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quently upon my heart, he continued —“No pulsation! and the cold, clammy feel of a corpse! Ay, ay, he's dead enough at last. The only wonder is that he should hold out so long." Oh! how I wished for a sudden resuscitation, that I might start from the bed, grapple him by the throat, and shout aloud, “ Villain ! did you not assert, over and over, that I should recover rapidly, if I would but swallow double doses of your infernal restorative ? and now you wonder that it did not kill me sooner!”
But, alas ! so far as corporeal energy was concerned, I was indeed a corpse. “I must have a peep at the will,” were the next words I heard. “Father told me its contents some time ago; nearly everything left to me; but seeing is believing: I should find it, he said, in the small drawer of the black escritoire." To this article of furniture, which stood in the adjoining parlour, he accordingly betook himself; and as the door of communication between the two rooms was left open, I was enabled to watch all his proceedings, and to overhear his comments. Having withdrawn the will from its place of deposit, he opened the shutters, seated himself by the window, and slowly perused it, ejaculating at intervals, “ All rightall right-everything mine—of course-couldn't be otherwise; an only
But what on earth could my father mean by leaving so much to Sarah ? What do women want with money? Only makes them a prey to fortune-hunters. Glad to see, though, that she is to be cut off if she marries the pauper curate. Don't want any beggars or beggars' brats in the family, always pestering you for assistance. Hallo! what's this? another paper!" So saying, he took up and opened the codicil, ran his eyes over its contents, and starting up as he finished, angrily ejaculated, “Damnation! here's a pretty go-all to be forfeited to the county hospital if ever I marry Julia Thorpe, the only girl in the whole wide world that I wish to marry; a girl, moreover, who is passionately attached to me, and who - Why, it would be a downright robbery! Never heard of anything so cruel, so atrocious, so unnatural. But I won't submit to be plundered in this way ; not such an ass. I'll have Julia, and I'll have the fortune too, as sure as my name is George; and what's more, I won't lose another moment in securing both. The governor yonder can't peach, for dead men tell no tales ; no more can a burnt codicil
, so here goes." With these words he again closed the window-shutters—locked the inner door, so as to prevent observation or interruption-committed the codicil to the parlour-fire, closely watching its combustion-and then said, in a triumphant tone, as he looked tauntingly towards the bed, “Well, old gentleman! you haven't gained much by that dodge. The estates will be mine, and Julia will be mine, and all the codicils in the world cannot keep me out of them. Fairly outwitted the governor. Ha! ha! ha!"
Indescribably hideous and revolting, not to say demoniacal, did that laugh appear, coming from a wretch who stood in the presence of his victim, and that victim a father who had never denied him a request ! His self-betrayals in the soliloquy to which I had been listening, and his nefarious destruction of the codicil, had dispelled that belief of his innocence to which I had so fondly and so pertinaciously clung; and I could no longer repel the horrible conviction that he must have well known the poisonous nature of the restorative, and that he had probably concocted it with his own parricidal hands. The successful destruction of the
codicil seemed to have elevated him into a state of almost drunken excitement, for he threw his arms wildly about, walked rapidly up and down the parlour, strode into the bed-chamber, snapped his fingers in triumph, and talked incoherently of his immediate marriage with Julia, of inviting his Newmarket friends to the wedding, of buying hounds and hunters, and of stocking his cellars with the rarest wines that money could command. In the midst of these riotous anticipations a tapping was heard at the parlour door, when the exulting expression of his features was instantly changed into a look of alarm, and his voice betrayed agitation as he demanded, “Who's there? who's there? What want?"
I could not catch the reply, but the door was unlocked and opened, and my daughter entered, inquiring why he had locked himself in ; to which he made no answer, but eagerly asked,
“When did you say Doctor Linnel was to return?”
“I thought you would be glad to know that we shall see him on Friday night or Saturday morning."
“Sarah, the funeral must take place on Friday—do you hear ?-on Friday.”
“My dear George, how can you talk so wildly! My poor father will only have been dead three days. What earthly motive can there be for hurrying the interment before the usual time?'
- What motive ? A thousand—ten thousand, and each stronger than the other. I presume you are at last satisfied that our father is dead ?”
“ Alas ! I can no longer doubt it.”
“And you will admit, I suppose. if we keep him for six moaths, he won't be more dead than he is now ?”
That is no reason for so much indecent haste, and for such a total want of all filial feeling and respect. What would the world say to your conduct ? What reason would you assign for it ?".
“ The world is very slow to censure a man who has seven or eight thousand a year ; and if my motive satisfies myself, that's quite enough. Hark
Sarah! Before I left Newmarket I received an impertinent and prying letter from Doctor Linnel, asking fifty questions about Raby's Restorative. I need not tell you what an obstinate and suspicious old fellow he is, and that he piques himself upon discovering the cause of everybody's death. It is his hobby, his monomania, under the influence of which I have not the smallest doubt that he will insist
upon the body opened. Now, you know what an insuperable objection my father had to this sort of mutilation. My own feelings are equally opposed to so barbarous and irreverent a practice ; and so, to avoid all controversy and all annoyance, I have determined that the funeral shall take place immediately."
“But you might await the Doctor's return, and refuse to indulge him in what you term his monomania.”
“That might excite ugly suspicions, and give rise to a thousand inuendos and insinuations which it is much better to avoid.”
“ It seems to me that such an unusual precipitation is still more calculated to excite unpleasant comments.”
"My dear Sarah, you know nothing about these matters. I am sole executor ; I may do as I like: I choose to have my father buried on Friday, and I have summoned the undertaker to be here this afternoon for orders; so you need not say a word more on the subject.”
CHAPTER VI. It was now clear, manifest, indisputable, that I had been intentionally poisoned by my most ungrateful and unnatural son ; and that I was to be hurried into the grave with a scandalous precipitation, lest the return of Doctor Linnel, and an examination of the body, might lead to a detection of the villany! To the lingering hope by which I had been hitherto sustained—the chance of reviving during the week that usually intervenes between death and interment :-now succeeded an utter despair, aggravated by an intense rage against the miscreant to whose machinations I had fallen a victim, and a feeling of unutterable loathing and horror at the prospect of being buried alive. This volcano of fiery passion burnt inwardly with the more terrific energy, because it was denied all outward vent, either by voice or gesture. Groans and cries, fierce invective or convulsive violence, are the outbursts which nature has provided for the manifestation and relief of mental or corporeal agony; but while my anguish was probably more acute than human being had ever previously suffered, while
life might yet be saved by the utterance of a sound or the movement of a finger, I remained dumb, helpless, and immovable- a living corpse! It might have been thought that the misery of my plight was hardly susceptible of increase, yet the necessity of listening to the heartless, the atrocious language of my son, rendered my tongue-tied impotency a thousand times more intolerable.
Alas ! I was quickly doomed to hear still more revolting, still more coldblooded orders issued by the parricide--for such might he be termed in intention, though his guilty purpose had not yet been consummated. Not very long after the retirement of my daughter from the parlour, the undertaker made his appearance, wearing his professional face of incon. solable woe, and walking as noiselessly as if he feared that his footfall might revive the deceased, and so occasion the loss of a lucrative job.
“Well, Tomkins," said the young reprobate, who had been solacing his grief with a bottle of Madeira and some sandwiches, “ you guess, I dare say, why I have sent for you."
“Yes, sir; melancholy business, sad affair ; very sorry to hear it.”
“Come, come, Mr. Tomkins ; no humbug, no flummery! What undertaker was ever sorry to hear of a death ? Nonsense! people must die—always have, and always will ; nothing new, so you needn't look so confoundedly miserable. Now to business. I should wish the old gentleman to have a handsome funeral."
“Oh, certainly, sir, certainly. A gentleman of your fine fortune would desire, of course, to have everything suitable.”
“Yes, but I am not going to leave it to you. Here are my orders, all written down. No extras
, you see; everything can soon be got ready, and so we will have the funeral on Friday.
“Dear me, did you say Friday, sir? That will be only three days after
the death ; and few people are ever buried under a week, unless there are particular reasons."
Well, but there are particular reasons. He died of an infectious disease of a very virulent and malignant kind, and so for the sake of the living we must pop him under ground as fast as possible. You can have everything ready by next Friday, I suppose ?-in fact, you must.”
“I question whether we could get the leaden coffin soldered together in such a hurry. Mr. Briggs, you see, must first come to take measure ; then,”
Why then we won't have one at all. An elm coffin will dom keep him tight enough, I dare say. Not afraid of the corpse getting out, are you?”
“Oh dear no, sir ; we screw 'em down too tight for that; only, when we bury in a vault (yours is a capital one, sir), it is customary to have lead.”
Well, well, the old gentleman will be among his own family; and though relations are so apt to quarrel when alive, I believe they are very good friends after death. You never heard of their coffins standing on end and running a-tilt at each other, did you
?" Tickled by the absurdity of this idea, he again indulged in a burst of that inane and hideous laughter by which I had previously been revolted; and having dismissed the undertaker with a renewal of his peremptory orders, he walked up and down the room, quaffing fresh glasses of Madeira, fantastically swinging his arms, and chuckling as he muttered to himself, “ Capital dodge about the malignant fever! Tomkins will spread it everywhere, and so explain the hurry. Good, good!”
CHAPTER VII. ABANDONED once more to solitude, silence, and my own miserable thoughts, I had no other occupation than to count every knell of the clock that brought me sixty minutes nearer to my living burial, a doom from which I recoiled with increasing horror as the chance of escaping it grew hourly less and less. On the following day the soul-sickening processes of preparation for the grave gave me a frightful foretaste of my impending fate. The undertaker came to measure me for my coffin, taking the dimensions of my body with as much indifference as if I had been a log of wood; and observing with a complacent smile, that he had a ready-made article at home which would exactly fit-a lucky circumstance, as he was so much pressed for time. Two of his men subsequently tumbled and turned me over without the smallest ceremony, to invest me
shroud—the court-dress in which we all present ourselves at the grand levee of the King of Terrors. Something there was at once ridiculous and repulsive in the elaborate toilette with which they decorated a ghastly corpse, shortly to become a still more ghastly skeleton; while their coarse language was not less offensive than the unfeeling familiarity with which they performed their functions. "I say, old chap,” cried one, laying his dirty hand upon my forehead, and moralising with an evident complacency upon my plight ;'" I say, old chap, all your money wasn't of no use, you see, when it comes to this here; and they do say you wasn't over-nice in scraping it together. You wern't no better
you should be, though you did carry your head so high; but there's one comfort, you'll be call'd over the coals where you're going to. If you was to give me all your estate, and all your gold in the Bank, I wouldn't change places with you. Ah, Joe, Joe!” he continued, turning to a boy by his side ; “now you see how true it is that a live dog is better than a dead lion."
“ True enough, Mr. Hodges,” was the reply; "it's all very well to be Dives, and have your swing among the bigwigs, in this here world ;
but Lazarus has the best of it, I reckon, in kingdom come.”
“ Well, Joe, and what can be fairer ? it's only turn and turn about,
Such was the tone of the discourse to which I was condemned to listen, and I need not state that it did not tend to diminish the mental distress by which I had been already overwhelmed.
Thus did I lie, as a victim dressed out for sacrifice, counting the weary hours in an unimaginable desolation and despair of spirit, until the arrival of the fatal Friday that was to consummate my horrible doom. Early on that morning my coffin was brought in and deposited by my bedside, my whole soul recoiling from it with an abhorrence only the more intense because
my loathing was unsusceptible of utterance or manifestation. Mr. Hodges, the undertaker's foreman, drew up the window-blind, exclaiming, as he returned to the bedside,
“ Well, I'm blessed if ever I see a more fresh-looking stiff-un”. (such was his brutal nickname for a corpse); “ one might almost swear that he was only asleep. To be sure, he's only three days dead, and we don't often screw 'em up so fresh. And he ain't swelled the least in the world. Some dead-uns don't care what trouble they give, and will puff themselves out in such a thoughtless way after being measured, that it's a good hour's work to ram and jam them into their wooden box. We shan't have any such bother here; the old chap, you'll find, will fit as true as a trivet. Bear a hand, and let's try.”
The coffin had been placed on tall tressels, and as I was lifted from the bed to be laid within it
, my head was elevated for a few seconds, and I caught through the window a clear view—my last view as I then believed -of the world without. Oh! how transcendently charming, how ineffably sweet, and beautiful, and glorious, did it appear! God's mild eye was radiant in the unclouded heavens; the birds were singing gaily, intoxicated with sunshine; the shifting lights and shades gave picturesque variety to hill and dale and grove, to earth and water ; all was life and motion in the fields; and in the contiguous paddock I caught a glimpse of the white cob to whom I had been indebted for so many pleasant rides
By hedge-row elms and hillocks green, and whose back I was never again to bestride! Never had the face of nature, beaming with flowery smiles, appeared so lovely; never had I clung to life with so much love and yearning as at the moment when I was about to be driven out of the world by
Murder most foul as at the best it is,
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural. After I had been deposited in my narrow receptacle, not without many