Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 4

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Chapter IV: Something Unexpected[edit]

It was nine o’clock when the Body Snatchers left the dissecting room of Levator, with the “fair subject” placed carefully under the direction of the latter, in the sack provided for the purpose. For a while they moved cautiously along with their burden in silence, threading their way through the most unfrequented alleys.

“This grows heavier,” said Thick, pausing to rest. “I believe people are heaviest when dead.”

“Of course they are,” replied his companion patronizingly. “I knew it long ago.”

“Perhaps a little practical knowledge would make you more sensible of the fact. So let me lift this upon your shoulder.”

“I have no doubts at all upon the subject, Mr. Thick. I am satisfied of the truth of what you offer without any experiments,” cried Gaunt, deprecatingly, edging himself away from his friend.

“But you must carry it, or I shall leave it in the street,” insisted Thick, who was well aware that it was beyond the strength of Gaunt to bear it; but still he wished for a little sport at his expense. “There, be careful that you do not let it fall,” he continued, placing it safely on the shoulder of his skeleton comrade. “Keep cool—steady—stand a little more erect—if you please—so—exert yourself—ah ! you are doing finely.”

By an effort into which he threw all the strength yet remaining in his shriveled frame, he managed to support the body, and totter—it could not be called walking—a few paces, to the great amusement of his friend, who followed closely upon his footsteps, instructing and commending, as the nature of the case would allow. At length completely exhausted, he was about to fall to the pavement, when Thick humanely resumed his burden.

“I had rather carry two living bodies than one dead one,” gasped Gaunt, when he had sufficiently recovered himself to speak.

“Would you not want your pay for it, providing you had to carry one every night,” said Thick triumphantly, supposing that he had now cornered his fault-finding friend, as he considered him. But he was very much mistaken. There was no such thing as getting the advantage of him in point of argument.

“If I were strong and able bodied as you, Thick, I should prefer carrying the bodies to doing anything else,” was the reply of the not at all disconcerted Gaunt.

“The devil you would,” retorted his companion, chafed at his coolness, and the method by which he freed himself from what he had believed a dilemma.

Here they stepped into an alley to let a cab pass, sat down the sack, and a long silence ensued, which was broken at length by Thick.

“I think it will be taking much unnecessary trouble to re-bury this body, merely to humor the whim of this sickly looking student.”

“I have thought so from the beginning, Thick.”

“Besides,” returned the other, “we might very well dispose of it to much better advantage.”

“Easily—nothing simpler. We can tell him that all has been done as he wished.”

“A very profitable subject this—sold for a round sum once—paid for taking it again—and now we have the same chance of repeating the operation.”

“Capital.”

Having discussed this important point to their satisfaction, they again proceeded towards their residence.

How seldom do we do what we purpose to, and how often is the execution of that which we, in the first instance, consider as already done, thwarted. It was so in this case, for the “Body Snatchers” had proceeded but a short distance, when two men came suddenly and unceremoniously upon them. The stouter of the two seized Thick by the throat, while the other took possession of the sack containing the subject. The former then loosing his grasp, suffered him to escape and follow the flight of his companion, already considerably in advance.

If the tall “resurrectionist” was good for nothing else, he was certainly remarkable for speed, which he was not slow in proving.

Spiritual beings are said to have the speed of thought in their motions, and he was as near the condition of one as he well could be ; therefore the swiftness of his flight may be in some degree accounted for.

Thus far we have written the transactions of a night. We will now pass over the period of a day to the succeeding night. The hour of nine found Dr. Frene in his office on —— street, with Eugene. The shutters were carefully closed and fastened, as was also the door, and the curtains closely drawn. A table was near the centre of the room, on which was something covered with a white cloth. The Dr. and the student divested themselves of the coats they usually wore, and donned frocks prepared for the purpose ; then several cases of surgical and dissecting instruments were taken from their respective places, and laid upon the table. A small pot of red wax was boiling on the coals in the grate. Strong waxed threads were near the instruments to serve as ligatures.

“Shall you inject by the Aorta or the Femoral artery, Dr.,” said Eugene, taking a scalpel.

“By the Femoral artery, I think the wax can be thrown with better effect, especially into the minute vessels.”

“Hold your scalpel in this way, Eugene, and make a clear, bold stroke, and be careful not to make the incision too large.”

“It is impossible, Dr. to make a clean cut with this. However, it is but a moment’s work to bring it to an edge.” Saying this, the student commenced the task of sharpening his instrument, which he bid fair to finish shortly, for he did it with the skill of a master.

“Don’t you think, Dr., that I made quite a handsome amputation the other night?”

“You amputated it evidently, but such a stump as you made.”

“Ah ! that stump, I shall never hear the last of it—but confess that I did the business expeditiously, and very well for a tyro.”

“Yes, Eugene, but if you had been operating on the living subject, you would have found it more difficult. And then such unheard-of strokes, and such mangling—why—I should seriously have thought that that limb was bitten off by a shark, had I not known to the contrary,—no offence, Eugene,—but really, I cannot help laughing. However, I dare say you did as well as I when no more practised.”

“Better, no doubt,” replied Eugene testily, and no more was said of the unfortunate stump.

The doctor then took the large pipe, prepared on purpose for the business, and was about to fill it with the colored wax which he was to throw into the vessels of the subject, when a new idea seemed to strike him.

“Eugene, I think we had better make a few experiments on this subject with the Galvanic battery.”

“Excellent, Dr., let us proceed at once,” cried Eugene, delighted at the idea of witnessing the wonderful power of electricity upon the dead body.

The battery was produced and properly charged, the white cloth drawn from that which lay upon the table. Amazement—it was the same body that had been carried from the dissecting room of Levator the preceeding night ; and there it was—that corpse—in all its unearthly beauty about to be offered for the advancement of science.

“Did you ever look on anything so calmly beautiful, Eugene, so serenely expressive of peace?”

“Never?” replied the student in a low, subdued voice ; for the sight of that corpse had softened his heart.

“I cannot blame Levator much for what we termed his squeamishness.”

“You are not about to form the same resolution, are you, Eugene?”

“Not I. I am not so easily turned from my purpose.”

“Make a very small incision, Eugene, just back of the ear, near the occipital foramen. Now place the conductor in the orifice, and I will throw in a current of the Galvanic fluid.”

A spark of the mysterious agent coursed along the wire, but produced no other effect than a slight shuddering motion of the trunk and limbs, and a nervous twitching of the eye-lids.

The machine was charged still higher and applied as before, but with more frightful effect. The eye-lids were thrown open, and the sightless balls rolled over in the sockets, and were fixed in a glassy stare upon the operators, while a frightful grimace disfigured the mouth, and a prolonged, terrible tremor convulsed the whole frame. So powerful was the effect, that even the operators were appalled, but quickly collecting themselves, they resolved on making another experiment. Charging the machine as high as possible, they again applied it. This time, the body was agitated more fearfully than before—quivered an instant, then raised itself partly in a sitting posture, fell back, and a deep painful groan issued from its white lips, while the hand, which but a moment before lay so listless by the side, seized with a convulsive gripe the arm of Eugene, who, horrified beyond measure, shook it from him, and recoiled to the farther part of the room.

The Doctor was nearer losing his presence of mind than ever before ; but he was used to scenes of horror, and comprehending the nature of the case, proceeded with considerable calmness to do what was proper,—opened a vein—poured the most powerful medicines into her mouth—held volatile salts to her nostrils, and soon had the inexpressible pleasure of seeing that fair girl restored to life, and wrested from the very embraces of death.

* * * * *

The day previous to the commencement of our narrative, a young girl on a visit to her uncle, who lived in C——, died suddenly, and was buried before her parents had heard the terrible news, they being at the time absent from home, which was but a short ride from Boston.

* * * * *

We now return to the body snatchers. After being so unceremoniously robbed of their burden, disappointed and frightened they made the best of their way to their lodging, muttering curses upon those who had stepped between them and their hopes of further gain. They had already realized a large profit from the body, and were confident of further emolument from the same source. But they were men of business, and resolved to mend the matter as quickly as possible, which could be done by procuring another subject in the usual manner. Thick recollected that there was a funeral that day at C——, and proposed to Gaunt that they should proceed forthwith to the cemetery and raise the body, provided it should be an adult ; and to fire the flagging zeal of that worthy, he stipulated to ask no extra payment for his labor, which he was obliged to perform on account of the incapacity of the former. To this, Gaunt readily assented, although he allowed he was somewhat fatigued, and a little, a very little frustrated by their recent rencontre. It was now ten o’clock, and the night was favorable to their design, very dark and black clouds obscured most effectually the faint light of the stars, and that which the last quarter of the moon might otherwise have thrown upon the earth. Providing themselves with the necessary implements—a spade, a small iron bar, a sack, dark lantern, &c., they stepped into the small boat which was fastened to the wharf, and silently commenced their passage across the Mystic, Thick plying the oars most vigorously, and Gaunt guiding the course of the tiny vessel.

In three quarters of an hour, they found themselves on the opposite side, and drawing the boat to the bank in such a manner as to conceal it from view, and taking the tools with which they were to operate, they took their way by the most untraveled streets, to the church-yard, which was a short distance from the more thickly settled part of the village.

It was necessary to observe much caution in their movements, and considerable time elapsed before they reached the cemetery. The spot of earth that had been so recently opened to receive the remains of a human being, was easily found, and by its length they knew it to be an adult. Fortunately for them, the grave was not yet turfed over, and it would require less skill to obliterate all traces of their work. Two costly marble slabs, setting forth by an inscription the virtues of the departed, were planted one at either end of the mound. Upon the head-stone was chiseled by an accomplished hand the following: “Sacred to the memory of ——, son of the late ——, aged 28. He lived like a man and died like a Christian, in the hope of a joyful resurrection.” And then followed a lofty strain of panegyrie which we will not repeat.

“He hoped for a resurrection,” said Thick, after perusing attentively the inscription, “and a resurrection he shall have right speedily, or there are no such things as doctors.” He then commenced unearthing the body with a skill which denoted a practised arm,—beginning at the head-stone, and opening about one third of the length of the grave ; his comrade watching like a blood-hound at a short distance, to give the alarm in case of intrusion or discovery.

In less than an hour the operator had reached the coffin, and by means of the bar had broken the lid, dragged out the corpse by the small opening he had thus made, thrust it into the sack, and filled the grave, being careful that it preserved as much as possible its original appearance ; then placing the sack upon his shoulder, they left the cemetery as stealthily as they had entered.