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THE district of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green was totally
unknown to Markham. Indeed, his visit upon the present occasion was the first he
had ever paid to that densely populated and miserable region.
It was now midnight; and the streets were nearly deserted.
The lamps, few and far between, only made darkness visible, instead of throwing
a useful light upon the intricate maze of narrow thoroughfares.
Markham's object was to reach Shoreditch as soon as possible;
for he knew that opposite the church there was a cab-stand where he might
procure a vehicle to take him home. Emerging from Brick Lane, he crossed Church
Street, and struck into that labyrinth of dirty and dangerous lanes in the
vicinity of Bird-cage Walk, which we alluded to at the commencement of the
He soon perceived that he had mistaken his way; and at length
found himself floundering about in a long narrow street, unpaved, and here and
there almost blocked up with heaps of putrescent filth. There was not a lamp in
this perilous thoroughfare no moon on high irradiated his path ;- black night
enveloped every thing above and below in total darkness.
Once or twice he thought he heard footsteps behind him; and
then he stopped, hoping to be overtaken by some one of whom he might inquire his
way. But either his ears deceived him, or else the person whose steps he heard
stopped when he did.
There was not a light in any of the houses on either side;
and not a sound of revelry or sorrow escaped from the ill-closed casements.
[-123-] Richard was bewildered ;
and - to speak truly - he began to be alarmed. He remembered to have read of the
mysterious disappearance of persons in the east end of the metropolis, and also
of certain tell deeds of crime which had been lately brought to light in the
very district where he was now wandering ;- and he could not help wishing that
he was in some more secure and less gloomy region. He was groping his way along,
feeling with his hands against the houses to guide him, - now knee-deep in some
filthy puddle, now stumbling over some heap of slimy dirt, now floundering up to
his ankles in the mud, - when a heavy and crushing blow fell upon his hat from
He staggered and fell against the door of a house. Almost at
the same instant that door was thrust open, and two powerful arms hurled the
prostrate young man down three or four steps into a passage. The person who thus
ferociously attacked him leapt after him, closing the door violently behind him.
All this occupied but a couple of seconds; and though Markham
was not completely stunned by the blow, he was too much stupefied by the
suddenness and violence of the assault to cry out. To this circumstance he was
probably indebted for his life for the villain who had struck him no doubt
conceived the blow to have been fatal; and therefore, instead of renewing the
attack, he strode over Markham and entered a room into which the passage opened.
Richard's first idea was to rise and attempt an escape by the
front door; but before he had time to consider it even for a moment, the
murderous ruffian struck a light in the room, which, as well as a part of the
passage, was immediately illuminated by a powerful glare.
Markham had been thrown upon the damp tiles with which the
passage was paved, in such a manner that his head was close by the door of the
room. The man who had assailed him lighted a piece of candle in a bright tin
shade hanging against the wall; and the reflection produced by the metal caused
the strong glare that fell so suddenly upon Richard's eyes.
Markham was about to start from his prostrate position when
the interior of that room was thus abruptly revealed to him; but for a few
moments the spectacle which met his sight paralyzed every limb, and rendered him
breathless, speechless, and motionless with horror.
Stretched upon a shutter, which three chairs supported, was a
corpse - naked, and of that blueish or livid colour which denotes the beginning
Near this loathsome object was a large tub full of water; and
to that part of the ceiling immediately above it were affixed two large hooks,
to each of which hung thick cords.
In one corner of the room were long flexible iron rods,
spades, pickaxes, wooden levers, coils of thick rope, trowels, saws, hammers,
huge chisels, skeleton keys, &c.
But how great was Richard's astonishment when, glancing from
the objects just described towards the ruffian who had hurled him into that den
of horrors, his eyes were struck by the sombre and revolting countenance of the
He closed his eyes for a moment, as if he could thus banish
both thought and danger.
"Now, then, Mummy," ejaculated the Resurrection
Man; "come and hold this light while I rifle the pockets of a new
Scarcely had be uttered these words, when a low knock was
beard at the front door of the house.
"Dn the thing!" cried the Resurrection Man,
aloud: "here are these fellows come for the stiff 'un."
These words struck fresh dismay into the soul of Richard Markham; for it instantly occurred to
him that any
friends of the Resurrection Man, who were thus craving admittance, were more likely to aid
than to frustrate that villain's designs upon the life and
property of a fellow-creature.
"Here, Mummy," cried the Resurrection Man, once more; and, hastily returning into the passage,
reiterated his summons at the bottom of a staircase at the further end;
"here, Mummy, why the hell don't you come down?"
"I'm a cumin', I'm a cumin'," answered a cracked female
voice from the top of the staircase; and in another moment an old, blear-eyed,
shrivelled hag made her appearance.
She was so thin, her eyes were so sunken, her skin was so
much like dirty parchment, and her entire
appearance was so horrible and repulsive, that it was impossible to conceive a more appropriate and
expressive nickname than the one which had been conferred upon her.
"Now come, Mummy," said the ruffian, in a hasty whisper;
"help me to drag this fellow into the back room; there's good pickings
here, and the chaps have come for the stiff 'un."
Another knock was heard at the door.
Markham, well aware that resistance was at present vain,
exercised sufficient control over himself to remain motionless, with his eyes nearly closed, while the
Resurrection Man and the Mummy dragged him hastily into the back room.
The Mummy turned the key in the lock, while the
Resurrection Man hurried to the street door, and admitted two men into the front apartment.
One was Tom the Cracksman; the other was a rogue of the same stamp, and was known amongst
confederates in crime by the name of the Buffer. It was this man's boast that he never robbed any one without
stripping him to the very skin; and us a person in a state of nudity is said to
be "in buff," the origin of his pseudonym is easily comprehended.
"Well," said the Cracksman, sulkily, "you ain't at all
partikler how you keep people at your door - you ain't. For twopence, I'd have
sported it* [*Burst it open] with my foot."
"Why, the old Mummy was fast asleep," returned the
Resurrection Man; "and I was up stairs trying to awake her. But I didn't
expect you till to-morrow night."
" No; and we shouldn't have come either," said the
Cracksman, "if there hadn't been thirty quids to earn to-night."
"The devil there is! " cried the Resurrection Man.
"Then you ain't come for the stiff 'un to-night?"
"No sich a thing; the Sawbones* [*Surgeon] that it's for
expect it till to-morrow night; so its no use taking it. But there a t'other
Sawbones, which lives down by the Middlesex Hospital, will meet us at
half-past one at the back of Shoreditch church "
"What, to-night!" ejaculated the Resurrection Man.
"To-night-in half an hour-and with all the tools,"
returned the Cracksman.
"Work for the inside of the church," he says, added the
Bufer. "Thirty quids isn't to be sneezed at ; that a ten a-piece. I m
blowed if I don't like this here resurrection business better than cracking
cribs. What do you say, Tom?"
"Anythink by way of a change; partikler as [-124-]
when we want a stiff 'un by a certain day, and don't know in which churchyard
to dive for one, we hit upon the plan of catching 'em alive in the street."
"It was my idea, though," exclaimed the Buffer.
"Don't you remember when we wanted a stiff'un for the wery same Sawbones
which we've got to meet presently, we waited for near two hours at this
house-door, and at last we caught bold of a feller that was walking so
comfortable along, looking up at the moon?"
"And then I thought of holding him with his head downwards in a tub of
water," added the Cracksman, "till he was drownded. That way don't tell no
tales ;- no wound on the skin - no pison in the stomach; and there ain't too much
water inside neither, cos the poor devils don't swaller with their heads
"Ah! it was a good idea," said the Buffer; "and now we've reduced it
to a reg'lar system. Tub of water all ready on the floor - hooks and cords to
hold the chaps' feet up to the ceiling; and then, my eye! there they hangs,
head downwards, jest for all the world like the carcasses in the butchers'
shops, if they hadn't got their clothes on ."
them we precious soon takes off. But I say, old feller," said the
turning to the Resurrection Man, who had remained silent during the colloquy
between his two companions ; "what the devil are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking," was the answer, "that the
saw bones that you've agreed
to meet to-night wants some particular body."
"He does," said the Cracksman; "and the one he wants is buried in
"Well and good," exclaimed the Resurrection-man; " he is too good a customer to
disappoint. We must be off at once."
Resurrection Man did not for a moment doubt that Richard Markham had been
killed by the blow which he had inflicted upon him with his life-preserver; and
he therefore did not hesitate to undertake the business just proposed by his two
confederates. He knew that, whatever Richard's pockets might contain, he could
rely upon the honesty of the Mummy, who - horrible to relate - was the miscreant's
own mother. Having therefore given a few instructions, in a whisper, to the old
woman, he prepared to accompany the Cracksman and the Buffer.
The three worthies provided themselves with some of the long
flexible rods and other implements before noticed; and the Resurrection Man took
from a cupboard two boxes, each of about six inches square, and which he gave to
his companions to carry. He also concealed the tin shade which held the candle,
about his person; and, these preliminaries being settled, the three men left
Let us now return to Richard Markham.
The moment he was deposited in the back room and the door
had closed behind the occupants of that fearful den, he started up, a prey to the
most indescribable feelings of alarm and horror.
What a lurking hole of enormity- what a haunt of infamy -
a scene of desperate crime - was this in which he now found himself! A feculent
smell of the decomposing corpse in the next room reached his nostrils, and
produced a nauseating sensation in his stomach. And that corpse - was it the
remains of one who had died a natural death, or who had been most foully
murdered? He dared not answer the question which he had thus put to himself; he
feared lest the solution of that mystery might prove ominous in respect to his
Oh! for the means of escape! He must fly - he must fly from
that horrible sink of crime - from that human slaughter-house! But how? the door
was locked - and the window was closed with a shutter. If he made the slightest
noise, the ruffians in the next room would rush in and assassinate him!
But, hark! those men were talking, and he could overhear all
they said. Could it be possible? The two who had just come, were going to take
the third away with them upon his own revolting business! Hope returned to the
bosom of the poor young man: he felt that he might yet be saved!
But - oh, horror! on what topic had the conversation turned?
Those men were rejoicing in their own infernal inventions to render murder
unsuspected. The object of the tub of water, and the hooks and cords upon the
ceiling, were now explained. The unsuspecting individual who passed the door
of that accursed dwelling by night was set upon by the murderers, dragged into
the house, gagged, and suspended by his feet to these hooks, while his head hung
downwards in the water. And thus he delivered up his last breath; and the
wretches kept him there until decomposition commenced, that the corpse might
not appear too fresh to the surgeon to whom it was to be sold!
Merciful heavens! could such things be? could atrocities of
so appalling a nature be perpetrated in a great city, protected by thousands of
a well-paid police? Could the voice of murder - murder effected with so much
safety, cry up to heaven for vengeance through the atmosphere of London?
At length the three men went out, as before described; and
Markham felt an immense weight suddenly lifted from off his mind.
Before the Resurrection Man set out upon his excursion with
the Cracksman and the Buffer, he had whispered these words to the Mummy: While
I'm [-125-] gone, you can clean out the swell's pockets in the
back room. He has got about four or five hundred pound about him - so mind and take care. When you've searched his pockets, strip him, and
at his skull. I m afraid I've fractured it, for my life-preserver came down
precious heavy upon him; and he never spoke a word. If there's the wound, I must
bury him to-morrow in the cellar: if not, wash him clean, and I know where to dispose of
It was in obedience to these instructions that the Mummy took
a candle in her hand, and. proceeded to the back-room, as soon as her son and
his two companions had left the house.
The horrible old woman was not afraid of the dead: her
husband had been a resurrection man, and her only son followed the same business
- she was therefore too familiar with the sight of death in all Its most
fearful as well as its most interesting shapes to be alarmed at it. The
revolting spectacle of a corpse putrid with decomposition produced no more
impression upon her than the pale and beautiful remains of any lovely girl whom
death had called early to the tomb, and whose form was snatched from its silent
couch beneath the sod ere the finger of decay had begun its ravages. That
hideous old woman considered corpses an article of commerce, mud handled her
wares as a trader does his merchandise. She cared no more for the sickly and
fetid odour which they sent forth, than the tanner does for the smell of the
tan-yard, or the scourer for the fumes of his bleaching-liquid.
The Mummy entered the back-room, holding a candle in her
Markham started forward, and caught her by the wrist.
She uttered a sort of growl of savage disappointment, but
gave no sign of alarm.
"Vile wretch! " exclaimed Richard; " God has at
length sent me to discover and expose your crimes!"
"Don't do me any harm - don't hurt me," said the old woman
· "and I will do any thing you want of me."
"Answer me,' cried Markham: "that corpse in the
other room "
"Murdered by my son," replied the hag.
"And the clothes? where are the clothes? They may
contain some papers which may throw a light upon the name and residence of your
"Follow me - I will show you."
The old woman turned and walked slowly out of the room.
Markham went after her; for be thought that If he could discover who the
unfortunate person was that had met his death in that accursed dwelling, he
might be enabled to relieve his family at least from the horrors of suspense,
although he should be the bearer of fatal news indeed.
The Mummy opened the door of a cupboard formed beneath the
staircase, and holding forward the light, pointed to some clothes which hung
upon a nail inside.
"There - take them yourself if you want them," said the old
woman; "I won't touch them."
With these words she drew back, but still held the candle in
such a way as to throw the light into the closet.
stepped forward to reach the clothes, and, in extending his hand to take them
from the peg, he advanced one of his feet upon the floor of the closet.
A trap-door instantly gave way beneath his foot: he
lost his balance, and fell precipitately into a subterranean excavation.
The trap-door, which moved with a spring, closed by itself above his head, and he heard the
triumphant cackling laugh of the
old hag, as she fastened it with a large iron bolt.
The Mummy then went and seated herself by the corpse in the front room; and,
while she rocked backwards and forwards in her chair, she crooned the following
the churchyard the body is laid,
they inter the beautiful maid:
to earth" is the solemn sound!
the sod where their daughter sleeps,
The father prays, and the mother weeps:
to ashes" echoes around!
with the axe, and come with the spade,
Come where the beautiful virgin's laid:
from earth must we take back now!
sod is damp, and the grave is cold
white corpse on the dark black mould.
That the pale moonbeam may kiss its brow!
back the earth, and heap up the clay;
This cold white corpse we will bear away,
Now that the moonlight waxes dim;
the student doth his knife prepare
hack all over this form so fair,
sever the virgin limb from limb!
morn the mother will come to pray
the grave where her child she lay,
And freshest flowers thereon will spread;
on that spot will she kneel and weep.
Nor dream that we have disturbed the sleep
Of her who lay in that narrow bed.
We must leave the Mummy singing her horrible staves, and accompany the
body-snatchers in their proceedings at Shoreditch Church.
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