deadly pale, and her eyes wildly glancing upon those around her, as if to inquire the meaning of this solemn conclave.
    Skilligalee's [sic, ed] was also present; but his looks were downcast and sombre.
    Such an assembly, in the middle of the night, and succeeding so rapidly upon the dread incidents which had already occurred, was enough to strike terror to the soul of Margaret Flathers; for she knew that this meeting, at which so much awful ceremony seemed to preside, bore some reference to herself.
    At length Zingary spoke.
    "Margaret," he said, in a solemn tone, "you are now in the presence of the secret tribunal of the united races of Zingarees. Our association, existing by conventional rules and laws of its own making, and to a certain degree independent of those which govern the country wherein we dwell, has been compelled to frame severe statutes to meet extreme cases. One of our customs is hospitality; and you have seen enough of us to know that we ask but few questions of those who seek our charity or our protection. It necessarily happens that persons who so come amongst us, learn much of our mode of life and many of our proceedings. But the basest ingratitude alone could reward our generous [-414-] hospitality with a treacherous betrayal of any matters, the communication of which might militate against our interests. Although we have no sympathy and no dealings with the thieves and rogues of this great metropolis, we never refuse them the security of this establishment, when accident or previous acquaintance with its existence leads them to seek the safety of its walls. This conduct on our part has been pursued upon grounds of generosity and policy;  generosity, because we believe that half the criminals in existence are rather the victims of bad laws than of their own perverse natures;  policy, because we wish to keep on good terms with all orders and classes who live in violation of the law. It, how ever, behoves us to adopt as much precaution as possible against treachery, and to punish treachery where we detect it, and when the perpetrator of it is in our power. With this view the secret tribunal was instituted at the same time that this establishment was first opened, more than a century ago. Margaret, you are now in the presence of that tribunal, and you are accused of treachery and ingratitude of the very blackest dye."
    This address was delivered with a solemnity which made a deep impression upon all present. No slang phrases, no low synonymes disfigured the language of King Zingary. He spoke in a manner becoming the chief of a vastly ramified association which had made laws for the protection of its own interests.
    Margaret surveyed the aged individual who thus addressed her, with wild astonishment and vague alarm. But so confused were her ideas that she could not make any reply.
    "What are the facts of this case?" continued King Zingary, after a pause: "you, Margaret, are discovered by us one morning, sleeping in the open air, and nearly dead with the cold. You have a treasure with you, which we might have appropriated altogether to ourselves, but a third of which has been held at your disposal  yours at any time you might choose to demand it. You come amongst us; you are treated by us with even more than usual attention and kindness; and you are allowed to associate with our wives and daughters without the least restraint. A fortnight scarcely elapses, when you conduct a robber into my room, and point to him the place where he may find the treasure belonging to the association."
    Hear me  hear me!" ejaculated Margaret, now recovering the power of speech; "hear me  and I will explain all."
    "Speak," said the king.
    "I am not guilty of premeditated ingratitude," continued the Rattlesnake: "I awoke in the middle of the night, and found a fiend in human shape hanging over me. That man was the one whom I had been so anxious to avoid  of whom I was so afraid. I admit that I had robbed him of the gold which you found with me; but I was not bound to tell you that before now. Well  I awoke, and he was hanging over me! How he came into the house, you best know; how he knew that I was an inmate of it, I cannot explain; how he discovered my room is also a mystery. Nevertheless  he did find me out; and with dreadful threats of instant death he made me lead him to your apartment to get back his gold. That is the whole truth."
    A smile of incredulity played upon the lips of Zingary.
    "Why did you not give the alarm, when once you were in my chamber?" he demanded. "Even if I am old and feeble, was not Morcar there? and could you not in one moment have summoned the others to your aid, by touching the bell-rope within your reach?"
    "And, had I done so, that instant would have been my last. The fearful man, whom I obeyed, would have shot me dead on the spot," answered the Rattlesnake.
    "And do you not know how to die rather than betray your companions?" asked the king.
    "I am but a woman  a weak woman," exclaimed Margaret; "and  oh! no  no  I could not die so horrible a death!"
    "Our women would die in such a cause," said Zingary; "and those who join us and live with us must learn our customs and our habits."
    "Remember how sudden was the appearance of that man  how awful were his threats  in the middle of the night  and a knife, I may say, at my very throat  "
    "It is a most extraordinary thing, that the very man whom you so much dreaded should have happened to seek our hospitality within a fortnight after you had joined us. Am I wrong if I entertain a suspicion in that respect? You knew that the bag, which every night was deposited beneath my head, contained not only the greater part of the gold which you brought us, but also the year's contributions from the tribes and districts: you knew all this, because we had no secrets from you. Then, perhaps, you were tired of our company; and you imagined that it would be an easy thing to make your peace with that man whom you so much feared, by putting him in possession of a larger treasure than the one you plundered from him,  a treasure, too, which you might hope to share with him."
    "As I live, that was not the case!" cried the Rattlesnake, energetically. "You know that I have never stirred out of this house once since I first crossed the threshold: how, then, could I communicate with that man?"
    "Where there is a will, there generally is a way, Margaret," answered the king. "Have you any thing further to urge in your defence?"
    "I have told the truth," replied the woman; "what more can I say?"
    "Then you may retire," said Zingary.
    Two gipsy-men led her from the room; and those who remained behind proceeded to deliberate upon the case.
    The whole affair was viewed in an aspect most unfavourable to the Rattlesnake; and when Skilligalee volunteered an argument in her defence, he was reminded that he only sate at that board by sufferance, because he was known to be faithfully attached to the Zingarees, but that he was not one of either race.
    When the question had been duly discussed by the Secret Tribunal, the king put the point at issue to the vote  Guilty, or Not Guilty.
    The decision of the majority was "Guilty."
    The Rattlesnake was then ordered to be brought back to the room.
    When she again stood in the presence of her judges, Zingary addressed her in the following manner
    "This tribunal, Margaret, has duly deliberated upon the case in which you are so especially interested. The result of that deliberation is, that you are found guilty of the blackest treachery and ingratitude. The founders of this tribunal wisely ordained that it should only pronounce one penalty in all cases which terminated in convictions, and that penalty is one which doss not enable the criminal to return to the world to seek at the hands of the [-415-] country's tribunals redress for what such criminal might deem to be an injustice practised by this court. That penalty is death!"
    "Death!" wildly screamed Margaret Flathers: "oh, no  you would not, could not murder me in cold blood!"
    "Death," solemnly repeated Zingary;  "death In the usual manner, according to the laws which this Tribunal was instituted to dispense."
    "Death!" again cried the unhappy woman, scarcely believing what she heard: "no  it is impossible! You will not kill me  you cannot cut me off so soon! I am not prepared to die  I have led a wicked life, and must have time to repent. Spare me! But  do not keep me in this dreadful suspense! Oh! I can understand that you wish to strike me with terror  to read me a terrible lesson. Well  you have succeeded! Expel me from your society  thrust me out of your house; but  "
    "Remove her," interrupted Zingary, firmly; but at the same time a tear trickled down his countenance.
    The two gipsies, who had before led the Rattlesnake from the room, now dragged her forcibly away; while her piercing screams struck to the hearts of those who heard them.
    "When is the sentence to be executed?! inquired Skilligalee, in a subdued and mournful tone.
    "Within the hour," answered the king. "You may converse with her up to the fatal moment."
    Skilligalee bowed, and left the room.
    "Let the Traveller be now introduced," said Zingary.
    Crankey Jem, against whom, the reader may remember, the Resurrection Man had turned Crown evidence at the same sessions of the Central Criminal Court at which Richard Markham and Eliza Sidney were tried and condemned,  was now brought into the room.
    "You have conducted yourself in a manner calculated to involve us all in a most serious difficulty," said the king, addressing this individual; "and we are compelled to rid ourselves of your presence without delay. You have been treated with hospitality by us: reward us by maintaining the most profound secresy relative to all you have seen or heard since you have been our companion and guest. Depart  and may you always be ready and willing to serve a Zingaree."
    "I will  I will," answered Jem: "night and day  in any case  I will risk my life for one of you. I do not blame you for expelling me; in fact, I should have left you in the morning of my own accord. London is no place for an escaped convict; and I shall not be sorry to leave it. But, answer me one question before I go: is that man dead?"
    "We shall give you no information on that head," answered Zingary. "Depart, my friend  and trouble us with your presence no longer. You have gold  and may you prosper."
    Crankey Jem bowed to the gipsies; and, having thanked them for their hospitality and kindness towards him, took his departure from the palace.
    The gipsies retained their seats; but not a word was spoken by any one present.
    At length the great bell on the staircase was struck three times. At this signal the king rose and walked slowly out of the room, followed by the other gipsies.
    The procession moved with solemn pace, and in dead silence, to the back part of the house, where it descended a flight of stone steps into a place used as a scullery. There Skilligalee, Margaret Flathers, and the two gipsy-gaolers who had charge of the criminal, were waiting.
    A single candle burned in the place, and its dim fitful light rather augmented than diminished the gloom.
    Margaret was absorbed in the most profound grief and terror; and her mental sufferings were revealed in heart-rending sobs.
    Th. nature of her doom had already been communicated to her!
    Skilligalee's countenance was ashy pale; but, much as he felt, he knew the Zingarees too well to undertake the vain task of imploring their mercy on behalf of the culprit.
    "Is every thing ready?" demanded the king.
    "Every thing," answered one of the gipsy-gaolers.
    With these words the man opened a massive door leading into a cellar, at the end of which there was another door, affording admittance into a second and smaller vault.
    "Margaret," cried the king, in a loud tone, "your doom is prepared. Brethren, take warning against treachery and ingratitude from this last act of justice!"
    The two gipsies who had been entrusted with the custody of the criminal, raised her between them, and bore her through the first cellar into the interior vault.
    But she uttered not a scream  nor a sob: she had fallen into a state of apathy bordering upon insensibility, the moment the rough hands of those men had touched her.
    Skilligalee's lips were compressed; and he evidently experienced immense difficulty in restraining his feelings.
    Margaret was deposited on a mattress in the inner call: a loaf of bread and pitcher of water had already been placed upon a shelf in one corner of the dungeon.
    The door was then closed and carefully bolted.
    The door of the outer cellar was also shut; and thus was the wretched woman entombed alive.
    But as the procession of Zingarees turned to leave the vicinity of that fearful scene of punishment, a faint shriek  though not the less expressive of bitter agony in consequence of its indistinctness  fell upon the ears of those who had witnessed the sepulture of a living being.

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