chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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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
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
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
"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
"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
The decision of the majority was "Guilty."
The Rattlesnake was then ordered to be brought back to
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
"Death," solemnly repeated Zingary; — "death
In the usual manner, according to the laws which this Tribunal was instituted to
"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
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
Crankey Jem bowed to the gipsies; and, having thanked
them for their hospitality and kindness towards him, took his departure from the
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
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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