Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 3
Chapter III: Cecil
So saying, she embraced him, and for joy
Tenderly wept ; much won, that he his love,
Had so ennobled, as of choice to incur
Leaving the dissecting room, we return directly to the gray “granite block” we have so recently left. Entering at the second door, the interior view is much the same as that of the neighboring tenements, with the exception that it is better furnished, and has more habitable apartments. Several wretched beds are seen in different parts of the house which are not the most cleanly or healthy in their appearance. One must be very tired and sleepy to rest upon such couches ; and let us go farther and say that no one ever did, or ever will rest upon such as those.
No ! no ! there is not the shadow of rest there.
There may be intervals of rest in the wild delirium of fever, upon the rack,—on the scaffold, in the death struggle, but there, never. Sin holds her court there, and this is the house of the wanton.
In an apartment cleaner, and more tastefully arranged than any of the others, is a young female, turning impatiently the leaves of a book. Her features are very pretty, her form unexceptionable, and her dress much too good to be in keeping with every thing, or any thing about her.
She is sitting, or more properly reclining, with all the abandon imaginable upon the side of her bed. She has evidently on this occasion taken unusual pains to make her toilet. Her hair is a glossy brown, and curled with the greatest care, and as it floats about her neck, certainly makes her attractive, not to say beautiful, which perhaps would be a more appropriate term.
Look at her, with her witching little mouth, ruby lips, dimpled cheeks, and dark languishing eye, is she not dangerous to the virtue of a young man !
See how coquettishly she raises her hand, throws back her hair, and looks at a small mirror that is suspended upon the wall opposite. She is pleased with her appearance, and yet, not altogether satisfied, for she seems to think her dress too high at the bosom, and takes out a pin, which exposes that part of her person more fully to view ; and she is conscious—apparently—that the operation has added to her charms. She is expecting a visitor, and shows her anxiety and impatience by starting at every foot-fall she hears upon the pavement. Now she lays aside the book, with which she has been trying to beguile the time, and arising from her recumbent position, walks several times across her not capacious room, then resumes it and becomes thoughtful. “A strange life is this,”—she said with much sadness in her manner,—“its moments of pleasure sink into mere insignificance when contrasted with its bitterness. The same voice that tells me I am beautiful, will also remind me of my fall—the same lips that caress will also insult. How soon is the charm that brings a lover dispelled—the moment succeeding, possession sees his exaggerated adulation converted into disgust—his flattery into reproach. Then perchance he will say, that a favor that is purchased with money is worthless, and a wanton’s love is an article of merchandise, and exists but in name. I feel that there is too much truth in the cruel remark, but why should they who partake of my guilt, taunt me with lewdness, are they not equally reprehensible? The other sex are willing to share the guilty pleasures held out to them by the abandoned of mine, but are very careful that we bear the infamy.” Then the fair soliloquizer gave every indication of being excessively provoked that such a state of things—so very much opposed to her idea of justice—should exist.
But she was a woman, and must therefore submit with as much grace as she might. She is now silent, and apparently is trying to reconcile herself to the “forms of society” so palpably at variance with her feelings.
Here she breaks it with—“Why don’t he come?” (petulantly) Nine was the hour, and now it is past ten.
What can keep him away? Oh! These men how fickle they are. Probably he has gone to see some one else—handsome and young no doubt.
Oh ! if I had her here wouldn’t I tear her eyes out? Wouldn’t I throw nitric acid in her ugly face ? False Eugene, how could you deceive me thus ? how I hate you, yes I do hate you, I know I do.
Wonder how old she is?—for there is not the least doubt but there is somebody he loves better—cruel Eugene, how could you do so mean a thing. I suppose she is handsome, (looking in the glass,) and I shall like her the less for that.
During this outbreak of passion and jealousy, the door had softly opened, and a young man, whom the reader will recognize as the student of Dr. Frene, entered unobserved, and hears that interesting part which relates to himself, and now before she has the least warning of his proximity, she finds herself in the arms of a young man, and almost stifled with kisses; she struggles—though but faintly—to free herself.
“What young lady is it, Cecil, to whom you have taken such a marked antipathy ? “ he cries with a laugh, looking into her flushed face.
“You must answer that question, yourself, sir, for I am sure you can do so better than I,” replied Cecil with considerable asperity. “Been playing the truant, have you ? ”
“Don’t be angry, Cecil, I was detained on urgent business.”
“Very, I expect,” retorted the vexed little lady, mockingly.
“I assure you I was.”
“How can I doubt it.” (Ironically.)
“What on earth could keep me from you, Cecil, but business of importance.”
“Very true what could ? ” was the somewhat softened, but still petulant rejoinder.
But why should we particularize, this quarrel ended as usual in such cases, with a kiss, and they were soon the very best of friends, apparently.
“Did you know that I do not like to live here,” said Cecil, after a pause.
“I have thought you would fancy a better place, and resolved sometime since to procure one more suited to your taste.”
“Do, Eugene, for this is a fearful place. Everything is so mysterious, and we have such strange neighbors. I tremble at the approach of that horrible old woman. Eugene, they have such rude visitors here, that one is not free from insult and even violence. In the next room there are voices and noises of all descriptions, to be heard at any hour of night, and what is more singular they keep perfectly quiet during the day. Sometimes I hear a heavy body fall to the floor, and often the sound of violent disputes and altercations, though I seldom distinguish the words. At others, a strange sickening effluvia finds its way through these dilapidated and crumbling walls, and almost nauseates me. At one time I contrived to look through this crevice, and saw a horrible looking old man, with a white cloth in his hand, and—ugh—I shudder when I think of it—which resembled a corpse-dress. A frightful looking man was that, Eugene,—with such a thin, ghastly face, and so frightfully wrinkled. What do you suppose they do in that room ? ” continued Cecil in an inquiring tone and with a thoughtful air.
“I cannot enlighten you on that point,” replied the student coloring, and with an involuntary shudder. “I would if I could, but what means have I of knowing.” “What agitates you ? I would like to learn the doings on the other side of that wall though. I suspect there might be some startling developments made,” continued Cecil musingly, and without any pauses between her broken sentences. “I have suspected that this vile old woman here, who boards me, has some communication with our mysterious neighbors.”
“I hope not, Cecil,” (quickly and with energy.) “I hope your suspicions are groundless.”
“May they prove so, Eugene, but I have a certain presentiment that they will not, I am afraid to stay here,” (with great seriousness). Do not reproach me with weakness, but I feel that I am in danger. I dream continually of that old man, and the virago—and see blood upon her hand, within which glitters a sharp blade dyed with the same fluid ; and then, covered with perspiration and trembling in every limb, I awake and wish you were here. Oh ! Eugene, (weeping) you know not what I suffer in your absence—which seems so long, very long—both from my own outraged conscience, and those curious, indescribable forbodings.
“Calm your fears, my love, for I trust they are wholly idle, so far as harm to you is concerned. ’Tis but natural that you should be low spirited at intervals—all are.”
Then he drew her to his bosom—that fond but erring girl—and with his warm passionate caresses, stilled for the present, the terrors that fed upon her heart.
Poor blighted heart of hers, it could still love, and thrilled to the touch of her lover, but it was not a calm, smoothly flowing love.
“Her love was passion’s essence – as a tree
On fire by lightning.”
and now she lavished it all upon Eugene.
No one legally authorized had united them, and yet she was his ; but hark, how feeble was the tenure of that heart which she held.
Since her seducer had forsaken and left her to the horrors of prostitution, she had clung to Eugene. She was his mistress.
Thoughtless young man ! you should have won her from evil and back to virtue, instead of plunging her deeper in the vortex of sin.
You should—Eugene—you should have reproved her kindly as an erring sister.
But you did not, and that moment—crisis we might say—has passed forever.
You were wrong there, Eugene, and the time will come, when that reflection will be a source of unending regret. It will avail but little then, for mayhap the form of that young girl who loves you, will be cold, very cold, and far beyond the reach of sympathy. Think of that, and when you leave the embraces of Cecil to seek retirement of home and the society of sisters, remember that she has neither one or the other.
If these suggestions will make your slumbers sweeter or deeper, you are welcome to them.
’Twas past midnight when he left Cecil and sought his own residence. The occurrences of the day and evening passed in review before him, and some of them were not pleasing ; the reasons for which the reader will see more plainly anon. Cecil lay upon her couch so recently vacated by her lover, and thought bitterly of the three relative conditions of life—the past, the present, and the future. The first contrasted strangely with the second, and the second was made still more wretched by the prospective misery of the third, which in her mind was more portentous of evil.
A short time had elapsed after the departure of Eugene, when those sounds which created alarm on former occasions were again renewed. She listened to the cautious moving of heavy feet, and the low voices of persons who evidently wished not to be heard.
The same odor came to her nostrils, which almost nauseated her previously. Arising partially in bed, she placed her eye to a small fissure in the wall, and saw the same person whom she had seen once before, with another and not much better looking individual. They were now tearing the shroud from a dead body. A faintness crept over the poor girl when she made this fearful discovery, and she could scarcely refrain from shrieking with terror, but with a strong effort she checked the impulse, and kept her eyes fastened upon what was passing before her. Trembling, she marked the indifference with which they handled the corpse, and that coarseness and brutal want of feeling which characterized every movement.
“Had they committed murder ?—What was their object?—What would they do with that body?” were questions which naturally suggested themselves to Cecil. But she was not long in doubt—the truth flashed in upon her, and the object of this proceeding was but too evident. She was witnessing unobserved, the midnight doings of the “Body Snatchers.”
They had rifled the grave of its dead, and were now putting the finishing touch to their work. It was ready for the dissector’s knife. The agitation of Cecil seemed to increase instead of subsiding, and she felt—why she could not tell—a strange trembling curiosity to see the face of that corpse. With a rough motion, Gaunt tore the napkin from the head, it rolls heavily to one side, and towards Cecil, but—oh God ! what a face ! did human being ever present such a one before ? Never ! Where should be the nose, was seen only a blackened cavity—the cheek had sloughed off during life, and presented only a spongy and half decayed bone—around the eyes which were imperfectly closed, was a dark putrid line, while the throat was swollen, and what remained of the teeth of the lower jaw, were exposed to view, by the absence of the nether lip, which had perished as other portions of the face—yet reader, in that horrid visage she recognized her seducer.