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[-122-]    

CHAPTER XLIII.

THE MUMMY.

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 preceding chapter.
    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 behind.
    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 of decomposition!
    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 Resurrection Man.
    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 subject."
    Scarcely had be uttered these words, when a low knock was beard at the front door of the house.
    "D—n 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, he 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 his 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 don't 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 downwards.
    "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 ."

    "And them we precious soon takes off. But I say, old feller," said the Cracksman, 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 a vault."
    "Well and good," exclaimed the Resurrection-man; " he is too good a customer to disappoint. We must be off at once."
    The 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 the house.
    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 - what 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 own fate.
    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 look 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 him."
    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 hand.
    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 victim."
    "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.
    Markham 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 song:-

THE BODY-SNATCHER'S SONG

IN the churchyard the body is laid,
There they inter the beautiful maid:
"Earth to earth" is the solemn sound!
Over the sod where their daughter sleeps, 
The father prays, and the mother weeps:
"Ashes to ashes" echoes around!

Come with the axe, and come with the spade,
Come where the beautiful virgin's laid:
Earth from earth must we take back now!
The sod is damp, and the grave is cold
Lay the white corpse on the dark black mould. 
That the pale moonbeam may kiss its brow!

Throw back the earth, and heap up the clay; 
This cold white corpse we will bear away, 
Now that the moonlight waxes dim;
For the student doth his knife prepare
To hack all over this form so fair,
And sever the virgin limb from limb!

At morn the mother will come to pray
Over the grave where her child she lay, 
And freshest flowers thereon will spread; 
And 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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