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




    NEARLY five weeks had elapsed since the day whim, the noble-minded Eliza Sydney first took up her quarters at Ravensworth Hall. [-336-] Time was, therefore, now verging towards the close of May, 1841.
    It was at about nine o'clock in the morning of a charming day, at this period, that the Resurrection Man sauntered leisurely from the servants' offices, at Ravensworth Hall, with the air of a person about to indulge in a stroll after eating a good breakfast.
    But when he was out of sight of the Hall, he quickened his pace, and proceeded somewhat rapidly towards the ruined lodge where he had once before met the Honourable Gilbert Vernon.
    And it was to meet that very same individual that he now sought the place again.
    But as Vernon had not yet arrived, Tidkins, after walking round the dilapidated cottage to convince himself that no stranger was near, took a seat upon a pile of bricks, and, producing a cigar-case, was speedily wrapped in the enjoyment of a mild havannah and his own delectable meditations.
    With the nature of those thoughts we shall not trouble the reader: suffice it to say that they were all connected with the scheme which he and his master were carrying on at Ravensworth Hall, and the last dread act of which was now in immediate contemplation.
    Tidkins had just lighted a second cigar, when he descried Vernon at a distance.
    He, however, continued to smoke  for he was not the man to stand upon any ceremony with his employer, even were that employer a prince.
    "Come at last? " said Tidkins, as Vernon entered the ruins. "Been doing the amiable to the ladies, I suppose?"
    "I have succeeded in that task tolerably well lately," answered Vernon, with difficulty concealing an expression of disgust at the odious familiarity of his agent; but he had already learnt that crime places the menial upon a footing with the master, and compels the haughty aristocrat to brook the insolence of the vulgar desperado.
    "Well, now we are drawing to the end of the play at last," continued Tidkins. "So much the better: for I was getting infernally sick of this moping kind of life. But what if this plan of ours should happen to fail?"
    "Then I will try another  and even another, if necessary, until we succeed," answered Vernon, emphatically. "Yes: I am now so bent upon the deed  so resolved to become the lord and owner of these broad lands and yon proud mansion  that I will even risk my neck to attain that end."
    "You speak in a plucky manner that I admire," said Tidkins. "Besides, when once you are Lord Ravensworth, who will dare to utter a suspicion  even if there should seem any ground for it?"
    "No one  certainly," replied Vernon. "But have you looked about the ruins? Remember the last time we met here  there was an eaves-dropper then  "
    "Don't alarm yourself," interrupted Tidkins: "I walked carefully round the place; and I'll swear no one is near. Unless, indeed," he added, with a jocular chuckle, "some very curious person has got into that great cistern up there; and I must confess I didn't climb up to look into it."
    "Cease this humour," said Vernon, somewhat sternly. "If you have been round the ruins, that is sufficient. Our business is too important to allow us to waste time in idle bantering. Do the jugglers understand that they are to come up this evening?"
    "Fully so," answered Tidkins, coolly inhaling the fragrant vapour of his cigar. "They are all at the Three Kings  that public-house which you see by the roadside yonder,  and most likely making merry with the couple of guineas that I gave them last night. It is not necessary that I should see them again before they come to the Hall."
    "You mentioned to them that there was a sick lady at the mansion who would be amused with their sports?" said Vernon.
    "I have already told you what representations I made," replied Tidkins, impatiently. "Where's the use of asking the question over again?"
    "For the same reason that one reads a letter twice," rejoined Vernon,  "to see that nothing has been omitted which ought to be said or done. But are you sure that the fellows will understand how to use the detonating balls?"
    "Nothing is easier," answered Tidkins. "And as it was merely to try one that we agreed to meet here now, suppose I just make the trial directly?"
    "Yes  I am anxious to be assured of the effect," said Vernon. "We are far enough away from the Hall to do so in safety."
    "Certainly we are," remarked Tidkins. "In the first place we're down in this deep valley;  in the second place there's the thick grove on the top of the hill;  and in this third place, even if there wasn't the hill at all between us and the Hall, the back windows of the mansion don't look this way. So the smoke can't be seen."
    "True! " exclaimed Vernon. "And now for the test."
    The Resurrection Man drew from his pocket a ball covered with coarse blue paper, and nearly as large as a cricket-ball.
    Then, rising from his seat, he dashed it with some degree of violence upon the hard ground.
    It exploded in the twinkling of an eye, with a din as loud as that of a blunderbuss; and both Vernon and the Resurrection Man were immediately enveloped in a dense cloud of black and sulphurous-smelling smoke.
    When the dark volume had blown away, Vernon beheld the cadaverous countenance of the Resurrection Man looking towards him with a grin of ferocious satisfaction.
    "Well  will that do?" cried Tidkins, triumphantly.
    "Admirably," answered Gilbert, averting his face  for there was something fiend-like and horrible in the leer of his companion.
    There was a short pause; and then those two villains resumed their conversation. But as the remainder of their discourse was connected with the last act of their tragic drama, which we shall be compelled to relate in detail, it is unnecessary to record in this place any more of what passed between them upon the present occasion.
    After having been nearly an hour together, Gilbert Vernon and the Resurrection Man separated, in order to return by different routes to the Hall.
    Five minutes after they had left the building, the head of a man looked cautiously over the brink of the empty cistern to which Tidkins had jocularly. alluded, and which stood on the top of the least dilapidated portion of the lodge.
    Seeing that the coast was now perfectly clear, the [-337-]  

person who was concealed in the cistern emerged from his hiding-place and let himself drop lightly upon the ground.
    This individual was the gipsy, Morcar.
    Being on his way to London,  alone, and upon some business connected with his tribe,  he had stopped to rest himself in those ruins: but he had not been there many minutes, when he heard the sound of footsteps; and, almost immediately afterwards, he beheld, through a cranny in the wall behind which he was seated, the well-known form and features of the Resurrection Man.
    His first impulse was to dart upon the miscreant and endeavour to make him his prisoner, but seeing that Tidkins looked suspiciously about, Morcar instantly imagined that he had some object in seeking that place. At the same time it struck him, from his knowledge of the Resurrection Man's character, that his object could be no good one, and be resolved to watch the villain's proceedings.
    Thus, while Tidkins was waking the circuit of the ruins, Morcar clambered noiselessly and rapidly up to the cistern, in which he concealed himself.
    The consequence was that the gipsy overheard the entire discourse which shortly afterwards ensued between Tidkins and Vernon; and a scheme of such diabolical villany was thus revealed to him, that his hair almost stood on end as the details of the fearful plot were gradually developed by means of that conversation.
    When the Resurrection Man and Gilbert Vernon had taken their departure, and Morcar had emerged from his hiding-place, his first impulse was to proceed to Ravensworth Hall and communicate everything he had overheard to the lady of that mansion.
    But, ere he took that step, he sate down, with the usual caution that characterizes his race, to ponder upon the subject.
    We have before stated that it is repugnant to the principles of the Zingarees to be instrumental in delivering a criminal over to any justice save their own and Morcar knew that if he did adopt such a course, he must necessarily appear as a witness against the two villains whose dark designs he had so strangely discovered. This appearance in a court of justice would sorely damage him with his tribe, over whom he was to rule at his father's death.
    It is, however, probable that the excellent effects [-338-] of Richard Markham's example upon the generous-hearted Morcar would have hushed those scruples and induced him to do what his good sense told him was his duty towards society, had not the sudden reminiscence of a certain portion of the conversation he had overheard confirmed him in the opinion that he should be acting more prudently to counteract the project of the two villains at the moment it was to be put into execution, rather than deliver them up to justice ere it was attempted.
    "I am now so bent upon the deed," had one of the miscreants said, "so resolved to become the owner of these broad lands and yon proud mansion  that I will even risk my neck to attain that end!"
    The reasoning which these words now engendered in Morcar's mind, was coincidentally similar to that upon which Eliza Sydney's conduct had been based.
    "This man," thought Morcar, "who dared to utter such sentiments, is the member of a noble family  the next heir after an infant child, to the title and lands of Ravensworth. Would the word of a wandering gipsy be for a moment credited against his indignant denial of the accusation which I should make against him, were he now delivered up to justice? And, were he to escape from that accusation, would he not commence anew his dark plots against the life of that child who seems to stand in his way? Far better will it be for me to counteract his scheme, and then proclaim his guilt when my evidence can be corroborated by the fact that he did attempt the deed of which he will stand accused! Yes  it must be so. Then will the law for ever remove him from a scene where his detestable machinations would sooner or later prove fatal to their innocent object!"
    Having devised a mode of proceeding, Morcar quitted the ruins, and bent his way towards the Three Kings public-house, which was about a mile distant.
    On his arrival at the little rustic inn, the gipsy sauntered into the tap-room, where he sate down, and ordered some refreshment.
    At one of the tables five men were busily engaged in devouring bread and cheese and washing down the same with long draughts of Barclay and Perkins's Treble X. They were thin, but well-made and athletic-looking fellows; and were dressed in garments of which fustian and corduroy were the principal materials. On the bench near them were several bundles tied up in handkerchiefs, through the openings and holes of which the quick eye of the gipsy caught sight of certain nankin breeches and flesh-coloured stockings, such as are worn by itinerant mountebanks. In a corner of the room stood a large drum, and near it a wicket basket with a lid.
    Morcar was convinced that these persons were the same to whom Vernon and Tidkins had alluded.
    His object was now to get into conversation with them; and this was easily effected by one of those casual remarks upon the weather which invariably commence a discourse between strangers in this country.
    "Fine day," said the gipsy, after quenching his thirst with half the contents of a pint of porter.
    "Very, indeed," replied one of the men. "Have you walked far this morning?"
    "Pretty well," returned Morcar. "I'm going to London presently," he added with apparent carelessness, "to try and astonish the people a little."
    "Ah!" exclaimed another of the jugglers: "and how so? For it must be a clever feller to do that with the Londoners. But may be your people have got hold of some new way of telling fortunes  for the old one is veared out by this time, I should think."
    "You suppose that because I am of the gipsy race I must be connected with women who tell fortunes," said Morcar, laughing good-naturedly. "Well, so I have been; but now I'm going to begin in a new line. In fact I don't mind telling you what it is  it's no secret; and I'm half inclined to believe that it's more or less in your way also," he added, glancing significantly towards the drum and the bundles.
    "If you could only do some new trick in our line," cried one of the men, eagerly, "you'd make your fortune: but it must be a good one, mind."
    "I can do a trick that, I flatter myself, no other man in England can perform," said Morcar, still speaking in a careless, indifferent kind of way. "But as you tell me that you are In the juggling line  "
    "Yes  we are; and we ain't ashamed on't," exclaimed two or three of the men together.
    "Well  then I'll explain to you what I can do," continued Morcar. "I've made a net that winds round an immense long roller, which must be raised upon two upright stakes. When the net is drawn out at dusk, or in a darkened room, it shows a thousand different figures  men, animals, fish, birds, snakes, and monsters of all kinds."
    "Capital!  capital!" exclaimed the jugglers.
    "But that isn't all," continued Morcar. "These figures all move about  skip  leap  dance  fly  crawl  or seem to swim, according to their nature."
    "Come, come  that won't do!" said one of the men, who began to think the gipsy was bantering them.
    "It's as true as you're there," answered Morcar seriously; "and it's very easy to do, too:  only a little phosphorus and other chemical things, skilfully used in a particular way. I reckon upon setting all the young children wild with delight when they see it."
    "And if you can really do what you say," observed the man who had last spoken, "you're safe to make your ten bob a-day. But then," he added, with a sly glance towards his companions, "the trick won't take so well alone: it ought to come after the usual exhibition of chaps like us."
    "That's just what I have been thinking myself," cried Morcar. "Only, as I didn't know any people in your way  "
    "Well, now you know some, at all events," interrupted the spokesman of the party of jugglers; "and though I say it what shouldn't perhaps, you won't find a jollier or better set of fellers than us in all England. What should you say to making a bargain with us?"
    "I have no objection," replied Morcar: "we can but give the thing a trial. But I would rather begin in the country, if possible, than in London."
    "The very ticket" cried the man: "you shall begin to-night. We're hired to perform at that great house which you see from the window: and, as we are to be there about half an hour before sunset, it will just be dark enough at the end of our performances for you to show yours. What do you say?"
    [-339-] "Let us settle the terms," answered Morcar; "and I've no objection."
    The five jugglers, who were evidently much delighted at the prospect of securing so valuable an addition to their troop, consulted together in whispers for a short period, while Morcar hummed a tune as if perfectly indifferent whether a bargain were concluded or not. The men did not fall to remark his free and off-hand manner, and took it as an unquestionable proof of his confidence in the value of his invention and the success which must attend upon its exhibition. They therefore resolved to enlist him on almost any terms.
    "Well," said the spokesman of the party, at length turning towards Morcar once more, "me and my partners here have no objection to give you one-third of the earnings."
    "That will suit my purpose uncommonly," replied Morcar: "so let us shake hands upon it."
    "And wet it," added one of the jugglers, who, as the gipsy subsequently discovered, was the musician of the party  his instrumental harmony being composed of the huge drum and a set of Pandean pipes, vulgarly called a mouth-organ.
    The process of shaking hands all round and of imbibing more strong beer was then gone through; after which the jugglers became very anxious to see the marvellous net that was to make their fortunes. They were, therefore, somewhat disappointed when Morcar informed them that one of the tribe had conveyed it to London in his cart the day before; but their elongating countenances expanded once more into smiles of satisfaction when he assured them that he would instantly set off after it, and be with them again at least an hour previously to the time when they intended to visit the mansion in the neighbourhood.
    Matters being thus arranged, Morcar took his departure  rejoiced at the success of his project, though somewhat annoyed at having been compelled to utter so many falsehoods to the credulous jugglers. But this vexation was speedily dissipated by the remembrance of the important duty which he had undertaken; and he moreover intended to make the poor fellows a handsome recompense for the disappointment they were destined to experience relative to the wonderful net.
    It is not necessary to follow the gipsy's footsteps to the metropolis, and back to the Three Kings again: suffice it to say that he made his appearance at the little public-house shortly after six o'clock in the evening  much to the joy of the five jugglers, who began to imagine that he had been hoaxing them.
    But all their suspicions vanished when they beheld the gipsy return, with an iron rod, as long as a hop-pole, and round which the magic net was rolled. over his shoulder.
    This rod was not much thicker than the thumb, but the bulk of the burden was considerably increased by the folds of the net.
    And at that net did the jugglers stare with such eager eyes, that Morcar could hardly contain his laughter: for the net was nothing more than a common one of the very largest size, such as poachers use to drag canals and small rivers. It was, however, very strong, and when stretched out would cover a room eighteen feet long, by twelve in width.
    The iron rod was about thirteen feet long, and the net was rolled round it breadthways.
    "You will let us have a sight of the thing before we go?" said one of the jugglers.
    "I had rather rest myself for half an hour, or so if you please," returned Morcar. "My walk to-day has been none of the shortest; and I am sadly fatigued. Your curiosity will keep till by and by; for as I have fulfilled my word in coming back, you surely can trust me when I tell you that this net, simple as it may appear, will do all I have promised. Besides, we should only have the trouble of darkening the room, which must be done with blankets, as there are no shutters."
    "Let our new friend have his own way, Mike," said the musician of the troop.
    "And now," continued Morcar, "I must propose a certain condition, without giving any explanation, but it belongs to my part of the performance. What I require is this:  one of you must remain entirely with me from the moment I pitch the stakes to which this net is to be fastened; and the one who so remains with me, must do just as I direct him In the arrangement of the net; because I must seize a particular time of the evening, in regard to the twilight, to unrol it."
    "Well  that can be managed without difficulty," said the man who had been addressed as Mike, "It is always my business to collect the coppers after the exhibition; and I take no share in the performances. So I can remain with you  and whatever you tell me to do, shall be done."
    "So far, so good," exclaimed Morcar. "And now as it is pretty nearly time to set off, we had better begin to dress."
    "Are you going to dress too?" demanded Mike, with mingled satisfaction and astonishment.
    "Only just to disguise myself a bit," answered Morcar, taking a huge red wig from one pocket and a hideous mask from another; "because there's often a prejudice amongst people  especially young ones  against gipsies."
    "So there is," observed Mike. "Besides, it's much better to go in character, as they say."
    The jugglers were now in high spirits; and they speedily addressed themselves to the process of changing their common apparel for the professional costume.

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