< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >


[-324-] 

CHAPTER CCXXXIV.

A MIDNIGHT SCENE OF MYSTERY.

    "WELL," said Quentin to his fellow-domestics, as they were sitting at breakfast in the servants' hall, "the Honourable Mr. Vernon is by no means the most agreeable gentleman that over set foot in this house; but his valet beats any thing I ever saw in the same shape."
    "Did you ever see such a countenance!" exclaimed one of the maids. "I am sure it was not for his good looks that Mr. Vernon could have chosen him."
    "He is just the kind of person that I should not like to meet in a lane in a dark night," observed another member of the female branch of dependants.
    "He certainly cannot help his looks," said Quentin: "but heaven knows they tell amazingly against him."
    "And what I think somewhat extraordinary," remarked the butler, "is that just now I found him in my pantry, balancing the silver spoons at the end of his finger, as if to tell the weight of them. So I quietly informed him that my pantry was sacred; and he took himself off with a very ill grace."
    "Did you notice him last night, after supper," said the first maid who had spoken, "when we got talking about the disappearance of Lydia Hutchinson with my lady's casket of jewels, how eagerly he joined in the conversation, and how many questions he asked?"
    "Yes, to be sure I did," returned another female servant: "he was as curious about the matter as if Lydia was his own sister, or daughter, or sweetheart. He wanted to learn how long ago it happened  how we knew that she had run away with the casket  and all about it; and then, when we told him what we thought of the matter, he cross-questioned us as if he was a counsel and we were witnesses at a trial. But I wonder who this widow is that came last night, and seems so intimate with my lady."
    "She's a very genteel person," said Quentin; "and seems to know how to treat servants, as if she had a great many of her own. You can always tell the true breed of people by the way they behave to servants."
    "I'm decidedly of your opinion, Mr. Quentin," observed a footman. "A true gentleman or true lady always says 'Thank you,' when you hand them any thing at table, and so on. But it seems that my lady is very unwell this morning; for she and her new friend had their breakfast in my lady's own chamber."
    "And the nurse and child are to remain altogether in my lady's private suite of apartments," added one of the females. "Does any one know the name of my lady's friend!"
    "Mrs. Beaufort, I think the lady's-maid said," replied Quentin. "But here comes James White."
    And James White did accordingly enter the servants' hall at that moment in the person of the Resurrection Man; for by the former name was he now pleased to pass at Ravensworth Hall.
    "Been taking a walk, Mr. White!" said Quentin, as Tidkins seated himself at the breakfast-table.
    "Yes  just looking about the grounds a little," was the answer. "Handsome building this  fine park  beautiful gardens.
    "It is a handsome building, Mr. White," said Quentin; "and as commodious as it is handsome."
    "Very commodious," returned the Resurrection Man. "Nice snug little private door, too, at the southern end " he added with a strange leer.
    "Why, that was the very door that Lydia Hut-[-325-]chinson decamped by, when she ran off with my lady's jewels," exclaimed one of the maids.
    'Ah  indeed!" said the Resurrection Man, carelessly. "And wasn't her ladyship cut up at the loss of the jewels?"
    'Somewhat so," was the female servant's answer. "But my lady is too rich to care very much about. it."
    'And was there no blue-bot  police-case, I mean, made of it? " asked Tidkins.
    'None," replied the maid. "My lady possesses too good a heart to wish to punish even those who most wrong her."
    'A very excellent trait in her character," observed the Resurrection Man, as he deliberately made terrific inroads upon the bread and butter and cold meat. "Was her ladyship at the Hall when that young woman bolted!"
    No: she had gone to London early in the morning of the very same day. But there's my lady's bell." And the female servant who had been thus conversing with the Resurrection Man, hastened to answer the summons.
    In a few minutes she returned, saying, "Mr. Quentin, you are wanted in the little parlour opposite my lady's room."
    The valet repaired to the apartment named, where Eliza Sydney was waiting for him.
    Motioning him to close the door, she said in a low but earnest tone, "Lady Ravensworth informs me that you were devoted to your late master: doubtless you are equally well disposed towards his unprotected and almost friendless wife?"
    If there is any way, madam, in which my fidelity can be put to the test, I shall be well pleased," was the reply.
    "In a word, then," continued Eliza, "your mistress and the infant heir are in danger; and it behoves you to aid me in defeating the machinations of their enemies. After what I have now said, are your suspicions in no way excited?"
    I confess, madam," answered Quentin, "that the presence of a certain person in this house  "
    "You allude to the Honourable Mr. Vernon," exclaimed Eliza; "and you are right! He has domiciled himself here without invitation  without apparent motive; and he is attended by an individual capable of any atrocity."
    Mr. Vernon's valet?" said Quentin, interrogatively.
    "The same," was the reply. "But I dare not explain myself more fully at present. What I now require of you is to watch all the proceedings of Mr. Vernon and his attendant, and report to me whatever you may think worthy of observation."
    "I will not fail to do so, madam," returned Quentin.
    "And now I have to request you to give me a small portion of the tobacco which the late Lord Ravensworth was accustomed to use," continued Eliza; "and the remainder you must carefully conceal in some secure place, as it may some day be required for inspection elsewhere."
    "Your directions shall all be implicitly attended to," said Quentin. "But might I be permitted to ask whether you are aware, madam, that the tobacco was sent to Lord Ravensworth by Mr. Vernon?"
    "It is my knowledge of that fact which induced to give those instructions concerning the weed-the fatal weed," replied Eliza, significantly.
    "Ah! madam  I also have had my suspicions on that head!" exclaimed Quentin, who perfectly understood the lady's meaning. "I hinted those suspicions to the medical gentleman who attended my lord in his last moments; and he had the tobacco analysed by a skilful chemist;  but the result did not turn out as I had expected."
    "Lady Ravensworth has already mentioned this fact to me," said Eliza: "I have, however, conceived a means of submitting the weed to a better test. But of this and other subjects I will speak to you more fully hereafter."
    Quentin withdrew to fetch a small sample of the tobacco, with which he shortly reappeared. Eliza renewed her injunctions to watch the movements of Vernon and his valet; and then hastened to rejoin Lady Ravensworth.
    The day passed without the occurrence of any thing worth relating, but in the evening one or two little circumstances in the conduct of Mr. Vernon's valet struck the now watchful Quentin as being somewhat peculiar.
    In the first place, Tidkins sought an excuse to lounge into the kitchen at a moment when the servants belonging to that department of the household were temporarily absent; and Quentin, who followed him unperceived, was not a little astonished when he saw the Resurrection Man hastily conceal three large meat-hooks about his person.
    There were some silver forks and spoons lying on the table; but those Tidkins did not touch. It was consequently apparent to Quentin that Mr. Vernon's valet did not self-appropriate the meat-hooks for the sake of their paltry value: it was clear that he required them for some particular purpose.
    "What, in the name of common sense! can he possibly want with meat-hooks?" was the question which the astonished Quentin put to himself.
    Conjecture was vain; but the incident determined him to continue to watch Mr. Vernon's valet very closely.
    When the hour for retiring to rest arrived, a female servant offered Tidkins a chamber candlestick; but he requested to be provided with a lantern, saying with a carelessness which Quentin perceived to be affected," The truth is, I'm fond of reading in bed; and as a candle is dangerous, I prefer a lantern."
    Quentin alone suspected the truth of this statement. He, however, said nothing. The lantern was given to Tidkins; and the servants separated for the night.
    It so happened that the bed-room allotted to the Resurrection Man was in the same passage as that tenanted by Quentin. Suspecting that Tidkins required the lantern for some purpose to be executed that night, Quentin crept along the passage, and peeped through the key-hole of the other's chamber.
    He was enabled to command a good view of the interior of that room, the key not being in the lock; and he behold Tidkins busily engaged in fastening the meat-hooks to a stout stick about a foot and a half long. The Resurrection Man next took the cord which had secured his trunk, and tied one end round the middle of the stick. He then wound the cord round the stick, apparently to render this singular apparatus more conveniently portable.
    This being done, Tidkins put off his suit of brand new black, and dressed himself in a more common garb, which he took from his trunk.
    [-326-] When he had thus changed his clothes, he secured the stick, with the cord and meat-hooks, about his person.
    "This is most extraordinary!" thought Quentin to himself. "He is evidently going out. But what is he about to do? what can all this mean?"
    The valet's bewilderment was increased when he beheld the Resurrection Man take a pair of pistols from his trunk, deliberately charge them with powder and ball, and then consign them to his pocket.
    "What can he mean?" was the question which Quentin repeated to himself a dozen times in a minute.
    The bell on the roof of the mansion now proclaimed the hour of midnight; and Tidkins, having suddenly extinguished the candle in the lantern, made a motion as if he were about to leave the room.
    Quentin accordingly retreated a few yards up the passage, which was quite dark.
    Almost immediately afterwards, he heard the door of Tidkins' room open cautiously: then it was closed again, and the sharp click of a key turning in a lock followed.
    Tidkins was now stealing noiselessly down the passage, little suspecting that any one was occupied in dogging him. He descended the stairs, gained the servants' offices, and passed out of the mansion by a back door.
    But Quentin was on his track.
    The night was almost as dark as pitch; and the valet had the greatest difficulty in following the steps of the Resurrection Man without approaching him so closely as to risk the chance of being overheard. From time to time Tidkins stopped  evidently to listen; and then Quentin stood perfectly still also. So cautious indeed was the latter in his task of dogging the Resurrection Man, that this individual, keen as were his ears, and piercing his eyes, neither heard nor saw any thing to excite a suspicion that he was watched.
    By degrees, black as was the night, Quentin's eyes became accustomed to that almost profound obscurity; and by the time the Resurrection Man had traversed the gardens, and clambered over the railings which separated those grounds from the open fields the valet could distinguish  only just distinguish a dark form moving forward before him.
    "If I can thus obtain a glimpse of him," thought Quentin, "he can in the same manner catch sight of me the first time he turns round."
    And the valet was accordingly compelled to slacken his pace until he could no longer distinguish the form of him whom he was pursuing.
    But as the Resurrection Man, deeming himself quite secure, did not take the trouble to walk lightly along the hard path which ran through the fields, Quentin was now enabled to follow without difficulty the sounds of his footsteps.
    All of a sudden those sounds ceased; and Quentin stopped short. In another minute, however, he heard the low rustling tread of feet walking rapidly over the grass; and thus he recovered the trail which was so abruptly interrupted.
    The Resurrection Man had turned out of the beaten path, and was pursuing his way diagonally across the field.
    Quentin followed him with the utmost caution: and in a few moments there was a bright flash in the corner of the field, the cause of which the valet was at no loss to comprehend.
    Tidkins had lighted a lucifer-match  doubtless to assure himself that he was in the particular spot which he sought.
    Quentin, to whom every square yard of the estate was well known, immediately remembered that there was a pond in the corner of the field where Tidkins had thus stopped; and close by was a thick hedge. The valet accordingly made a short and rapid circuit in order to gain the stile leading into the adjacent field: then, creeping carefully along the bushes, he arrived in a few moments behind that precise portion of the hedge which overlooked the pond.
    The night was so dark that he could not follow with his eyes the exact movements of the Resurrection Man. He was, however, enabled to distinguish his form on the opposite bank of the pond; and not many moments after he had taken his post behind the hedge, there was a sudden splash in the water, as of some object thrown into it. Then the Resurrection Man moved slowly along the bank; and it instantly struck Quentin that he was dragging the pond.
    This idea explained the purpose of the apparatus formed by the hooks, the stout stick, and the cord  but for what could he be dragging?
    The valet shuddered as this question occurred to him;  for the nature of the apparatus, the secresy of the whole proceeding, and the bad opinion which Eliza Sydney's hints had induced him to form of him whom he, however, only knew as James White,  these circumstances combined to fill Quentin's mind with a terrible suspicion that Tidkins was dragging for a dead body.
    The Resurrection Man drew up his drag with a terrible oath, uttered aloud, and expressive of disappointment.
    "And yet this must be the spot!" he added, as he disentangled the hooks from the cord. "I was over the whole grounds this morning  and I could swear it was here that  "
    The conclusion of the sentence was muttered to himself, and therefore remained unheard by the valet.
    The drag was thrown into the water a second time; and, at the expiration of a few moments, Tidkins gave utterance to an exclamation expressive of satisfaction.
    Then he retreated slowly from the edge of the pond, as if dragging a heavy object out of the water.
    From behind the hedge Quentin strained his eye., with mingled feelings of curiosity and terror, to scrutinise as narrowly as possible the real meaning of this strange and mysterious proceeding. At length there was a strong gurgling of the water: and in another moment a large dark object was moving slowly and heavily up the steep bank.
    A cold shudder crept over the valet's frame; for that object bore the appearance of a corpse!
    He would have taken to flight-he would have escaped from the contemplation of such a strange and appalling scene  he would have hastened back to the mansion to raise an alarm;  but vague fears  ineffable horror hound him as it were to the spot  paralysed his limbs-and compelled him to remain a spectator of the dark proceeding.
    The object was safely landed upon the bank: there was a sharp crack as of a match  a small blue flame suddenly appeared  and then Tidkins lighted the candle in his lantern.
    [-327-] This being done, he approached the object upon the bank;  and in another moment all Quentin's doubts were cleared up  for the light of the lantern now fell upon the body of a female!
    He closed his eyes instinctively  and his brain was seized with a sudden dizziness. But, mastering his feelings, he again looked towards the mysterious and fearful drama which was being enacted on the opposite bank of the pond.
    The light was again extinguished; and Tidkins was stooping over the corpse.
    Suddenly an exclamation of joy escaped his lips; but Quentin was unable to divine the cause.
    Another minute elapsed; and the Resurrection Man rolled the body back again into the water.
    There was a second splash a moment afterwards: it was evidently the drag which Tidkins had thrown away, its services being no longer required by him.
    Then he retreated with rapid step from the bank of the pond; and Quentin, scarcely able to subdue the terror which had taken possession of him, retraced his way along the hedge,  determined, in spite of his feelings, to watch the Resurrection Man to the end  if more there were of this strange midnight drama yet to come.
    Having hastily performed the short circuit that was necessary to bring him back into the field through which Tidkins was now proceeding, Quentin shortly came within sight of that individual's dark form, moving rapidly along the beaten path.
    Near the railings which bounded the gardens, there were several groups of large trees; and at the foot of one of them Tidkins halted. Stooping down, he appeared to be busily employed for some minute in digging up the earth. Quentin approached as nearly as he could without incurring the risk of discovery; and the motions of the Resurrection Man convinced him that he was indeed engaged in burying something at the foot of the tree.
    This task being accomplished, Tidkins clambered over the palings, and pursued his way through the gardens towards the back gate of the Hall.
    Quentin remained behind  his first impulse being to examine the spot where the Resurrection Man had been digging. But a second thought made him hesitate; and, after a few moments' reflection, he determined to wait until he had reported the whole of this night's mysterious proceedings to the lady whom he only knew as Mrs. Beaufort, and at whose instance he had been induced to watch the proceedings of Mr. Vernon's valet.
    He accordingly pursued his way back to the mansion. But as the Resurrection Man had bolted the back door inside, Quentin was compelled to gain an entry through one of the windows of the servants' offices. This he effected with safety, and noiselessly returned to his own chamber.
    But he closed not his eyes in slumber throughout the remainder of that night; for all he had seen haunted his imagination like a spectre.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >