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[-128-]    

CHAPTER XLV.

THE FRUITLESS SEARCH.

WHEN Richard Markham was precipitated into the hole beneath the stairs, by the perfidy of the Mummy, he fell with his head against a stone, and became insensible.
    He lay in this manner for upwards of half an hour, when a current of air which blew steadily upon his face, revived him; and he awoke to all the horrors of his situation.
    He had seen and passed through enough that night to unhinge the strongest mind. The secrets of the accursed den to a subterranean dungeon of which he now lay,- the atrocious mysteries revealed by the conversation of the body-snatchers ere they set out on their expedition to Shoreditch Church, - the cold corpse of some unfortunate being most inhumanly murdered, and all the paraphernalia of a hideous death, in the front-room of that outpost of hell,  - haunted his imagination, and worked him up to a pitch of excitement bordering upon frenzy.
    He felt that if he did not escape from that hole, he should dash his head against the wall, or go raving mad.
    He clenched his flats and struck them against his forehead in an access of despair.
    And then he endeavoured to reason with himself, and to look the perils that beset him, in the face.
    But he could not remain cool - he could not control his agonising emotions.
    "O God!" he exclaimed aloud; "what have I done to be thus afflicted? What sin have I committed to be thus tortured? Have I not served thee in word and deed to the best of my ability? Do I not worship - venerate - adore thee? O God! why wilt thou that I should die thus early - and die, too, so cruel a death? Is there not room on earth enough for a worm like me? Have I not been sufficiently tried, O my God? and in the hour of my deepest, bitterest anguish, did I ever deny thee? Did I repine against thy supreme will when false men encompassed me to destroy me in the opinion of the world? Hear me, O God - hear me and let me not die this time ;- let me not perish, O Lord, thus miserably!"
    Such was the fervent, heart-felt prayer which Markham breathed to heaven in the agony and despair of his soul.
    He extended his arms, with his hands clasped together, in the ardour of his appeal; and they encountered an opening in the wall.
    A ray of hope penetrated to his heart; and which upon further search, he discovered an aperture sufficiently wide for him to creep through, he exclaimed. "O Lord! I thank thee, thou hast heard my prayer! Pardon - oh! pardon my repinings ; -  forgive me that I dared to question thy sovereign will!"
    At all risks he determined to pass through the opening - lead whithersoever it might; for he knew that he could scarcely be worse off; and he felt a secret influence which prompted him thus to act, and for which he could not wholly account.
    He crept through the hole in the partition-wall, and found himself upon a soft damp ground.
    Every thing was veiled in the blackest obscurity. 
    He groped about with his hands, and stepped cautiously forward, pausing at every pace.
    Presently his foot encountered what appeared to ha a step to his infinite joy he ascertained, in another moment, that he was at the bottom of a flight of stone stairs.
    He ascended them, and came to a door, which yielded to his touch. He proceeded slowly and cautiously along a passage, groping his way with his hands; and, in a few moments he reached another door, which opened with a latch.
    He was now in the open street! 
    Carefully closing the door behind him, he hurried away from that accursed vicinity as if he were pursued by blood-hounds.
    He ran - he ran, reckless of the deep pools of stagnant water, careless of the heaps of thick mud through which he passed, - indifferent to the bruises which he sustained against the angles of houses, the corners of streets, and the stone-steps of doors,- unmindful of the dangers which he dared in threading thus wildly those rugged and uneven thoroughfares amidst the dense obscurity which covered the earth.
    He ran - he ran, a delirium of joy thrilling in his brain, and thanksgiving in his soul; for now that he had escaped from the peril which so lately beset him, it appeared to his imagination a thousand times more frightful than when it actually impended over him. Oh! he was happy - happy - thrice happy, in the enjoyment of liberty, and the security of life once more ;- and he began to look upon the scenes of that eventful night as an accumulation of horrors which could have possibility only in a dream!
    He ran - he ran, amidst those filthy lanes and foul streets, where a nauseating atmosphere prevailed ;- but had he been threading a labyrinth of rose-trees, amongst the most delicious perfumes, he could not have experienced a more burning - ardent - furious joy! Yes - his delight was madness, frenzy! On, on - splashed with mud - flounderiug through black puddles - knee-deep in mire, - on, on he went - reckless which direction he pursued, so long as the rapidity of his pace removed him afar from the accursed house that had nearly become his tomb!
    For an hour did he thus pursue his way.
    At length he stopped through sheer exhaustion, and seated himself upon the steps of a door over which a lamp was flickering.
    He collected his scattered ideas as well as he could, and began to wonder whither his wild and reckless course had led him: but no conjecture on his part furnished him with any clue to solve the mystery of his present whereabouts, he knew that he must be [-129-] 

somewhere in the eastern district of the metropolis; but in what precise spot it was impossible for him to tell.
    While he was thus lost in vain endeavour to unravel the tangled topographical skein which; perplexed his imagination, he heard footsteps advancing along the street.
    By the light of the lamp he soon distinguished a policeman, walking with slow and measured steps along his beat.
    "Will you have the kindness to tell me where I am?" said Richard, accosting the officer: "I have lost my way. What neighbourhood is this?"
    "Ratcliff Highway, answered the policeman: "in the middle of Wapping, you know."
    "In the midst of Wapping!" ejaculated Markham, in a tone of surprise and vexation.
    And, truly enough, there he was in the centre of that immense assemblage of dangerous streets, cutthroat lanes, and filthy alleys, which swarm with crimps ever ready to entrap the reckless and generous-hearted sailor; publicans who farm the unloading of the colliers, and compel those whom they employ to take out half their wages in vile adulterated beer; and poor half-starved coal-movers whose existence alternates between crushing toil and killing intoxication. It was in this neighbourhood that Richard Markham now was!
    Heaven alone can tell what tortuous path and circuitous routes he had been pursuing during the hour of his precipitate flight; but his feet must have passed over many miles of ground from the instant that he emerged from the murderers' den until he sank exhausted on the steps of a house in Ratcliff Highway.
    He was wet and covered with mud, and very cold. But he suddenly remembered that there was a duty which he owed to society - an imperative duty which be dared not neglect. He was impressed with the idea that Providence had that night favoured his escape from the jaws of death, in order that he might become the means of rooting up a den of horrors.
    There was not a moment to be lost: the three miscreants, unconscious of peril, had repaired to Shoreditch Church to exercise the least terrible portion of their avocations in that sacred edifice: - it might yet be time to secure them there. The policeman was still standing near him.
    "Which is the way to the station-house?" suddenly exclaimed Markham. "I have matters of [-130-] the deepest importance to communicate to the police,- I can place them upon the scent of three miscreants - three demons in human form —"
    "And how came you to know about them?" asked the officer.
    "Oh! it is too long to tell you now - we shall only be wasting time; and the villains may escape," cried Richard, in a tone of excitement and with a wildness of  manner which induced the officer to fancy that his brain was turned.
    "Well, come along with me," said the policeman; "and you can tell all you know to the Superintendent."
    Markham signified his readiness to accompany the officer; and they proceeded to the station-house in the neighbourhood.
    There Richard was introduced to the Superintendent.
    "I have this night," said the young man, "escaped from the most fearful perils. I was proceeding along a dark, narrow, and dirty street somewhere in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch Church, when I was knocked down, and carried into a house where murder - yes, murder," added Markham, in a tone of fearful excitement, " seems to be committed wholesale. At this moment there is a corpse - the corpse of some unfortunate man who has been assassinated n a moat inhuman manner - lying stretched out in that house! I could tell you how the miscreants who frequent that den dispose of their victims,  -how they pounce upon those who pass their door, and drag them into that human slaughter-house, - and how they make away with them ;- I could tell  you horrors which would make your hair stand on end ;- but we should lose time; for you may yet capture the three wretches whose crimes have been his night so providentially revealed to me!"
    "And where can we capture these men?" inquired the Superintendent, surveying Markham from head to foot in a strange manner.
    "They are at this moment at Shoreditch Church," returned the young man; "they are engaged in exhuming a corpse for a surgeon whom they were to meet at half-past one at the back of the burial ground."
    "And it is now three o'clock," said the Superintendent. " I dare say they have got over their business by this time. You had much better sit down here by the fire and rest yourself; and when it is daylight some one shall see you home to your friends."
    "Sit here tranquilly, when justice claims its due!" ejaculated Markham; "impossible! If you will not second my endeavours to expose a most appalling system of wholesale murder —"
    " My dear sir," interrupted the Superintendent, "do compose yourself, and get such horrid thoughts out of your head. Come - be reasonable. This is London, you know - and it is impossible that the things you have described could be committed in so populous a city."
    "I tell you that every word I have uttered is the strict truth," cried Markham emphatically.
    "And how came you to escape from such a place?" demanded the Superintendent.
    "The villain who attacked me thought me dead - he fancied that I was killed by the blow; but it had only stunned me for a few moments —"
    "Just now there were three murderers," whispered one policeman to another: "now there is only one. He is as mad as a March-hare."
    "Then I was decoyed into a deep pit," continued Markham; "and I escaped through an aperture opening into another pit, with stone steps to it, in the next house."
    The two policemen turned round to conceal their inclination to laugh; and the Superintendent could scarcely maintain a serious countenance.
    "And now will you come with me to Shoreditch Church, and capture the villains?" cried Markham.
    "We had better wait till morning. Pray sit down and compose yourself. You are wet and covered with mud - you have evidently been walking a great distance."
    "Oh! now I understand the cause of your hesitation," ejaculated Markham: "you do not believe me - you fancy that I am labouring under a delusion. I conjure you not to suffer justice to be defeated by that idea! The tale is strange; and I myself, had it been communicated to me as it now is to you, should look upon it as improbable. No doubt, too, my appearance is strange; and my manner may be excited, and my tone wild ;- but, I swear to you by the great God who hears us, that I am sane - in the possession of my reason,- although, heaven knows I have this night passed through enough to unhinge the strongest intellects!"
    "Can you lead us to the house where you allege that these enormities are committed?" demanded the Superintendent, moved by the solemnity and rationality with which Markham had uttered this last appeal to him.
    "No, I cannot," was the reply: " I had lost my way amongst those streets with which I was totally unacquainted: the night was dark  -dark as it is now ;- and therefore I could not guide you to that den of such black atrocities. But, I repeat the murderers left that house a little after one to commit a deed of sacrilege in Shoreditch Church. You say that it is now three: perhaps their resurrection-labours are not terminated yet; and you might then capture them in the midst of then unholy pursuits."
    "And if we do not find that Shoreditch Church. has been broken open ?" said the Superintendent, "you will admit —"
    "Admit that I am mad - that I have deceived you - that I deserve to be consigned to a lunatic asylum," exclaimed Markham, in a tone which inspired the Superintendent with confidence.
    That officer accordingly gave instructions to four constables to accompany Markham to Shoreditch Church.
    The little party proceeded thither with all possible expedition; but the clock struck four just as they reached the point of destination.
    They hastily scaled the railings around the burial-ground, and proceeded to the very door from which the body-snatchers had emerged as hour previously.
    One of the policemen tried the door; and it immediately yielded to his touch. At the same moment his foot struck against something upon the top step. He picked it up :- it was a padlock with the semicircular bolt sawed through.
    The policemen and Markham entered the church and the former commenced a strict search by means of their bull's-eye lanterns.
    "There's no doubt that the gentleman was right and all he said was true," observed one of the officers; " but the birds have flown - that's clear."
    "Well - they must have done their work pretty cleverly if they haven't left a trace," said another.
    "I have heard it stated," remarked Richard "that resurrection-men are so expert at their calling, that they can defy the most acute eye to discover the spot upon such they have been operating."
    [-131-] "Well, if  we don't find out which vault they have opened, it's no matter. We have seen enough to convince us that you were right, sir, in all you told us."
    "And as the body-snatchers are not here," added another police-officer, "we had better get back as quick as we can and report the church's having been broke open to our Superintendent."
    "And I will return with you," said Markham; "for when it is light I may perhaps be enabled to conduct you to within a short distance of the street - even if not into the very street itself - where the den is situated which those monsters frequent or inhabit."
    The officers and Richard accordingly returned to the station-house whence they came; and as soon as the Superintendent heard that the church had really been broken open, he apologised to Markham for his former incredulity.
    " You will, however, admit, sir," said this functionary, "that your narrative was calculated to excite strange suspicions relative to the condition of the intellects of the person who told it.
    " I presume you fancied that I had escaped from a madhouse?" observed Markham.
    "To tell you the truth, I did," answered the Superintendent: "you were in such a dreadful condition! And that reminds me that you are all wet and covered with mud: please to step into my private room, and you will find every thing necessary to make you clean and comfortable."

* * * * *

    Day dawned shortly after seven; and at that time might be seen Richard Markham, accompanied by an officer in plain clothes, and followed by others at a distance, threading the streets and alleys in the neighbourhood of the Bird-cage Walk.
    The sun rose upon that labyrinth of close, narrow, sad wretched thoroughfares, and irradiated those sinks of misery and crime as well as the regal palace and the lordly mansion at the opposite end of London.
    But the search after the house in which Markham had witnessed such horrors and endured such intense mental agony on the preceding night, was as vain and fruitless as if its existence were but a dream.
    There was not a street which Markham could remember having passed through; there was not a house to which even his suspicions attached.
    And yet, may be, he and his official companions proceeded up the very street, and went by the door of the very house, which they sought.
    After a useless search throughout that neighourhood for nearly four hours, Markham declared that he was completely at fault.
    The police accordingly abandoned any further proceedings on that occasion. It was however agreed between them and Markham that the strictest secresy should be preserved relative to the entire business, In order that the measures to he subsequently adopted with a view to discover the den of the murderers, might not be defeated by the tattle of busy tongues.

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