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[-306-] 

CHAPTER CCXXVIII.

A DESPERATE ACHIEVEMENT.

    IT was, as the readers must remember, In the middle of the month of March when these events occurred.
    At that season of the year the sun sets at about six o'clock; and it is consequently dark at seven.
    The Resurrection Man was no sooner left undisturbed for the night, when he commenced the arduous and almost desperate attempt of an escape from the prison.
    Taking off his coat, he tore open the lining of the collar, drew forth two files scarcely larger than watch-springs, and made of steel of equally fine temper.
    "Thanks to my precaution in never moving away from home without such tools as these about me!" he exclaimed, as he bent the files almost double to try their elasticity, and then drew them over one of his nails to test the keenness of their teeth.
    It is not an uncommon circumstance for the police-magistrates at the offices not within the City of London to remand prisoners accused of heinous crimes to Coldbath Fields' gaol; and as such persons cannot, according to the law, be deemed guilty until they be declared so by a jury, they are not lodged in the common dark cells allotted to misdemeanants or criminals sentenced to imprisonment within those walls. There is a room specially appropriated to the use of untried individuals who are sent to Coldbath Fields. That chamber is capable of holding four or five beds, and has two windows looking upon the prison-grounds.
    Those windows are, however, secured by strong, iron bars outside the casements, which are made to open for the purpose of airing the room in the day-time.
    Tidkins had already carefully examined these bars and had calculated to a nicety the exact time which it would occupy him to remove two of them by means of his files.
    It was seven o'clock when he commenced his labour; and as the clock of the church on Clerkenwell Green struck eleven, that portion of his task was accomplished.
    "True to a minute!" muttered the Resurrection Man to himself, with a low chuckle of triumph: "I reckoned on four hours to do it in!"
    But his fingers were cut and lacerated with the process: he, however, assuaged the pain by greasing the flesh with the remainder of the gruel left in his bowl.
    The next proceeding was to tear his bedding into slips, wherewith to form a rope; and this was accomplished in about half an hour.
    The window was not very high from the ground; and he did not dread the descent:  but the moon was shining brightly  and he knew that watchmen, carrying fire-arms, kept guard in the prison-grounds.
    He looked up at the lovely planet of the night, whose chaste splendour was at that moment blessed by so many travellers alike upon the land and on the ocean; and he uttered a fearful imprecation against its pure silvery lustre.
    But he did not hesitate many minutes: his case was desperate  so was his character.
    "Better receive an ounce of lead in the heart than dance on nothing in six weeks or so," he said to himself, as he fastened the rope to the bar which stood next to the place of the two that he had removed.
    Then he passed his legs through the window; and clinging by his hands and feet, slid slowly and safely down the rope.
    He was now in the grounds belonging to the prison; but the high wall, that bounded that enclosure, separated him from the street.
    Cautiously and noiselessly did he creep along, beneath the shade of the building  directing his steps towards the tread-wheel yard in which he had been permitted to take exercise, as above stated.
    Suddenly the noise of footsteps and of voices fell upon his ears; and those ominous sounds were approaching.
    "Perdition!" thought the Resurrection Man, as he crouched up close beneath the building: "I could have managed one  I could have sprung upon him  strangled him in a moment. But two  two  ."
    And he ground his teeth with rage.
    "And so you was at the Old Bailey to-day?" said one of the watchmen to his companion, as they advanced round that part of the prison.
    "Yes: it was my half-holiday," was the reply, "and so I thought I might as well go and hear the trial of that young Holford, you know, who shot at the Queen. The jury had a good deal of trouble at coming to a verdict; but at last they acquitted him on the ground of insanity."
    "Ah!" said the first speaker: "then he's let out again!"
    "Deuce a bit of that! " exclaimed his companion. "The judge ordered him to be detained till the royal pleasure should be known; and so he'll get sent to Bedlam for the rest of his life."
    "And d'ye think he's mad! did he look mad!"
    "Not he! He's no more mad than me. He seemed a little gloomy and sulky  but not mad. The only time he showed any interest in the proceedings, was when a witness called Jem Coffin was examined; and this chap said all he could in [-307-] favour of the youngster, although he wasn't able to deny that he saw him fire at the Queen and Prince Albert. But the best of it was, this Jem Cuffin proved that the pistols wasn't loaded at all. Holford did not, however, know that when he fired them. So the young feller has managed to get board and lodging for life; and Jem Cuffin, who is a returned transport, it seems, and had been in custody for some time, was discharged on a full pardon granted by the Home Secretary."
    "It must have been an interesting trial," observed the first speaker.
    "Yes," said his companion; "but I'll tell you what will be more interesting still  and that is the trial of Tony Tidkins, whenever it comes on. Lord! what things that feller has done in his time! Talk of Jack Sheppard, or Dick Turpin, or any of the old criminals  why, they're nothing at all compared with this Tidkins. Ah! some rum things will come out when he goes up afore the nobs at the Old Bailey!"
    The two men had stepped within half a dozen yards of the place where the Resurrection Man was crouched up in the deep shade of the building; and every word of the above conversation met his ears. In spite of the peril of discovery which now seemed inevitable, the miscreant experienced a momentary feeling of pride and triumph as he listened to the observations which were made concerning himself.
    "Well, I must go round t'other way," said one of the watchmen, after a short pause: "we should get blowed up if we was found together  'specially talking in a prison on the silent system."
    This was meant as a joke; and so the two men chuckled at it.
    Tidkins also chuckled within himself; because he had just learnt that the watchmen intended to separate, and that consequently only one would pass him. He was still menaced with a fearful peril; but he considered it to be only one half so great as it had seemed a few moments previously.
    Midnight was now proclaimed by the iron tongue of Clerkenwell Church; and the two watchmen parted  one retracing his steps round the building; and the other slowly advancing towards Tidkins.
    "I must spring upon him and throttle him in a moment," thought the Resurrection Man, clenching his fingers as if they already held the intended victim's neck in their iron grasp.
    But Providence saved the miscreant from that additional crime:  the watchman struck abruptly away from the neighbourhood of the building, and walked towards the boundary wall.
    His back was now turned upon Tidkins, who lost no time in availing himself of this unexpected relief from the danger which had threatened him. In fact, the very circumstance of the two watchmen having advanced so close to him in each other's company,  which circumstance had menaced him with a detection that seemed unavoidable,  now proved most advantageous to his scheme; for as he hurried rapidly on towards the first tread-wheel yard, he passed between the two watchmen, each of whom was retreating farther from him, the one by retracing his steps round the building, and the other by lounging towards the wall.
    Thus, while their backs were turned upon him, he gained in safety the tread-wheel yard where he had taken exercise, and every point of which he had accurately committed to memory.
    His movements were now executed with the rapidity of one who had well weighed and pre-considered them.
    Taking from a corner a gardener's basket, which he had previously noticed there, and which was used to convey the potatoes that were dug up in the prison-grounds, he turned it bottom upwards against a low building, or out-house, which abutted with a shelving slate roof against the high wall. By means of the basket, he raised himself upon this roof  crept up on it  and with one nimble spring upwards was enabled to catch at the chevaux-de-frise, or revolving iron spikes, which were fixed near the top of the wall, and which thus hung over the out-house.
    Careless of the wounds which he received from the chevaux-de-frise, he scrambled over them, and gained the top of the wall.
    The wall was much too high to permit him to drop into the street with any chance of escaping a broken limb. This he had previously reflected upon; and he now commenced the desperate feat of walking along the summit of that lofty wall  with a bright moon shining above, and the almost positive certainty of being observed by the watchmen inside the prison.
    To increase the personal danger incurred by this extraordinary undertaking, the wall is irregular on the top, breaking into sudden and abrupt falls towards the south-western angle, and then rising with elevations equally abrupt from that point to the north-western angle.
    This peculiarity of structure is caused by the unevenness of the ground on which the entire establishment with all its enclosures stands.
    The journey along the top of the walls was not even a short one. The object of the Resurrection Man was to reach the houses in Guildford Place, which join the prison-wall on the eastern side. The point where he ascended was nearly at the middle of the southern wall; but between him and the southeastern angle stood the gates and the governor's house, which he could not pass. He therefore had to make a circuit comprising nearly half the southern wall  all the western wall  all the northern wall  and then a part of the eastern wall;  and this in the largest prison in England!  It was a desperate venture: but as we have before said  Tidkins was a desperate man  and his case was also desperate!
    Fortune often aids the unworthy; and she did so upon this occasion.
    Scarcely had the Resurrection Man proceeded twenty yards along the wall, when the moon  hitherto so lovely  became suddenly obscured and a huge black cloud swept over its face.
    Tidkins cast one rapid glance upwards; and his heart leapt within him, as he said to himself, "It will be dark like this long enough for my purpose."
    On he went  walking upright, and rapidly  with scarcely an unusual effort to balance himself upon that giddy height,  and stooping only when he reached any of those abrupt descents or ascents in the structure of the wail which we have ere now noticed.
    And now he has gained  safely gained  the north-western angle: he is pursuing his way along the wall which looks upon Calthorpe Street.
    At the slightest signal of alarm he is prepared to risk his life by leaping from the wall.
    [-308-] But no one observes him: it is now quite dark;  he is far away from that part of the prison where the watchmen walk;  and the street beneath is empty.
    Here and there are lights in the upper windows of the adjacent houses: he can almost see into those rooms, above the level of which he is placed.
    Looking to his right, he perceives the dark outlines of the prison-buildings, between which and the northern wall, whereon he is now walking there is a considerable interval, the intermediate space being occupied by the gaol-gardens.
    His heart beats joyfully  triumphantly he has gained the north-eastern angle!
    A glance to the left shows him the lights of Bagnigge Wells: before him are those of Wilmington Square; and to his right is Guildford Place.
    He felt that he was beyond the reach of danger and so exhilarating was his joy, that a momentary dizziness seized upon him  and he nearly fell over within the precincts of the gaol.
    But recovering his balance by an extraordinary exertion, he planted his feet more firmly than ever on the wall, and continued his walk along the dizzy height.
    He was now again in danger of discovery, for he had reached that part of the eastern wall against which the buildings and tread-wheel yards of the females' department stood, and in the immediate vicinity of which a watchman was stationed.
    Nevertheless, the houses in Guildford Place were near; and their back premises abutted against the outer aide of the wall along which he was now proceeding.
    "One minute more of that dark cloud upon the moon  and I am safe!" he said to himself, as he cast a rapid glance upwards.
     But, no  the cloud passes
     It has passed;  and the bright moon suddenly bursts forth with a flood of silver light.
     Almost at the same instant, a loud voice raises an alarm within the precincts of the gaol: the sharp crack of a blunderbuss is heard  and a bullet whistles past the Resurrection Man, whose dark form, as seen by the watchman near the females' department, stands out in strong relief against the moon-lit sky.
    The cry of the watchman is echoed by other voices on the prison side of the wall; and Tidkins mutters a terrible curse as he hurries forward.
    But his courage does not fail him:  no  he is determined to sell his life as dearly as possible!
    In less than a minute after the watchman within the enclosure had raised the alarm, the Resurrection Man reached the backs of the houses in Guildford Place;  and now the clear moonlight was of the utmost service to him, in enabling him to execute his movements with security and caution.
    He lowered him self from the prison-wall to the roof of an out-house, and thence alighted in a yard attached to a dwelling.
    The back-door of the house was locked and bolted inside: but this was a small obstacle in the way of one who had just escaped from the Middlesex house of Correction.
    Unable to waste time by proceeding with caution and compelled to risk the chance of alarming the inhabitants of the dwelling, the desperate man threw himself with all his strength against the door, which broke inwards with a load crash.
    The noise was followed by ejaculations of alarm in the house; footsteps were heard overhead; widows were thrown open  and the cry of " Thieves!" echoed along the street.
    Tidkins paused not to reflect:  he dashed through the house  along the passage to the front door, the bolts of which he drew back in a moment. The key was in the lock:  every thing now appeared to favour the escape of the Resurrection Man!
    The front-door was opened in a few moments, just as the inmates of the dwelling were rushing down the stairs.
    But when they reached the passage, the door closed violently behind the intruder who had caused their alarm.
    The Resurrection Man was safe in the open street; and he knew that he had a good start of the prison watchmen, who would have to make a considerable circuit from the vicinity of the females' department to the gates, and from the gates round the south. eastern angle, ere they could reach the point from which he was now departing.
    Swift as an arrow he scud up Guildford Place  . turned to the right  and slackened his pace only when he had passed through Wilmington Square. He gained the City Road, along which he walked somewhat leisurely towards Finsbury  well aware that his pursuers would not think of looking for him in a wide and open thoroughfare, but would rather prosecute their searches in the narrow lanes and low districts in the immediate neighbourhood of the gaol.
    His object was to gain his den in Globe Town: for not a word had transpired during his examination before the magistrate at Lambeth Street, to show that the police had any clue to his place of abode; and he felt certain that Banks would not have betrayed him. The undertaker, he knew, was too deeply concerned in many of his plots and schemes to risk a general smash of the whole gang, by making any unpleasant revelations.
    The Resurrection Man struck from the City Road into Old Street, and speedily reached Shoreditch.
    As he passed down one of the horrible lanes which lie behind Shoreditch Church, he observed the door of a public-house to be open. He was well aware of the flash character of the place, but did not happen to be known by the people who kept it.
    He entered this low boozing-ken, ordered a glass of something at the bar, and inquired for the evening paper. It was immediately handed to him; for all flash houses of that description take an evening as well as a morning journal, that their customers may receive the earliest intelligence of each day's Police or Old Bailey proceedings  matters in which the generality of them are very frequently interested.
    Tidkins turned to the most recent Police Intelligence, and found his own case duly reported. Nothing, however, was said in that or any other department of the paper, which tended to excite an alarm lest his house in Globe Town bad been discovered or any of his accomplices in his various crimes had been traced.
    Thus reassured, he drank off the contents of his glass, and then recollected that he had no money in his pocket to pay for it. All he had about him when he was arrested, had been taken from him, according to custom, on his removal to Coldbath Fields.
    [-309-] Scarcely had this new embarrassment presented itself to his mind, when the door of the tap-room opened, and a man came forth. To Tidkins's infinite relief it proved to be the Buffer, who started when he saw his old friend at liberty.
    The Resurrection Man placed his finger upon his lip; and the Buffer instantly checked the ejaculation of astonishment which had risen to his tongue.
    The trifling debt incurred for the liquor was immediately settled by the Resurrection Man's friend; and the precious pair left the boozing-ken together.
    As they walked along towards Globe Town, Anthony Tidkins related the particulars of his escape, at which the Buffer was monstrously delighted. Then, in reply to the Resurrection Man's questions, the other stated that he had seen Banks on the previous afternoon, and that no inquiries of a suspicious nature had been made at that individual's abode.
    When they reached the door of the Resurrection Man's house in Globe Town, the Buffer took leave of his friend, with a promise to call in the course of the day and bring the morning's newspapers.
    Tidkins was overjoyed when he again set foot in his back room on the first floor: and finding some gin in the cupboard, he celebrated his escape and return with a copious dram.
    He did not immediately retire to bed, although he was sadly fatigued and bruised by the achievements of the night; but, taking down a bundle of keys from a shelf, he paid a visit to the subterranean department of his establishment.
    The moment he placed the key in the lock of the private door up the narrow alley, he uttered a curse, adding, "This lock has been tried  tampered with! I know It  I could swear to it: I can tell by the way that the key turns!"
    And the perspiration ran down his countenance:  for he trembled for the safety of his treasure!
    With feverish impatience he opened the door, and entered that part of his strangely-built house.
    Having obtained a light, a new circumstance of alarm struck him: the door of the back room wag standing wide open!
    "And I can swear that I closed it the last time I ever came here!" he cried aloud. "Some one has been to this place;  and that some one must be Banks! The sneaking scoundrel! But he shall suffer for it."
    With a perception as keen as that of the North American Indian following the trail of a fugitive foe, did the Resurrection Man examine the floor of the room; and his suspicions that some one had been thither were confirmed by the appearance of several particles of damp dirt, which had evidently been left by the feet of an intruder within the last few hours.
    "Worse and worse!" thought the Resurrection Man. "And, by Satan! the trap has been raised!"
    This was evident; for the brick which covered the iron ring in the masonry of the chimney, had not been restored to its place.
    "I could not have left it so!" cried Tidkins, aloud: "no  it is impossible! Some one has been here!"
    With almost frantic impatience he raised the trap, and descended into the subterranean.
    Entering one of the cells,  not the same whence the Rattlesnake had stolen his treasure,  he raised a stone, and then almost shrank front glancing into the hollow thus laid open.
    But mastering his fears,  those fears which owned the influence of avarice far more than that of danger or of crime,  he held the lantern over the hole, and plunged his eyes into its depth.
    "Safe!  all safe  by God!" he exclaimed, as four or five canvas, bags met his view.
    Then, in order to convince himself of the reality of the presence of his treasure, he opened the bags one after the other, and feasted his sight upon their glittering contents.
    "It can hardly be Banks who has been here," he mused to himself, as he restored the bags to their place of concealment, and then rolled the stone back into its setting: "nothing could escape the keenness of his scent! He would have pulled up all the pavement sooner than have missed what he came to look for. And then, too, he is not the man to heave the brick out of its place, so as to show the secret of the stone-trap to any other curious intruder that might find his way here. No  no: Master Banks would pay a second and a third visit to this place, if he felt sure of finding any thing concealed here; and he would leave every thing close and snug after each search. But some one has been here! Unless  and I might have done such a thing as to forget to replace the brick,  I ought have done so;  and yet it is barely possible!" continued Tidkins, in deep perplexity, and almost as much alarmed as Robinson Crusoe was upon discovering the print of the human foot upon the sand of his island. "Then there is that damp mud, too  and the door that was open  and the lock that has been tampered with! But suppose the mud came from my own shoes the last time I was here? the place is very damp  and It mayn't have got dry. It might also have been myself that left the door open;  and as for the lock  it is an old one, and may begin to work badly. Besides  I remember  the last time I was here, I was in a deuce of a hurry: it was just before I went down to Banks's to see him settle that job with Kate Wilmot. So, after all  my fears may be all idle and vain! However, I shall send for Banks presently, when the Buffer comes again; and I'll precious soon tell by his sneaking old face whether he has been here, or not, during my absence!"
    Thus reasoning against the feasibility of his fears,  as men often do in cases of doubt and uncertainty, and when they are anxious to persuade themselves of the groundlessness of their alarms,  Tidkins left the subterranean, and returned to his chamber, where he immediately went to bed.
    But his fears were well founded: some one had visited the subterranean during the hours while he himself was occupied in escaping from Coldbath Fields' Prison.
    That intruder was not, however, Banks  nor any one of the Resurrection Man's accomplices in crime.    

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