Marietta, or the Two Students/Chapter 7
Chapter VII: An Appeal to Arms
Without much difficulty, Levator found his way back to the “dead-room.” He had scarcely entered and closed the sliding panel, when he heard voices in the passage he had just left. The persons were coming directly towards him, as he judged by the distinctness with which he heard the sounds. His first care was to extinguish the light. To escape by the way he had entered was impossible, as there were two doors to open, one of which was fastened. He retreated to the remotest corner of the room, and coiled himself in as small a space as possible at the end of the box or chest before mentioned. In that situation he considered discovery almost certain ; but there was no other alternative, and he resolved to await the issue with as much unconcern as possible, though he did regard it as an unpleasant thing to be caught in the character of an eves-dropper, even where he was, and among such beings as he should have to deal with.
But little time was given him to reflect on the dilemma in which his curiosity had placed him. The panel was thrown open, and Thick and the woman whom he had so nearly encountered, entered. The former made his appearance first, followed by the latter, who carried a small taper. Here a circumstance, fortunate for the student, occurred. The dress of the virago caught, while thrusting her body through the passage ; and in her efforts to disengage it, she dropped the light which was instantly extinguished by the fall. It was immediately recovered by Thick, who attempted to re-light it ; but the oil was spilled, and the wick gone, consequently he failed to do so.
“Follow me to the other room, and I will find my lamp,” said Thick.
Groping his way into the other apartment, he commenced searching for the lamp, which much to his annoyance he was unable to find.
“Well, no matter, we can do without it. Sit down and tell me the result of your last interview,” said the body-snatcher, dragging a block to his friend for that purpose.
“She still refuses to receive any visits, does she?”
“That she does in good earnest. She said moreover, that you were a savage, a monster, or even worse.”
“Why did you not frighten her into obedience,” cried Thick, angrily.
“Frighten her, I could not. I made the attempt. It only increased her obstinacy.”
“Curse her obstinacy. I can find a way to subdue her.”
“Nothing but violence can make her submit—the hussy.”
“She shall, whether she will or not, I swear it!”
“She by some means has come in possession of our secret, and she threatens to disclose, if we urge her submission to your wishes. What do you think of that?”
“D——n her! how did she learn?” cried Thick, losing all patience. “How unfortunate, the vixen will expose us if an opportunity offers.”
“An opportunity must not offer,” repeated the woman in a serious tone. “Do you understand?”
“Ha! yes ; you are right. She must be secured.”
“It is a very easy matter to do that. We have her completely in our power, and she has no friends in the city. None except the young man, Eugene.”
“Yes, ’tis Eugene alone, that I shall fear. He loves her, and would raise all h—ll to find her, especially if he had the least suspicion that all was not as it should be.”
“We must deceive him.”
“He will visit her to-morrow night, and she will tell him what has passed. Perhaps she has already told him of our doings.”
“What then do you propose,” said the body-snatcher, “to do with her?”
“Tell him she is sick, and don’t wish to see him.”
“Well, say on. What then?”
“We will compel her to write a letter to Eugene, stating that she has gone into the country for her health.”
“Good, very good,” replied Thick, “but do you think we can do this?”
“We can try the experiment, at least.”
“If it should fail—what then?”
“Then it will,” responded the virago, laying great stress on the last word.
“Yes, but what will be the result?”
“That we shall be detected, arrested, go to prison, &c.”
“The devil we shall—you take it very coolly. You may go to prison if you wish, I shall not. We must try some other plan if that fails. I think that would be better than going into the service of the State. However, I believe your scheme is a good one, and we will try it.”
“I have some business to attend to now, and we will talk over the affair further to-morrow.”
Saying this, the worthy couple went away as they came, leaving Levator alone, and thankful for the accident that prevented his detection, as well as for what he had heard.
Darting from his hiding-place with as much speed as the darkness of the room would allow, he made his way to the street. There he waited until he was certain of the return of Thick, then knocked loudly upon the door he had just closed after him. He then pushed it open, and entering, stood in the presence of the body-snatcher, who looked somewhat disconcerted.
“Ah! is it you, Dr. Glad to see you,” said the resurrection man, resolving to put as good a face upon the matter as possible. “A pleasant evening. Be seated.”
“I have come to see you in relation to that ‘subject.’ There appears to be some mistake about the matter.”
“Mistake—eh—indeed,” replied the body-snatcher, stammering. “I think there could be no mistake.”
“I agree with you perfectly in that respect,” replied Levator. “It was evidently not a mistake, but a scheme deliberately formed.”
“What do you mean, Sir?” cried Thick, affecting the greatest astonishment. “Do you mean to say—”
“Hear me,” said Levator, sternly, resolved to cut short the interview. “You have played a trick upon me ; it will be of no avail to deny it—you have brought me a rotten carcass, instead of that for which I bargained. Now what I wish, rascal, is this, for you to take it away, and bring the other to my office without delay.”
“I can’t understand you—really.”
“This evasion which you attempt, is not of the slightest weight. Get the body, and come with me,” continued the student, firmly.
“We carried you the body as we agreed. What more do you wish?” replied Thick, moodily.
“It is a falsehood—as great a one as you ever coined. Get the body, and come with me, or I will expose your trade.”
“I carried it to your room,” continued the villain stoutly. “That fulfilled my part of the contract.”
“The body for which I paid you is in this house.”
“I protest that it is not.”
“You utter a lie,” retorted Levator, fearlessly. “I tell you it is not three yards from where we stand.”
“You give me the lie—be careful, young man, I am not to be frightened by a boy. The body is not in this house, and I have not the slightest knowledge of where it is.”
“Come with me, and I will prove you a liar,” continued the student, advancing towards the door.
“You cannot enter this room,” said Thick, placing himself directly in the door.
“I must.” (In a determined voice.)
“I can and will—stand aside.”
“Young man, be warned, keep away. It will not be safe for you to come nearer.” And he lifted his clenched hand in a menacing manner over Levator.
The former recoiled a step, and suddenly taking a pistol from his pocket cocked and presented it to the breast of the body-snatcher. With the other hand he deliberately drew his watch from his vest, and then in a calm, stern voice said,
“I give you just one minute to take your unsightly body from that door ; if at the expiration of that time, you have not done so, I swear by him who sees us, that I will shoot you.”
Had his dead father risen up before him in “propria persona,” the amazement of the resurrection man could not have been greater. To see that pale, thoughtful student at once transformed into a hero—almost a desperado—standing before him, with unflinching front, compressed lip, and flashing eye, holding an implement of death to his breast, was what he was not prepared for.
“Half a minute has elapsed, you have only half a minute more to live, if you stand where you are. Do you remember any of the prayers your mother taught you? It would be well for you to repeat them, if you do.”
The cheek of the ruffian turned pale, and with a half uttered curse he left the passage, and retreated to the “dead-room,” whither he was followed by the student, who proceeded directly to the chest, and opening it, pointed to the “subject,” for which he had paid the body-snatchers.
“Have I not fulfilled my promise? Have I not proved you a liar?”
“Well, suppose you have,” growled Thick. “What then?”
“I will tell you. You must take this body and carry it to my office.”
“Must, did you say?” said the body-snatcher, contemptuously.
“That is the word. You heard me aright. You must carry it.”
“I will not.”
“Look at me, Thick, and see if I appear in earnest ; then hear what I have to say. There are now two dead bodies in that box. If in the course of five minutes you do not do what I have bid you, there shall be three there ; and the third shall be yours.”
Saying this, he again looked at his repeater, “It now wants five minutes of nine.”
The body-snatcher regarded for a short time the face of the student with the greatest interest ; then moodily taking the sack, which hung against the wall, proceeded in a sullen manner to put in the body. Having done this, he signified that he was ready, and followed by the student, left the house. They took their way to the dissecting room in silence, avoiding as much as possible those in the street. The walk was soon accomplished, and the exchange effected to the gratification of Levator, and the great relief of Dr. Frene, whose patience was completely exhausted by the long absence of the former. Darting a furious look at Levator, the body-snatcher lifted the corpse of the young female upon his shoulder, and left the dissecting room.
The former then gave the Dr. the particulars of his evening’s adventure, not forgetting Cecil, and the critical situation in which she was placed. The Dr. was much surprised at these revelations ; and admired the courage which the student displayed in his effecting an exchange of subjects.
He was of the opinion that Eugene should be immediately informed of what he had heard, that he might take such measures as he thought proper for the liberation of his mistress. Accordingly Levator again leaving the Dr. to await his return, started in pursuit of his friend Eugene. He proceeded at once to his residence ; but on enquiring, to his regret, found he was not at home.
The student was now at a loss to determine what he should do ; but at last the idea occurred to him that he might be at Dr. G.’s, a particular friend of his, where he spent many of his evenings, who lived at the North End, on —— street, not far from Commercial street. It is now near the hour of ten, and the streets were almost deserted. A clerk, or a laborer could be seen occasionally on his way from business to his home. No females were seen unattended, save “nymphs of the pave.” The latter needed no protectors, as they trusted in their own prowess, in all cases of emergency ; and doubtless they did not overrate their powers. Several of these “ladies” passed and repassed him, each vieing with the others in their efforts to attract his attention ; but finding their arts in vain, they started—unquestionably—in pursuit of more impressible subjects.
“Ah ! he is insensible,” said a frail one, with a contemptuous curl of the lip, “quite stupid—let us leave him.”
“He cannot, and what is worse, and still more likely, he does not wish to understand us.”
“See,” she continued, eagerly pointing her finger toward the object specified, “See, that tall, lean clerk yonder, who looks as though he was never made to bend his body from a right angle with the pavement, and is so daintily twirling his ivory-headed cane in his gloved fingers, I consider him as already caught.”
“Indeed,” replied another fair, and no less innocent one, “do you know him?”
“Know him ! What a question. Do I know my alphabet? Do I know you? Do I know the seventh commandment?”
“Why, I have seen that clerk there, at almost every assignation house in the city. He is the most combustible piece of counter furniture—and by furniture I mean clerks—in all Clerkdom.”
“The merest smile ever formed upon a pair of pretty lips, will make him throw down his pen, and transform him at once into a fashionable gallant. His vanity is nauseating, and equalled only by his want of sense. Do you observe how erect is his head? ’Tis the lightest and most unsubstantial part of him, and you see,” she continued, “it is fast seeking a medium of its own density, or rather rarity. ’Tis a perfect vacuum; it is almost a miracle why it has not collapsed by the pressure of air on the outside. Invert him, and the next instant he will fly back to his present position, without effort. But I lose time ; let me make the attack at once, and carry him by storm. Now see how quickly I will capture him.”
Saying this in an under tone to her companion, she darted off in pursuit of the tall clerk, while the student, with some considerable curiosity, watched her movements. She was soon at his elbow, and touching him lightly with the tip of her finger, giving him one of her most effective smiles, wished him a good evening.
The effect was electrical. He made a full stop—actually carried his hand to his hat and attempted to bow, which brought the trunk in an angle of forty-five degrees with the inferior extremities. It was altogether farcical. He smiled, too, in the French style—he would not smile in English—that tall clerk—and then assuming the air, gentlemanly offered, his arm to the shrewd enamorata.
But she was not satisfied with this, she wished her companion to know for a certainty that she had triumphed, and accordingly signified her desire to go in an opposite direction, which he instantly consenting to, she returned leading, or being led by his clerkship.
Giving a sly wink at them as she passed, they were soon lost in the winding of the street ; the former, probably, forgetting that there was such things as ink and paper, or a master or a counter. Charming abstraction from the cares of life !