Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 5
Chapter V: Death
At the time of the guilty amours of Eugene and Cecil, and one door from the apartment they occupied, a young female was dying. Sin had done its worst, and the eye of a connoisseur could not tell, or even guess what she had been, from beholding what she was. The room was wretched beyond description, and in it there was not an article of comfort, not even a chair.
The couch on which she lay, was too dirty and coarse to support the feeble limbs of a dying woman. The tattered covering was too scant to subserve its purpose—warmth and decency—while the straw beneath had probably been used for many months. An expression of hopelessness and dread unutterable was pictured on her ghastly face. The skin seemed to be drawn downward from the eye toward the chin, giving the face a horribly lengthened appearance.—About the external canthus of the eye was the only exception to this, and here it was corrugated in a frightful manner, showing a course of dissipation and vice. One of her emaciated hands with its bony fingers was clenched in her hair, while the other was moving painfully about the throat, which was discolored and swollen. Her teeth were black and offensive, and her mouth, partly open, disclosed foul ulcers within. That disease which so frequently marks the female of such a life, was ending her days. Her voice was gone, and when she attempted to speak the sounds died away to inaudible and hollow murmurs in the throat. She would perhaps have prayed, but those lips, polluted and weak as they were, could not articulate the words of prayer, had they dared to; it was a stranger to them. Lovers and friends had left her, and there she was alone, with her sins and her God. With a mine of gold she could not purchase an hour of that time of which she had squandered years. A daguerreotype of those years was now before her, pictured with startling accuracy, the contemplation of which filled her with the keenest remorse. She would not have looked upon it, but could not turn away. Gathering the strength a few moments of life had left, and that which the terrors of death imposed, she threw herself from the bed and stared with fearful wildness about the room. “I must not die now,” she gasped, clenching her trembling hands in a frantic manner—“I cannot,—I will not.” The last words were uttered with a painful effort,—the hands fell—the eyes became fixed—horror sat upon the face—and falling forward heavily to the floor, she was “that lifeless thing the living fear”—a corpse.
A short time elapsed; the door of that room opened, and an old woman entered, whom we shall recognise as her whom we have before seen in company with the body snatchers. She had lost none of her former ugliness and seemed to regard without emotion the body of the girl. “Dead at last,” she muttered, “dead at last—well she has been no profit to me this month past—better dead than alive. I dare say her body will bring more now than before. Doctors would scarcely have her though, if they knew how she died.” She then lifted the corpse in her arms, and after passing several doors, and through a dark passage, found herself in the apartment to which we have before alluded, and opening the large chest, threw in the body of the prostitute.
A few hours after this proceeding the body snatchers returned bearing the body they had just raised at C—— and of which we have already given the details. This was the body Cecil saw and recognized as that of her seducer.
Great was the vexation of the Resurrection Men when they saw the condition of the corpse, and marked the ravages of that revolting and disgusting disease upon its frightful features. As hardened as they were in their trade they were shocked at the spectacle before them.
“To-night’s work is thrown away,” said Thick, moodily.
“No physician would touch this,” responded his comrade, “not one, and of course we shall be paid as many are,—have our labor for our pains.”
“What shall we do with the carcass of this virtuous young fellow who lived like a man and died like a Christian, hoping for a resurrection.”
“He was evidently a hopeful youth,” replied Gaunt with a shrug, and a peculiar twinkle of the mouth, “respected by his friends: who erected as a grateful tribute to his memory, and his many virtues, those costly stones! what a wonderful age we live in! We can throw this carrion into the stream. That would be the easiest method of disposing of it I can think of.”
“So it would; but hark! a new idea has this moment occurred to me. The subject we sold to Levator was to be carried to him tomorrow night, you recollect. What I propose is this,—that we palm off this one upon him instead of the other, as we can readily find a sale for a recent subject like that. What say you old fellow?”
“That is a very luminous idea, and nobody else in the world would have thought of it. Let us act upon it.”
The next night the body last raised was carried to Levator, who paid them the stipulated sum without examining the subject, and therefore without any suspicion of the trick that had been played upon him.
The ensuing evening found Dr. Frene and his student at the dissecting room, ready to proceed with the dissection of the new ‘subject.’ Towards Levator their manner was changed, and they seemed to treat him with more respect than on a former occasion, and were very careful not to allude to the fair “subject,” of a few evenings before, which his scruples had prevented them from mutilating. Levator also observed the same silence in relation to the affair. He had procured another body, and they doubtless felt that they were about to be indemnified for the loss they had then sustained, at least this was the reason formed by Levator for their silence. — Every thing was prepared as before, the wax to inject the vessels—the instruments, etc. etc. Arranging the lamps so as to throw the light full upon the body, Dr. Frene took up his scalpel to commence. He drew the white cloth from the corpse, and then with an expression of horror and disgust receded from the table. What a spectacle met their gaze—a horribly diseased body far advanced in decomposition—a noseless and almost fleshless face—naked cheek bones—grinning and half lipless teeth,—but we go no farther, we will draw a curtain over the dreadful picture, and not shock the reader by the disgusting details, for not all the pens in the world could convey an adequate idea of the unsightliness of that libertine’s corpse.
The excitement of Eugene was the most observable, for in that body he also recognized all that remained of the seducer of the girl then his mistress. With a groan he rushed from the room leaving his companions astonished at his sudden disappearance. The sight inspired him with terror and remorse.
Levator looked first at the body, then at the Doctor, who seemed to be waiting for an explanation for what he saw. — There was a silence, and the Doctor looked again at the student, and that glance said explain as plainly as it could. The explanation was soon given.
“A mean trick they have played you Levator.”
“Aye, they have indeed. But what can be the reason of Eugene’s sudden exit, and his frustrated manner?”
“I am as much in the dark as yourself on that point,” replied the doctor. “Perhaps he was so shocked at the sight of the corpse that he found it impossible to stay.”
“Very likely you are right.—You will oblige me by staying here while I seek out the “Kennel” of the body snatchers to learn the meaning of this.”
“Dare you visit them at this time of night, alone and unarmed? Is it not dangerous to put yourself into the power of those cut-throat-looking villains?”
“Do I dare! Did you ever know me to shrink from any thing I undertook to accomplish?”
“Pardon, Levator, I know you are not a coward. You mistake my meaning. I fear you may be incurring too much risk by visiting those feeders upon the dead at this hour.”
“Be assured I hazard little by the visit—besides I will carry these —” he continued taking a brace of pistols from a drawer, “which will most effectually frighten them should I require their aid.”
Saying this and leaving the doctor with the ‘subject,’ he sought the street in the direction of the body snatchers.—Without difficulty he found his way to the place, for he had recently been there several times on business which the reader may readily comprehend. He tapped gently at the door as he was in the habit of doing, but received no answer, nor heard any movement within. Again and again he knocked with the same unsatisfactory results. Putting his shoulder to the dilapidated door, and exerting considerable force against it, it yielded a little to the pressure. He perceived all was silent within as before. Again he applied his body to the door and pushed with all his strength ; it opened sufficiently to admit his body.
The room was totally dark, and appeared without an occupant save himself. He groped his way cautiously about the apartment, thinking that those he was in search of might possibly be sleeping in some part of it, but his search was fruitless. He discovered nothing but the blocks of wood which were used for chairs, and an old bench. Taking some matches from his pocket he succeeded in striking a light. The place appeared the same in all respects as when he had last visited it, and it only required the presence of the body snatchers to render it completely so. He now moved towards the door which communicated with the “dead-room,” as it was termed by the resurrectionists. Observing all possible caution he lifted the latch and entered. The air was thick and close, and a nauseating effluvium saluted his nostrils, and he almost involuntarily drew back to get his breath. Looking carefully about to see that no one was present, he advanced to the extreme end of the apartment. The chest was before him which was used for the temporary reception of the dead, until they were otherwise disposed of. The nerves of Levator were strong and steady, and he was accustomed to sights of terror, but we should not be a faithful biographer if we did not say that he could not, as bold and well disciplined as was his mind, repress a shudder as he stood there alone beside the chest, the contents of which he was not at a loss to suppose. He carried his hand to the lid with the intention of opening it, but to his disappointment it was locked. “I will not be thus baffled” he said internally, at the same time observing a large bowie knife upon the floor, the blade of which was broken off at about half its length. Thrusting this between the cover and the lock, with some little exertion he forced it open. The stench that met him when he lifted the lid was insupportable, but mastering his repugnance he held up the light and gazed into the chest.
A nauseating sight was that before him. Two human bodies in an entire state of nudity, and which had the appearance of having been long dead.—One was the body of a stout man in a tolerable state of preservation, the other was a female, fearfully emaciated, in an advanced state of putrefaction, bearing marks upon her lips and mouth which were open, indicating the disease of which she died. She had evidently died more recently than the former, but the peculiar virulence of the disease had hastened the progress of decomposition. Levator scanned her features closely, but they seemed scarcely human, so thin were they, and such an expression of dread was depicted upon them. At length he recognized the face, and recollected having seen her several times on ‘the pave’ and once in a state of intoxication he had saved her from abuse, and seen her safely lodged in the hands of the watch, where no doubt a night’s sound sleep in the lock-up carried off her debauch. Sickened at the contemplation of death in its worst and most revolting phases, he closed the box and continued his scrutiny in other parts of the room.
Carrying the smokey lamp close to the walls, he searched for another passage from the apartment but without success. No door save the one by which he entered could be found, yet the idea was firmly fixed on his mind, that there was some secret passage which communicated with other parts of the house, and which he doubted not could he once penetrate would reveal many dark secrets.—He felt an assurance within that there were deeds of mystery and crime committed in the old dwelling in which he found himself, and of which all but the actors themselves were ignorant. These convictions had occurred to him before, but never had they fastened themselves so deeply upon him as now. Again he made the circumference of the room, inspecting every crevice, and fissure in the wall more closely than before.