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[-13-]

CHAPTER CXLI.

THE SUBTERRANEAN.

    THE violence of the concussion threw Richard backwards; and in a moment he felt the rough hand of a man grasp him by the throat.
    "Who is it?" was the demand simultaneously put to him.
    "I will answer you when we are on equal terms, replied Markham; and, hurling the man away from him, he sprang upon his feet. "Now stand off," he cried; "for I am not to be injured with impunity."
    "I don't want to injure you," said the man. "But who are you? I know by your voice that you're not one of us."
    "You then are an inmate of this house?" observed Markham, fencing with the other's question.
    At that instant another hollow groan echoed through the subterranean.
    "She lives!" cried the man; and in another moment Markham heard him drawing back the bolts of the massive door which he had observed in the scullery.
    Richard groped his way towards him, and said, "She lives? whom do you allude to? Surely there cannot be a female imprisoned "
    "Be silent, in the name of heaven!" interrupted the man, in a whisper. "The life of an unhappy woman depends upon your secrecy whoever you may be."
    "Then would I rather aid than harm you and her, both," answered Markham.
    Another groan was heard, and Richard could now distinguish the direction from which it came.
    But still the massive door remained unopened.
    "This bolt, this bolt!" muttered the man in a tone expressive of commingled rage and despair. "Oh! for a light!"
    "Can you not procure one?" demanded Richard.
    "Stay," said the man " a good thought! There should be candles somewhere here and matches. By Jove! here is a candle and, on this shelf yes here are matches also!"
    The man struck a light.
    By a natural impulse he and Markham immediately cast scrutinising glances at each other.
    "Ah! I thought so by your voice you are a gentleman," said the man: "then you will not betray me?"
    "Betray you!" repeated Markham, surprised at this observation.
    "I will tell you what I mean presently: there is no time to be lost! Hark another groan: she is dying!"
    The man, who was tall and good-looking, and evidently not a scion of the Bohemian race gave Markham the candle, and proceeded to open the massive door, the presence of the light enabling him to remove the fastenings with ease.
    He then beckoned Richard to follow him into the cellar, where he instantly set to work to draw the bolts of a second door.
    This task was speedily accomplished; and as the door grated upon its hinges, another heart-wrung moan emanated from the interior of the second vault.
    The man rushed in; Markham followed with the light, and beheld a woman stretched almost lifeless upon the mattress.
    The groans had all along emanated from her lips: then where was the Resurrection Man?
    "Margaret   cheer up   it 's me   it's Skilligalee   I'm come to save you," said the protector of the Rattlesnake as he bent over her.
    "How long has she been immured here?" inquired Markham.
    "Only three or four hours," answered Skilligalee [-14-] "and so it must be fright that has half killed her. Pray get some water, sir there 's plenty in the scullery."
    Markham hastened to comply with this request; and Skilligalee bathed the woman's face with the refreshing element.
    She opened her eyes, and a smile came over her faded countenance as she caught sight of the friendly face that greeted her fearful glance.
    "How long have I been here?" asked the Rattlesnake in a faint tone, while her whole frame was convulsed with terror as recent events rushed to her mind.
    "Not many hours, Meg," answered Skilligalee.
    "And you will not leave me here any longer?" she said. "Oh! do not let me die in this horrible place!"
    "I am come to save you," returned Skilligalee. "Are you able to get up and walk?"
    "Yes for the sake of freedom," cried the Rattlesnake, rising from the mattress. " But who is that?" she added, as her eyes now fell upon Markham for the first time.
    "That's exactly what I don't know myself," said Skilligalee. "The gentleman has, however, behaved himself as such; and that's enough for us. Hark! there's the clock on the staircase striking five! We have n't much time to lose: come on."
    Markham led the way with the light: Skilligalee followed, supporting the Rattlesnake, who was weak and exhausted with the effects of extreme terror.
    "Which way shall we go?" she inquired, as they paused for a moment in the scullery, to listen if all were quiet.
    "By the back gate," answered Skilligalee. "I have secured the key. The porter keeps the keys of the front door."
    "And what has become of him that dreadful man who was the cause of all this misery?" asked the Rattlesnake. "Was he killed by the blow that the Traveller dealt him with his long dagger?"
    These words struck a chord which vibrated to Markham's heart.
    "Was any one wounded in this house during the night?" he demanded hastily.
    Skilligalee hesitated: he knew not who Markham was, nor what might be the consequences of a reply consistent with the truth.
    "Answer me, I conjure you," continued Richard, perceiving this unwillingness to satisfy his curiosity. "I have every reason to believe that a person whose name is Anthony Tidkins "
    "Oh! yes yes," murmured the Rattlesnake, with a convulsive shudder.
    "Then I have not been deceived!" cried Markham. "That individual, who is better known as the Resurrection Man, was dangerously wounded   if not killed in this house a few hours since.
    "You," he continued, addressing himself to Skilligalee, "are evidently acquainted with the particulars of the occurrence: as I have assisted you to liberate this woman who seems dear to you, reward me by telling me all you know of that event."
    "First tell me who you are," said Skilligalee. "And be quick I have no time for conversation."
    "Suffice It for you to know that I am one whom the Resurrection Man has cruelly injured. Twice has he attempted my life: once at his den in Bethnal Green, and again on the banks of the canal at Twig Folly "
    "Then you, sir, are Mr. Markham?" interrupted the Rattlesnake. "Oh! I know how you have been treated by that fearful man; and there is no necessity to conceal the truth from you! Yes sir, it is true that the wretch who has persecuted you was stabbed in this house; and if I did not believe that the wound was mortal "
    Here the Rattlesnake stopped, and leant heavily upon Skilligalee for support so profoundly was she terrified at the mere possibility of Anthony Tidkins being still in existence.
    Her companion perceived her emotion, and fathoming its cause, hastened to exclaim, "But he is no more! You need dread him no longer."
    "Are you sure? are you well convinced of this?" demanded Markham.
    "I saw him breaths his last," was the answer.
    "Where? Not in this house?" cried Richard.
    "No," returned Skilligalee. "Between two and three this morning the King, his family, and all the Zingarees, except those who stay to take care of this establishment, took their departure; and I was compelled to go along with them. In consequence of some communication between the person you call the Resurrection Man and Aischa, the Queen of the Zingarees, after he was badly wounded by the Traveller "
    "How do you call the individual who attacked him?" demanded Richard.
    "The Traveller," answered the Skilligalee. "But it appears, that he had another name Crankey Jem: at least, he said so after he had stabbed the man."
    "I should know that name," said Richard, musing. "Oh! I remember! Proceed."
    "Well in consequence of something that the Resurrection Man told Aischa, when she was attending to his wound, it was determined to take him along with us; and four of our men carried him down to the van which was waiting at the back gate. He groaned very much while he was being removed."
    "I heard him," said Richard, instantaneously recalling to mind the groans which had met his ears when he was listening at his chamber door to the bustle of the gipsies' departure.
    "You heard him?" repeated Skilligalee.
    "Yes   I was in the house at the time. Proceed."
    "We conveyed him down to the van, where we laid him on a mattress, and he seemed to fall asleep. Then we all divided into twos and threes, and got safe out of London, into a field near the Pentonville penitentiary. But when the van, with Aischa, Eva, and Morcar,-   those are some of our people, sir,   came to the place of appointment we found," added Skilligalee, his voice assuming a peculiar tone, "that the Resurrection Man was dead."
    "God be thanked!" ejaculated the Rattlesnake, with a fervour which made Markham's blood run cold.
    "And now that I have told you all I know, sir," said Skilligalee, "you will have no objection if me and my companion here go about our business; for it is dangerous to both our interests to remain here any longer."
    Skilligalee uttered these words in his usually jocular manner; for he was anxious to reassure his female companion, who still laboured under an [-15-] excess of terror that seemed ready to prostrate all her energies.
    "Yes let us leave this fearful den," said Markham: "to me it appears replete with horrors of all kinds."
    "Skilligalee now took the candle and led the way, still supporting Margaret Flathers on his arm.
    They all three effected their egress from the palace without any obstacle.
    When they were safe in the alley with which the back gate communicated, Markham said to Skilligalee, "From what I can understand, you have fled from the gipsies in order to return and liberate your companion from the dungeon where we found her."
    "That is precisely what I did," answered Skilligalee. "I gave them the slip when they had set up their tents in the field near the Penitentiary."
    "It is probable that you are not too well provided with pecuniary resources," said Richard: "the contents of my purse are at your service."
    "Thank you kindly, sir very kindly," returned Skilligalee. "I am not in want of such assistance."
    Markham vainly pressed his offer: it was declined with many expressions of gratitude. The truth was that Skilligalee had the greater portion of his share of Margaret's gold still remaining; and there was something so generous and so noble in the manner of Richard Markham, that he could not find it in his heart to impose upon him by taking a sum of which he did not stand in immediate need.
    "At all events, let me advise you to avoid such companions as those with whom you appear to have been allied," observed Richard, "and who are cruel enough to immure a female in a subterranean dungeon."
    "I shall not neglect your advice, sir," returned Skilligalee; "and may God bless you for it."
    "And you," continued Richard, addressing himself to Margaret Flathers, "second your companion in his good intentions. I know not what deed on your part could have led to your incarceration in that cell   neither do I seek to know;   but to you I would give similar advice   avoid those whose ways are criminal, and whose vengeance is as terrific as it is lawless. Farewell."
    "May God bless you, sir, for your good counsel!" said Margaret Flathers, weeping.
    She had not merely repeated, with parrot-like callousness, the words uttered by her companion: that benediction emanated with fervid sincerity from a heart deeply penetrated by anxiety to renew a long-forgotten acquaintance with rectitude.
    "Farewell, sir," said Skilligalee.
    He and the Rattlesnake then struck into one of the streets with which the alley at the back of the gipsies' palace communicated.
    Richard took another direction on his way homewards.    

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