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[-118-]

CHAPTER XLII.

"THE DARK HOUSE."

MARKHAM did not forget his appointment with the Resurrection Man. Having obtained the necessary sum from his solicitor, he determined to sacrifice it in propitiating a miscreant who possessed the power of wounding him in a tender and almost vital point. Accordingly we find him, on the evening agreed upon, threading his way on foot amidst the maze of narrow streets and crooked alleys which lie in the immediate neighbourhood of Spitalfields Church.
    There is not probably in all London - not even in Saint Giles's nor the Mint - so great an amount of squalid misery and fearful crime huddled together, as in the joint districts of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. Between Shoreditch Church and Wentworth Street the most intense pangs of poverty, the most profligate morals, and the most odious crimes, rage with the fury of a pestilence.
    Entire streets that are nought but sinks of misery and vice, - dark courts, foetid with puddles of black slimy water, - alleys, blocked up with heaps of filth, and nauseating with unwholesome odours, constitute, with but little variety, the vast district of which we are speaking.
    The Eastern Counties' Railway intersects Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. The traveller upon this line may catch, from the windows of the carriage in which he journeys, a hasty, but alas! too comprehensive glance of the wretchedness and squalor of that portion of London. He may actually obtain a view of the interior and domestic misery peculiar to the neighbourhood ;- he may penetrate, with his eyes, into the secrets of those abodes of sorrow, vice, and destitution. In summer time the poor always have their windows open, and thus the hideous poverty of their rooms can be readily descried from the summit of the arches on which the railroad is constructed.
    And in those rooms may be seen women half naked,- some employed in washing the few rags which they possess,- others ironing the linen of a more wealthy neighbour,- a few preparing the sorry meal,-and numbers scolding, swearing, and quarrelling. At many of the windows, men out of work, with matted hair, black beards, and dressed only in filthy shirts and ragged trousers,- lounge all the day long, smoking. From not a few of the open casements bang tattered garments to dry in the sun. Around the doors children, unwashed, uncombed, shoeless, dirty, and uncared for - throng in numbers, - a rising generation of thieves and vagabonds.
    In the districts of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green the police are but little particular with regard to street-stalls. These portable shops are therefore great in number and in nuisance. Fish, fresh and fried,-oysters, sweet-stuff, vegetables, fruit, cheap publications, sop-in-the-pan, shrimps and periwinkles, hair-combs, baked potatoes, liver and lights, curds and whey, sheep's heads, haddocks and red-herrings, are the principal comestibles which find vendors and purchasers in the public street. The public-houses and the pawnbrokers also drive an excellent trade in that huge section of London.
    In a former chapter we have described the region of Saffron Hill: all the streets and courts of that locality are safe and secure when compared with many in Bethnal Green and Spitalfields. There are lanes and alleys between Shoreditch and Church Street, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Railway east of Brick Lane, through which a well. dressed person would not wander with a gold chain round his neck, at night, were he prudent.
    Leading from the neighbourhood of church Street up into the Hackney Road, is a sinuous thoroughfare, composed of Tyssen Street, Turk Street, Virginia Street, and the Bird-cage Walk; and in the vicinity of these narrow and perilous ways are the Wellington Road (bordered by a ditch of black mud) and several vile streets, inhabited by the very lowest of the low, the most filthy of the squalid, and the most profligate of the immoral.
    We defy any city upon the face of the earth to produce a district equal in vice, dirt, penury, and fear-inspiring dens, to these which we are now describing.
    The Dark House was a tavern of the lowest description in Brick Lane. a little north of the spot where the railway now intersects the street. The parlour of the Dark House was dirty and repulsive in all respects; the gas-lights formed two enormous black patches upon the ceiling; the tables were occupied by ill-looking men, whose principal articles of consumption were tobacco and malt liquor, and the atmosphere was filled with a dense volume of smoke. Markham was ashamed to be seen in such a place and in such society; but he consoled himself with the idea that neither he nor his business was known to those present; and as very little notice was taken of him as he proceeded to seat himself in the most retired and obscure corner, he speedily divested himself of the momentary embarrassment which had seized upon him.
    Having satisfied himself by a glance that the Resurrection Man was not there, Richard ordered a glass of spirits and water, and resolved to await with patience the arrival of the extortioner.
    By degrees be fell into a train of reflections in which he had never been involved before. He was about to purchase the silence of a villain who had menaced him with exposure to a family whose good opinion he valued. We have said elsewhere that he was a young man of the strictest honour, and that he was ever animated with the most scrupulous integrity of purpose. He could no longer conceal from himself the fact that he entertained a sincere and deep attachment for the Signora Isabella, and he flattered himself that he was not disagreeable to her in return. His transient passion for Mrs. Arlington had faded away with reflection, and he now comprehended the immense difference between an evanescent flame of that nature,- a flame kindled only by animal beauty, and unsustained by moral considerations, - and the pure, chaste, and sacred affection he experienced towards the charming Isabella. From the moment of his release from confinement, he had never inquired after Diana - much less sought after her; he knew not where she was, nor what had become of her, and his heart was totally independent of any inclination in her favour. He now asked himself whether he was pursuing an honourable part in concealing the antecedent adventures of his life from her whose pure and holy love he was so anxious to retain, whose confidence he would not lose for worlds, and whose peace of mind be would not for a moment sacrifice to his own passion or interest?
    He had not satisfactorily answered the question which he had thus put to himself, when he was aroused from his reverie by the sound of a voice at the further end of the room, which appeared familiar to him. 
    Glancing in that direction, he immediately recognised the well-known form and features of Mr. Talbot [-119-] the vulgar companion of Sir Rupert Harborough and Mr. Chichester.
    But how had the mighty fallen! The charitable gentleman now seemed to require the aid of charity himself. His hat, which was originally a gossamer at four-and-nine, was now so fully ventilated about the crown, that it would have fetched nothing at a Jews' auction, even though George Robins himself had put it up for sale. His coat was out at the elbows, his trousers out at the knees, and his shoes out at the toes; he was out of cash and out of spirits; and as he had none of the former, he trusted to the kindness of the frequenters of the Dark House parlour to supply him with some of the latter, diluted with hot water, and rendered more agreeable by means of sugar. Indeed, at the moment when his voice fell upon Markham's ear, he was just about to apply his lips to a tumbler of gin-punch which a butcher had ordered for his behoof.
    "Well, Mr. Pocock," (this was Talbot's real name), said the butcher, "how does the world use you now?"
    "Very bad, indeed, Mr. Griskin," was the reply. "For the last three year, come January, I havn't known, when I got up in the morning, where the devil I should sleep at night ;- and that is God's Almighty's truth."
    "I m sorry to hear your affairs don't mend," said the butcher. "For my part, I'm getting on blooming. I was a bankrupt only seven weeks ago."
    "A strange manner of being successful in business," thought Markham.
    "But all my goods was seized by the landlord," added the butcher, in a triumphant tone of voice, "and so they was saved from the messenger of the Court, when he come down to take possession."
    "Ah! I suppose your bankruptcy has put you all right again," said Pocock. "Nothing like a bankruptcy now-a-days - it makes a man's fortune."
    "Yes - and no going to quod neither. I made a lot of friends of mine creditors, and so I got my certificate the wery same day as I passed my second examination; and now I'm as right as a trivet. But what ails you, though, old feller, that you can't contrive to get on ?"
    "The fact is," said Pocock, sipping his gin-and-water, "I was led into bad company about three or four years ago, and I don't care before who I say it, or who knows what infernal scrapes I was partly the means of getting a nice young fellow into."
    "I suppose you fell in with flash company ?" observed the butcher.
    "I did indeed! I went out of my element - out of my proper sphere, as I may say; and when a man does that without the means of keeping it, he's d—d and done for at once. I fell in with a baronet and a swell cove of the name of Chichester, or Winchester, and, who after all turned out to be the son of old Chichester the pawnbroker down the street here. They made a perfect tool of me. I was fed and pampered, and lived on the fat of the land; and then, when the scheme fell through, I was trundled off like a hoop of which a charity school-boy is tried. I fell into distress; and though I've met this here baronet and that there Chichester riding in their cabs, with tigers behind and horses before, they never so much as said, 'Talbot,' or 'Pocock  my tu1ip, here is a quid for you.' "
    "Willanous," ejaculated the butcher. "But of what natur' was the scheme you talk of ?"
    "Why, I'll tell you that too. I shall certainly proclaim my own crimes; but I don't hesitate to say that I was led away by those two thieves. My name, as you well know, is Bill Pocock, and they made me take the name of Talbot. I was brought up as an engraver, and did pretty well until some four years ago, when I lost my wife and got drinking, and then every thing went wrong. One day I fell in with this Chichester, and he lent me some money. He then began telling me how he knew the way of making an immense fortune with very little trouble, and no risk or expense to myself."
    "So far, so good," said the butcher.
    "I was hard up - I was rendered desperate by the death of my wife, and, to tell the truth, I wanted to live an idle life. I had got attached to public house parlours, and couldn't sit down to work with the graver. So I bit at Chichester's proposal, and he introduced me to the baronet."
    "Another glass, Pocock," interrupted the butcher, winking to the other inmates of the parlour, who were now all listening with the greatest attention to this narrative - but none with more avidity nor with deeper interest than Richard Markham, who sate unperceived by Pocock in his obscure corner.
    "The scheme was certainly a very ingenious one," continued Talbot, "and deserved success. It was nothing more nor less than making bank-notes. I was used to engraving plates of that kind; and so I undertook the job. I don't care if any one here present goes and informs against me; perhaps I should be better off in a prison than out of one. But what goes to my heart - and what I can never forget, and shall reproach myself for as long as I live, was the getting of a nice young fellow into a scrape, and making him stand Moses for the punishment, as you do, Griskin, for the grog."
    "And who was this young chap ?" demanded the butcher.
    "One Markham. You must recollect his case. He was tried just about this time three years ago, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment."
    "Can't say I recollect."
    "Well - this Markham was as innocent about the notes, as the child unborn!" added Pocock emphatically.
    "I don't see that you need take on so," remarked the butcher, "for after all, you'd better let another feller get into trouble than be locked up in lavender yourself."
    "It was an unfortunate event," said Pocock, shaking his head solemnly, "and nothing has prospered with me since. But what vexes me as much as all the rest, is to think of the conduct of those two chaps, Chichester and the baronet. They pretended not to know who I was, when I one day stopped them in Regent Street, and wanted to borrow a few pounds of them. The baronet turns round, and says to his pal, 'Who the devil is that fellow?' and Chichester puts up his eye-glass, stares at me through it for five minutes, and says, ' My good man, we never give alms to people unless they have certificates of good character to show.'
    "Perhaps you wasn't over swell in your toggery?" said the butcher.
    "Why -no I don't think I was so well dressed then as I am now."
    "The devil you wasn't! Well then, it ain't no wonder if so be they slighted you; for one wouldn't think as how you was titivated off at present to go to the Queen's le-vee."
    "Come, no joking," exclaimed Pocock. "I have told you my story, and if you' think it is a good one, and are inclined to do me a service, you can just order in a chop or a steak, for I think I could manage to eat a bit."
    "With all my heart," said the butcher, who was a good-natured man in his way, and who, having [-120-] realised a considerable sum by his late bankruptcy, was disposed to be generous: "you shall have as good a supper, and as much lush as you can stow away. Here, Dick," he cried, addressing himself to the waiter, "run round to my shop, and ask the old 'ooman for a nice steak; and then get it fried for me along with some inguns And, Dick, let's have some tutors."
    .Thc waiter disappeared to execute these orders, said the conversation was then resumed upon the former topic.
    Pocock entered into all the details with which the reader is already acquainted; and Markham who had made up his mind how to act, was determined to allow him to disclose spontaneously as much as he thought fit, before he should reveal himself. He sate in his obscure corner, shading his face with his hands, and affecting to be deeply interested in the columns of the Morning Advertiser, which lay the wrong way upwards before him.
    The moment Pocock had begun to speak upon matters which so deeply interested him, Richard had become an attentive listener, and, as that individual proceeded, and he found within his reach a means of establishing his innocence, his brain seemed to be excited with joy - even to delirium. His pulse throbbed violently - his heart palpitated audibly. Much as he had loathed that den when he first entered it, he would now have fallen down, and kissed its dirty, saw-dust covered floor.
    Hour after hour had passed away; the clock had struck eleven, and still the Resurrection Man did not make his appearance.
    The butcher and Pocock were discussing their supper, and Markham was just thinking of accosting the latter, when the door was suddenly opened with great violence, and two persons muffled up in pea-coats, carrying enormous sticks, and smoking cigars, precipitated themselves into the parlour of the Dark House.
   
"D—n me, what a lark!" ejaculated one, flinging himself upon a seat, and laughing heartily: "but we're quite safe in here. I know this place, and the policeman lost sight of us, before we reached the door."
    "Upon my honour, I cannot say that I admire frolics of this kind," observed the other; "it is really ridiculous to break lamps up at this end of the town. But, my God! what a neighbourhood you have brought me into! I couldn't have suspected that there was such a district in London."
    "I told you that you would do good if you would come with me to my father," said the first speaker. "The old boy was quite delighted at the idea of a baronet condescending to sup with him; and you saw how he shelled out the blunt to me when he had imbibed his third glass of the punch."
    The latter portion of this conversation was uttered in whispers, and the two gentlemen again laughed heartily - doubtless because they had succeeded in the business which had that evening brought them - to the eastern regions of London.
    In the midst of that second burst of hilarity, Mr. Pocock rose from his seat and advanced slowly towards the two new-comers.
    "Well, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "this is an honour which you do us poor folks in Spitalfields. Come - you needn't stare so confounded hard at me. How are you, Chichester? Been to see the old gentleman at the sign of the Lombardy Arms - three balls, eh?" Two chances to one that the things put up the spout will never come down again, eh?"
    The butcher burst out into a roar of laughter, which was echoed by several other inmates of the room.
    "Who the devil are you ?" demanded Chichester, recovering his presence of mind sooner than the baronet; for both were astounded at this unexpected and very embarrassing encounter.
    "Upon my honour, the man must be mistaken," murmured Sir Rupert Harborough.
    "So far from being mistaken," cried Pocock, "you were the very fellows I was talking about just now. Gentlemen," he added, turning towards the people seated at the various tables, "these are the two swells that led me into the scrape I told you about just now. And now they pretend not to know me!"
    "What does the fellow mean?" said Chichester, in an impudent tone: "do you know, Harborough?"
    " 'Pon my honour, not I!"
    "Then I will tell you who I am," ejaculated the engraver. "I am the man who forged the plates from which the bank-notes were struck, that got poor Richard Markham condemned to two years' imprisonment in the Compter; and you know as well as possible that he suffered for our crime"
    Chichester and the baronet were stupefied by the sudden and unexpected exposure.
    They knew not what to say or do; and their countenance. betrayed their guilt.
    "Yes, gentlemen," resumed Pocock, growing excited, "these are the men whom some extraordinary chance - some providential or devilish design - has brought here this evening to confirm all I have told you."
    "Devil take this impudence!" cried Chichester, now once more recovering his wonted self-possession, and determining to brave the accusation out: "my name isn't Chichester - you're quite mistaken, my good fellow - I can assure you that you are."
    "Liar!" cried the engraver, furiously: "I should know you both amongst a million!"
    "And so should I," calmly observed Markham, now advancing from his obscure corner, and appearing in the presence of those who so little expected to see him there.
    A tremendous sensation now prevailed in the room, and those who were spectators anxiously awaited the result of this strange drama.
    "Yes - there are indeed the villains to whom I am indebted for all the miseries I have endured," continued Markham. "But say not that a lucky accident brought us all here together this night, think not that a mere chance occasioned the present meeting of the deceivers and the deceived; - no; it was the will of the Almighty, to establish the innocence of an injured man!"
    A solemn silence succeeded these words, which were delivered in a tone which produced an impression of awe upon all who heard them. Even the depraved and hardened men that were present on this occasion, in the parlour of the Dark House gazed with respect upon the young man who dared to speak of the Almighty in that den of dissipation.
    Markham continued after a short pause:-
    "Were it not that I should be involving in ruin a man who has spontaneously come forward to proclaim his own guilt, to declare his repentance, and to assert my innocence - without hope of reward from me, and even without knowing that God had sent me hither to overhear every word be uttered - were it not that I should be inflicting upon him the deepest injury, I would this moment assign you to the custody of the police, as the instigators of the diabolical fraud in which Talbot was your tool, and I your scape-goat. But though I shall take no steps to punish you, heaven will not allow you to triumph in your career of "turpitude!"
    [-121-] 

    "Well spoken," said Mr. Chichester, perceiving that he was in no danger, and therefore assuming an air of bravado.
    "Upon my honour, I can't comprehend all this," muttered the baronet. "Let us go, my dear fellow - I do not admire your Spitalfields' riff-raff."
    "Yes - go - depart! cried Markham ; "or else I shall not be able to restrain my indignation."
    "They shan't go without a wolloping, however," said the butcher, very coolly taking off his apron, and turning up the sleeves of his blue stuff jacket. "I'll take one  -who'll take the other?"
"I will," cried a barber's boy, laying aside his pipe, taking a long pull at the porter, and then advancing towards the two adventurers with clenched fists.
    "Stop - stop, I implore you!" ejaculated Markham. "I ask not for such vengeance as this - no violence, I beseech you."
    "Let's give it 'em in true John Bull style, and knock all that cursed dandy nonsense out of 'em," cried the butcher; and before Richard could interfere farther, he felled the baronet with one blow of his tremendous fist.
    The barber forthwith pitched into the fashionable Mr. Chichester, who struggled in vain to defend himself. The baronet rose; and the butcher instantly  took his head "into chancery," and pummelled him to his heart's content.
    As soon as Chichester and Sir Rupert were so severely thrashed that they were covered all over with bruises, and could scarcely stand upon their legs, the butcher and the barber kicked them into the open air, amidst the shouts and acclamations of all the inmates of the Dark House parlour. 
    When order was once more restored, Markham addressed himself to the two champions who had avenged him in their own peculiar style, and not only thanked them for their well-meant though mistaken kindness, but also gave them munificent proofs of his bounty.
    "And now," said Richard, turning towards Pocock, "are you willing to sign a declaration of my innocence?"
    "On condition that the paper shall never be used against me," answered the engraver.
    " Could I not this moment give you into custody to the police, upon your own confession of having forged the place from which the bank-notes were printed?"
    "Certainly: I was wrong to make any conditions. You are a man of honour."
    Markham proceeded to draw up the declaration referred to; and Pocock signed it with a firm and steady hand.
    This ceremony being completed, Richard placed Bank of England notes for fifty pounds in the engraver's hand.
    "Accept this," he said, "as a token of my [-122-] gratitude and a proof of my forgiveness; and, be have me, I regret that my means do not allow me to be more liberal. Endeavour to enter an honest path; and should you ever require a friend, do not hesitate to apply to me."
    Pocock wept tears of gratitude and repentance - the only acknowledgment he could offer for this sudden and most welcome aid. His emotions choked his powers of utterance.
    Markham hurried from the room, and took his departure from the establishment which possessed much an ominous name, but which had proved the scene of a great benefit to him that evening.
    He was hurrying up Brick Lane in a northerly direction - that is to say, towards Church Street, when he was suddenly stopped by an individual whom he encountered in his way, and who carried a large life-preserver in his hand.
    " I suppose you were tired of waiting for me," said the Resurrection Man - for it was he.
    I certainly imagined you would not come to-night, answered Richard.
    "Well, better late than never. It is fortunate that we met: it will save you another journey to-morrow night, you know."
    "Yes - I am glad that we have met, as my time is now too valuable to waste."
    "In that case, we can either return to the Dark House, which is open all night; or you can give me the money in the street. You don't require any receipt, I suppose?"
    "No: neither will you require to give me any."
    "So I thought: honour among thieves, eh? Excuse the compliment. But, in the first place, have you got the tin ?"
    "I had the whole amount just now, in my pocket, when I first went to the Dark House."
    "Then I suppose it is all there still?"
    "Not all. I have parted with fifty pounds out of it."
    "The deuce you have! And how came you to do that?" demanded the Resurrection Man gruffly. " I gave you fair warning that I would take nothing less than the entire sum."
    "I obtained, in a most extraordinary manner, a proof of my innocence; and I think I purchased it cheaply at that rate. I would have given all I possessed in the world," added Markham, "to procure it."
    "The devil!" cried the Resurrection Man, who grew uneasy at the cold and indifferent way in which Markham spoke. " Well, I suppose I must take what you have got left. You can easily leave the remainder for me at the Dark House."
    "Not a shilling will you now obtain from me, ejaculated Richard firmly ; "and I have waited to tell you so. I have made up my mind to reveal the entire truth, without reserve, to those from whom I was before foolishly and dishonourably anxious to conceal it."
    "This gammon won't do for me," cried the Resurrection Man. "You want to stall me off; but I'm too wide awake. Give me the tin, or I'll start off to-morrow morning to Richmond, and see the count upon - you know what subject. Before I left that neighbourhood the other day, I made all the necessary inquiries about the people of the house which the young lady went into."
    "You may save yourself that trouble also," said Markham; "for 1 shall reveal all that you would unfold. But, in a word, you may do what you choose."
    "Come now," ejaculated the Resurrection Man, considerably crestfallen; "assist an old companion in difficulties - lend me a hundred or so."
    "No," returned Richard in a resolute manners " had you asked me in the first instance to assist you, I. would have done so willingly ;- but you have endeavoured to extort a considerable sum of money from me - much more than I could spare; and I should not now be justified in yielding to the prayers of a man who has found that his bass menaces have failed."
    "You do not think I would have done what I said? " cried the Resurrection Man.
    "I believe you to be capable of any villany. But we have already conversed too long. I was anxious to show you how a virtuous resolution would enable me to triumph over your base designs ;- and I have now nothing more to say to you. Our ways lie in different directions, both at present and in future. Farewell."
    With these words Markham continued his way up Brick Lane; but the Resurrection Man was again by his side in a moment.
    "You refuse to assist me?" he muttered in a hoarse and savage tone.
    "I do. Molest me no further."
    "You refuse to assist me?" repeated the villain, grinding his teeth with rage: "then you may mind the consequences! I will very soon show you that you will bitterly - bitterly repent your determination. By God, I will be revenged!"
    "I shall know how to be upon my guard," said Markham.
    He then walked rapidly on, without looking behind him.
    The Resurrection Man stood still for a moment, considering how to act: then, apparently struck by a sudden idea, he hastened stealthily after Richard Markham.

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