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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
"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,
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
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
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
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
his brain was turned.
"Well, come along with me," said the policeman;
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
"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,
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
"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
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
"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
They hastily scaled the railings around the burial-ground,
and proceeded to the very door from which the body-snatchers had emerged as hour
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
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
" 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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