Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 8

Chapter VIII: In which are several DilemmasEdit

Levator was now near the termination of Salem Street, and the residence of Dr. G. He was passing Sheafe Street when he heard a voice which sounded familiar. He instinctively paused, thinking it might possibly be the person of whom he was in search. Looking up the street from whence the sound proceeded, he saw through the surrounding gloom the outlines of two persons, who appeared to be engaged in low and earnest conversation. Approaching as near as he dared, for fear of being seen, he put himself once more in the attitude of a listener. He could scarcely restrain an exclamation of surprise when he recognized Thick as one of the parties. He felt an irresistible desire to hear the subject of their conversation. Protected from observation by the shadow of the houses upon either side, he moved within earshot of the parties. What was his surprise to hear his own name mentioned, and his curiosity was excited still more when he learned that the other individual was a constable. “The body,” said Thick, glancing cautiously about him, “is now on M —— Street. I discovered it there to-day in the manner first related. If you go there immediately you can surprise him in his horrid work. He is at this moment inconcious of danger, making the dissection. But you must remember the conditions on which I make these statements. Do not for your life let him know that I betrayed the secret.”

“Rest assured that your name shall not be mentioned in connection with the affair,” replied the constable.

“How long since they discovered that the body was missing,” enquired the resurrection man.

“Yesterday ; some marks which the villains left about the grave excited suspicion, and upon opening it they learned that they were well founded.”

“The relations of the deceased have offered a reward for the detection of the offender, and you are entitled to one half of it for the information you have communicated. Crimes of this kind are becoming so frequent, that the law must be put in full force in order to suppress the evil.”

“You are quite right,” responded Thick, piously. “I hope justice will overtake the offenders, and deal with them as they deserve. Hanging would be too good for them. They should be burnt at the stake. ’Tis a foul business; this stealing out at midnight with spades, dark lanterns, &c., plundering innocent church-yards—digging up men, women and children without distinction of age, sex or condition, and without regards to the feelings or antipathies of the dead. I am shocked at the bare idea of it. I hope, sir, as an enforcer of order, peace, good morals, and the law, you will use your best exertions to bring the criminals to justice. I have a perfect horror of all such depredations.”

“I am glad to hear such sentiments,” replied the small branch of justice, with dignity, drawing himself up, “and I doubt not but that your wish will be speedily accomplished. No. —— M—— Street, you say is where I shall find the ruffians.”

“Yes, up three flights of stairs.”

Levator stopped to hear no more, but leaving his hiding place as expeditiously as possible, made his way back to the dissecting room.

“What is to be done,” cried Dr. Frene, after hearing what had passed between Thick and the constable.

“I hardly know, to tell you the truth,” replied the student thoughtfully, “we might resist the officer and keep him out if he should come immediately and without proper authority to search the premises.”

“That would be of no service. He would soon return with a sufficient posse to effect his object. It would be better to secrete the body so as to leave no traces of what we have been doing.”

“Right, Dr. Take the subject and follow me. I will carry these dirty instruments,” said the student, seizing hastily the light, while the Dr. took the corpse in his arms and prepared to follow, apparently as little concerned as if he were going to bed.

“This way—down these stairs—and these—along through this chamber—and so down that flight of steps which brings us to the basement story,” said Levator, hurriedly, moving along at a rapid rate.

“Not so fast, my young friend,” said the Dr., laughing. “This dead gentleman is quite heavy, and unused to such haste. Besides, it is, I assure you, very uncivil to show your guests through the house in such a cavalier sort of a way.”

The Dr.’s foot was on the second step of the last flight of stairs, when, unfortunately losing his balance, he was precipitated with a startling crash to the bottom, changing positions several times in the course of his descent with the corpse, the latter being alternately beneath and above him. But this was not the extent of the disaster.

The stair terminated near the cellar door, which Levator had just opened for the purpose of descending, when the Dr. lost his equilibrium. He heard with alarm, and yet with a strong inclination to laugh, that gentleman’s downward, rapid flight. What could he do to avoid actual contact, and the fearful concussion of the vast body falling like a comet towards, and threatening to demolish him. To retreat was to hasten the catastrophe ; consequently, his only chance was to proceed ; but alas ! for human calculations he had hardly placed his foot on the first step, when, what he feared came upon him—that is, the Dr. and the dead man—the latter seeming to take as active a part, and as lively an interest in the proceedings as the former.

The effect of this unwished for recontre must be obvious. The student was hurled by the shock from a perpendicular,—and with a very uncomfortable and unceremonious celerity, made his way into the cellar. Here, then, was a dilemma. The Dr. and the corpse lying upon very amicable terms at the foot of one flight of steps, and the student, with his instruments, in the same predicament at the bottom of the next flight which terminated in the cellar. The light was extinguished by the fall, and they were in perfect darkness. Neither of the parties escaped unhurt, except the corpse, which, upon examination, had not sustained the slightest injury. Despite the aches and bruises, they laughed heartily at their ludicrous mishap.

“Are you much hurt,” enquired the student of the Dr. in a voice hoarse with laughter, stretching his arms about in every direction for the lamp.

“Not seriously. But I am pained to say that the subject is stark dead,” groaned the Dr., with difficultly restraining his risibles sufficiently to enable him to speak, and without attempting to move.

“How did you happen to fall?”

“In the most natural manner in the world. Being incumbered with our mutual friend, and endeavoring to keep pace with you, I lost my footing.” Is there anything very remarkable in that? “Pray how did you fall,” continued the man of physic, in a significant tone.

“Because I could do nothing else. Ah ! I have found the lamp. How fortunate. I have matches in my pocket; you are both laughing, are you?”

“No ; I laugh, and the dead gentleman grins. He takes things with more composure than either of us. An impurturbable fellow this. Nothing excitable in his composition, although he did come down stairs as quick as I did; yet I must confess, in justice to him, that I did my best.”

“No doubt of it,” said Levator, laconically, rubbing alternately his knees, elbow and head.

The lamp was now relighted. With considerable ado the student mounted the stairs to see what plight the Dr. was in, as well as the subject. He found them stretched out at length, close together, apparently on the most friendly and equitable terms. No serious damage was done, and gathering himself up, the Dr. again took charge of his burden, and with some little difficulty, on account of his bruises, bore it to the cellar, followed by the student, who sagely concluded in this instance that it would be more prudent to follow than to lead.

Proceeding to one corner of the cellar Levator removed a large flat stone, which exposed to view a drain. Into this, the Dr. thrust the body. Putting the slab in its former position, they ascended again to the dissecting room, satisfied that the subject was properly secreted.

The table on which it recently lay, was instantly loaded with books, while every vestage of their recent employment was carefully obliterated. Having done this, and renewing the fire in the grate, with each a book, they seated themselves and awaited the result.

Presently the tread of several feet was heard upon the stairs, and the constable, followed by two other persons, entered the room.

The Dr. and Levator affected the greatest surprise at this intrusion.

“Gentlemen,” said the former, “to what do we owe the honor of this visit.”

“I learn,” said the constable, with a dignity becoming a judge, “that you have in your possession a dead body, which you most sacriligiously dragged from its place of sepulture. I have come,” said he, pompously, “as an enforcer, and representative of justice, to recover the dishonored remains, and arrest you. Men, seize the ruffians.”

“Listen,” said the Dr., sternly, “you are oversteping the bounds of your authority. You are taking for granted, what remains to be proved. You must find the body, and then it is theirs in whose possession you find it to show how and where they procured it.”

“I know my duty, sir,” said the magistrate in a severe and consequential tone. “You are my prisoners. Resistance will be useless. Where are the handcuffs?” he continued in a solemn manner, turning authoritatively to his companions. “Seize the sacrilegious monsters.”

The part the self-important magistrate was acting with such imperturbable gravity, was too ludicrous to be regarded with calmness, and both the Dr. and the student laughed without restraint.

This put the enforcer of the law in a towering passion. So he swore by the authority invested in him, that such temerity and insolence should not go unpunished. It was a flagrant setting at defiance of the law, whose minister he had the honor to be. Laughing in such a presence was equivalent to “contempt of court,” and should be punished the same as that grave offence. He was shocked at such an exhibition of recklessness, and want of defference. It was truly surprising as well as lamentable ; but what better could they expect from men who would go forth at the lone hour of midnight, and unearth the unoffending dead for the sake of the savage and unnatural pleasure of cutting them in pieces. Nothing ; it was of a piece with their other crimes.

When the man of justice had delivered himself—which he did at length without aid—of this powerful harangue, he drew about him all his terrors, and looked sternly, and almost annihilatingly at the two individuals “charged with high misdemeanors against the state.” But when he expected that they would have quailed beneath the severity of his eye, or fallen down before him, what was his horror to find that it only increased their merriment.

“These are hardened wretches. I perceive we shall be obliged to resort to more cogent means.”

“If you have proper authority,” said the Dr., “you can search the premises, and if you discover the object of your search, you can attend to your duty as a magistrate afterward. This is the legal mode of procedure.”

“As I said before, sir, I am well versed in what concerns my duty,” replied the magistrate, imperiously, “and I shall discharge it at all hazards. As a civil officer I call on you to submit to my authority ; if you do this, you will, I assure you, be the gainer by it.”

Approaching the Dr., and laying his hand upon his shoulder, he said, in an authoritative tone, “You are my prisoner. I arrest you in behalf of the state, as being guilty of most flagrant and unnatural crimes. Men,” he continued, beckoning his companions to approach, “I command you in the name of the State to seize and iron these miscreants.”

The good natured Doctor could bear it no longer, and seizing the self-sufficient constable by the nape of the neck with a vigor which that worthy functionary vainly attempted to resist, he pushed him along before him to the open door, then applying his foot energetically to his most assailable parts, he sent him off, not in a tangent, but in a half circle, to the bottom of the stairs. Then turning to the assistants who were looking at the operation, in silent astonishment, he said, “If you want to search the premises you are at liberty to do so.”

But they did not seem disposed to avail themselves of this privilege, but hastened to the assistance of their fallen leader, who was groaning lustily, and breathing out threatenings against the audacious wretch who had dared to do him violence.

He would “return on the morrow with sufficient force to make certain his capture, and then he should receive summary punishment for his defiance of the laws.” He would have made the attempt even then, but his attendants refused, as they did not consider themselves able to effect any thing ; and they doubted his power to proceed to such an extremity. Accordingly after a short search, they left the house, mortified and swelling with rage.

Locking the door of the dissecting room, the Doctor and Levator went to their homes.

We will now return, and follow the fortunes of Eugene. After leaving the dissecting room, as before mentioned, for more than an hour he walked the streets, reflecting on what he had just witnessed. It had touched a delicate spot in his conscience. He had seen the carcass of the betrayer of his mistress horribly disfigured by a loathsome and disgraceful disease. It naturally caused him to think of his own course of life, and what might possibly be its results if he persisted as he had begun. It was easy to foresee what they might be, and the shocking idea made him shudder. He loved Cecil ; and the fate of her seducer seemed a warning to him, and pointed significantly to what might be his own destiny.

Tired at length of wandering without any object, he turned his footsteps towards the residence of Cecil. It was near ten o’clock when he reached the house where lived his mistress. Knocking at the door he requested admission to the room. With sorrow he heard from the old woman that she was sick, and not in a condition to see him at present. Although he insisted upon it, she assured him he could not have access to her until the morrow.

With a sad and heavy heart he left the house, and sought his own home. Plunged in deep thought, it was a late hour before he was wrapt in the forgetfulness of sleep. Then he dreamed of the dissecting room, of grinning corpses, with which the idea of Cecil was strangely blended. He saw again with awful distinctness that same disease-stricken body, upon which he had so recently gazed ; and to his disordered fancy it seemed that the lifeless mouth opened, and spoke to him in a warning voice, bidding him to shun the evil which had wrought his own destruction; and then with a mournful look and tone, pointed to the form of Cecil, who formed part of the group ; while from the lidless eyes, hot scalding tears fell over the half fleshless cheeks, scorching it to blackness in their descent.

Suddenly he seemed to stand by an open grave, and the same gastly finger was directed ominously towards it, regarding him the while with a gloomy and half-reproving, half-sorrowful expression. How much did the dreamer read in that steady, solemn gaze of warning, of anguish, of self-condemnation, and unavailing repentance. But that night with its visions and dreams of terror passed, and the sun looked into his room as brightly as though his rest had been undisturbed by the phantoms that attend remorse, and hover over the pathway of sin.

It was a late hour when he finished his toilet, and a light breakfast. Being solicitous for the health of Cecil, his first care was to visit the “granite front” to see, or make such enquiries as should inform him of her condition.

On the way he did not forget to procure those little delicacies which the sick are generally allowed to eat with impunity. What was his amazement, as well as his chagrin, when he was told by the old virago with the grey hairs, that she whom he sought had gone into the country to stay until her health should be reinstated.

“Did she leave me a note?”

“No ; she left nothing.”

“Not any thing!”

“No ; she would be more likely to take something, than to do that.”

“’Tis a falsehood, woman—a vile one ; she would take nothing that was not rightfully hers,” replied Eugene, reddening with anger at the hag’s insinuation. “Did she not tell you what was her place of destination. Think a moment—don’t hurry—take time, you may have forgotten.”

“No ; I repeat what I have said; she gave me not the slightest information as to where she was going, or her intentions in regard to you, but packed up her clothes—what few she had—in the greatest hurry, apparently, and was out of the house before I was hardly aware of her intentions ; although I did ask her what I should tell you, and where you could find her. To these inquiries she only replied that it need not concern me, the hussy. There was a small sum due me on her board, as well as the rent of the room ; and she had the best in the house, as well as extra fuel.”

“Here is some money, woman. Say no more of that. Learn, if you can, where she is, and I will reward you for your trouble. Hear me ; never insinuate in my presence that Cecil is guilty of theft,” continued Eugene, sternly, “she would not purloin the slightest article, especially from such a person as yourself.”

He had turned from the door and walked several yards, when a new idea suggested itself to his mind. Suddenly returning he again confronted the hag, saying, in a deep and threatening voice, “Woman,—if one like you deserve the title of woman—if you are deceiving me you shall have cause to repent it, and curse the hour when you told me a falsehood. If she suffer wrong through your agency, beware!” He then left the house.

At this time Levator was in bed, stiff and sore from the injuries he had sustained by his fall, and scarcely able to leave it. But reflecting on the situation of Cecil, with much difficulty he arose. Taking a hasty breakfast he again went in search of Eugene. But the fates seemed resolved to thwart his designs. It was with unfeigned sorrow that he heard the student had within the hour left for a ride in the country. He was perplexed and uncertain what course to pursue. He was unable, alone, to effect the release of Cecil, provided he was in his usual health and spirits; much less in his present condition. “I will visit and advise with Dr. Frene,” he exclaimed, as he turned his steps in the direction of his residence.

While on the way he fell into a curious train of thinking, and regarded often with a saddened gaze, the ring he had taken from the white finger of the fair subject. Upon inspection he had found the letter M. engraved upon the inside. He indulged in many idle speculations as to what name the initial was intended for. How often had such thoughts rushed through his mind since that night when he first looked upon that beautiful corpse. How often had he gazed upon it in dreams, and been tempted to press his lips to the placid brow.

At times he started at what he deemed his own folly, not to say impiety, in suffering his mind to dwell with such a strange and undefinable feeling upon it. He was horrified when the idea forced itself with irresistible power upon him, that he was in love with a corpse ! !

Fain would he have smothered such thoughts at their very birth, but he lacked the ability to do so. He believed such feelings were unnatural, and at periods regarded himself as little better than a monomaniac. He felt anxious to know if the body-snatchers had discharged faithfully their part, and returned the body to the earth ; but knew not how he could obtain that knowledge. He felt certain they had not ; more especially when he reflected on the deception they had recently practised upon him.