"THE GRAVE ROBBERS"
“Can I depend on your punctuality to-night?” said Brant to his associates, while he lingered for a moment with them on the steps of the old medical college, in Mason Street, as they had finished the last exercise for the day, and seemed to be planning some adventure.
“Yes, certainly--name your hour and place,” were the replies from half-a-dozen voices. “Let us see, there are six of us,” continued the leader. “Well, see that you five approach by different streets, so as to be at the head of Craigie's Bridge at precisely six minutes before eleven o’clock this evening, neither earlier nor later. But for a word to distinguish you from stragglers that may be met.”
“Leonora,” said one, with a sly glance at the leader, as if inclined to tease him on account of his reputed partiality for a lady of that name. Brant blushed deeply, but recovering himself, replied,“Well, whoever can pronounce the name of such an angel, I shall know to be my friend; so Leonora shall be our watchword tonight.”
A startling thrill rushed through the veins of De Angeur, who had made the proposition, as it recoiled on his reflection; for he himself was the secret competitor of Brant for the good graces of Leonora Wales. To gather inspiration from such a name, for what nearly approached to deeds of blood, was indeed shocking to the last degree; but it was settled: and the jest of De Angeur had made the phantom spirit of female gentleness and love the bond of union to a lawless bandit.
These preliminaries being settled, the students were off to their various lodgings.
In the mean time we may give a few details that will throw some light on the development of this sketch.
Brant was a young man from the country, about twenty-two years of age, who had nearly completed his medical education, and was taking his last course of lectures at Boston, preparatory to a degree. He was lean and spare in his figure, and somewhat fiery and impatient in his disposition. But he had a heart for any adventure, and had been appointed leader of a club of students, whose object was to procure subjects for private dissection. During his residence in the city he made the acquaintance of several respectable families, and was regarded by his fellows as remarkably popular with the ladies, either from a certain kind of ease and gracefulness in his manners, or more probably, from the nearness of the day at which he expected to effect a settlement in life. But Brant was less interested for his own reputation in these matters, than for the interest which he might possess in the heart of the beautiful and accomplished Leonora Wales, whom he had met occasionally at the house of her uncle in the city. He had called a few times at Mr.Wales’, her uncle, as an acquaintance of the family, and once in company with De Angeur; but from diffidence or prudence, had refrained from the declaration of his passion, till the lady had returned to the residence of her father, a few miles into the country. Brant had frequently expressed to De Angeur, unaware of the feelings of the latter, his purpose, when the lecture term should close, of seeking out the retreat of so lovely a flower; and it was a trespass on the confidence of this intimacy by the latter, in suggesting the name of Leonora as the watchword on the night in question.
But, to return: the bells of the city, faithful in uttering the knells of retreating time, had beat their solemn curfew over the still busy and thoughtless throng, and another hour, and another still, was passed, and the half-hour bell sent forth its single tone, when Brant seated himself on the box of a teamster-waggon that had been hired with a pair of spirited steeds, for the adventure of the night. As he pushed forward with a deafening clatter over the pavements towards the point of rendezvous, he glanced at his watch, by the gleam of a lamp, and counted but fifteen minutes to eleven o’clock. “Is Brant to be the delinquent to-night?” he mutteringly inquired to himself. "Let us see--I have but a mile and a quarter, and nine minutes left yet.” With this thought he cracked his heavy whip, and was onward with a speed that seemed to leave behind the fear of watchmen, police, or jails. At the minute he was at the spot appointed, and the dark figures of several persons approaching, as had been directed, were recognized as his comrades, as they uttered the watchward that waked the most endeared interests and associations in his heart.
The pause was but for a moment. The team hurried over the bridge with a speed that defied the teeth of the law; and in half an hour, the six fellow-students were riding rapidly through the open country.
“What news?” said De Angeur.
“Capital,” replied Brant. “We shall have a good subject, a safe return, and cheaper than to pay fifteen dollars for a dead sailor or nigger at the hospital; besides the advantage of a little exercise in the open air. From the deaths that I have seen noticed in the late papers, we have our option to stop at West Cambridge, or to push up to Lexington, where we may get the bones of a suicide, that will be worth at least fifty dollars.”
“I move, then, that we go to Lexington,” said one of the company. “And I,” “and I,” added two or three more. Brant and De Angeur did not express an opinion; but, while shortly after discussing the distance they had come, the latter observed, that, while passing two or three days before, near the spot where they then were, he met a funeral procession, and understood, on inquiry, it was that of a young woman who died from the wounds received by the upsetting of a carriage. Just at that moment the moon arose in brilliancy, to shed its light over the landscape.
“There!” said one, “is a new-made grave,” as the risen light revealed a mound of new dug earth embowered in a clump of white oak brush-wood a few yards from the public way.
Brant reined up his horses, and suggested that it might be as well to finish the work of the night there. “No, no,”objected some of the company, “let us to Lexington, and have the fifty dollar subject.” But it was concluded that the latter enterprise could not be accomplished, so as to return before daylight. So, heading the team to the city, they gathered around the restingplace of their expected prey with spade and other implements requisite for their work. De Angeur plied the spade with all his effort for a few minutes, when its edge struck, through the light loose gravel, a resisting substance with a hollow sound, as upon the head of a coffin. When the head of the coffin was fairly exposed, to Brant, the leader, was accorded the responsibility of opening its lid, and determining the fitness of the corpse for anatomical purposes. It should be noted, that grave robbers usually provide themselves with an iron hook about three or four feet in length, which, being fastened in the jaws of the corpse, enables them to draw it from the grave through the lid of the coffin, while the latter remains undisturbed in the ground.
Brant had taken his position at the head of the grave with this hook in his hands, and, having opened the coffin, had fixed it in the jaw of the unconscious sleeper, whose face was yet hidden from view by the darkness that still rested in the excavation that had been made.
“What we do here,” said Brant, “must be done quickly,” as by the aid of another he drew up to the pale light of the moon the wasted form of a youthful female, delicately and tastefully arrayed in the habiliments of death.
“She must have been of good family,” said one, “for whose feelings we ought to have more respect.”
“A fig for your family and respect,” said Brant; but the words were scarcely uttered, when the leader fell down upon the earth as with the shock of death. One glance at the features of that wasted clay, in the broad moon, discovered to Brant the person of Leonora Wales, whose home he had conceived the purpose of seeking for a different object than what governed the present enterprise. The self-possession of the students forsook them, on witnessing the fall of Brant, and in three minutes they were hurried away on their return to Boston, without stopping to inquire his fate.
The shocking spectacle was witnessed by the citizens on the following morning, of Brant chilled in death, with the too certain evidence that he had been the violator of the grave of one whom he had purposed to make the companion of his life; for the grave robbers’ hook was still clenched in his hand, while the face of his intended victim, as the corpse had sunk partially back to its resting-place, seemed to look the judgment of heaven upon one who had made her sainted name a watchword in such a deed of darkness and horror.
Click bat to go back to the Library...
All text contents of these pages copyright © 2008 by R.J. Warren, all rights reserved.
All graphic contents of these pages copyright © 2008 by R.J. Warren, all rights reserved.