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[-19-]

CHAPTER VIII.

THE CONVERSATION

 THE parlour which that lovely and mysterious creature - who now seemed a youth of about twenty - entered upon the ground floor, was furnished with taste and elegance. Everything was light, airy, and graceful. The windows were crowded with flowers that imparted a delicious perfume to the atmosphere, mud afforded a picture upon which the eye rested with pleasure.
    A recess was fitted up with book-shelves, which were supplied with the productions of the best poets and novelists of England and France.
    Around the walls were suspended several paintings - chiefly consisting of sporting subjects. Over the mantel, however, were two miniatures, executed in water-colours in the first style of the art, and representing the one a lovely youth of sixteen, the other a beautiful girl of twenty.
    And never was resemblance more striking. The same soft and intelligent hazel eyes - the same light hair, luxuriant, silky, and shining - the same straight nose - the same vermilion lips, and well-turned chin. At a glance it was easy to perceive that they were brother and sister; and as the countenance of the former was remarkably feminine and delicate, the likeness between them was the more striking.
    Beneath the miniature of the brother, in small gilt letters upon the enamelled frame, was the word WALTER;  under the portrait of the sister was the name of ELIZA.
    Attired as she now was, the mysterious being whom we have introduced to our readers, perfectly resembled the portrait of Walter: attired as she ought to have been, consistently with her sex, she would have been the living original of the portrait of Eliza.
    Upon a sofa in the parlour, some of the leading features of which we have just described, a man, dressed with great neatness, but no ostentatious display, was lounging.
    He was in reality not more than three or four and thirty years of age; although a seriousness of countenance - either admirably studied, or else  occasioned by habits of business and mental combination - made him appear ten years older. He was handsome, well-formed, and excessively courteous and fascinating in his manners: but, when he was alone, or not engaged in conversation, he seemed plunged in deep thought, as it his brain were working upon numerous plans and schemes of mighty and vital import.
    The moment the heroine of the boudoir entered the parlour, Mr. Stephens - for he was the individual whom we have just described - rose and accosted her in a manner expressive of kindness, respect, and patronage. 
    "My dear Walter," he exclaimed, "it is really an age since I have seen you. Six weeks have elapsed, and I have not been near you. But you received my letter, stating that I was  compelled to proceed to Paris upon most particular business?"
    "Yes, my dear sir," answered the lady, - or in order that some name may in future characterise her, we will call her Walter, or Mr. Walter Sydney, for that was indeed the appellation by which she was known,- "yes, my dear sir, 1 received your letter, and the handsome presents and remittances accompanying it. For each and all I return you my sincere thanks: but really, with regard to money, you are far too lavish towards me. Remember that I scarcely have any opportunity of being extravagant," added Walter, with a smile: "for I scarcely ever stir abroad, save to take my daily rides; and you know that I never receive company, that my acquaintances are limited, so limited —"
    "I know, my dear Walter, that you follow my advice as closely as can be expected." said Mr [-20-] Stephens. "Three short months more and my object will be achieved. We shall then be both of us above the reach of Fortune's caprices and vicissitudes. Oh! how glorious - how grand will be this achievement! how well worth all the sacrifices that I have required you to make."
    "Ah! my dear sir," observed Walter, somewhat reproachfully, "you must remember that you are now talking enigmas to me; that I am at present only a blind instrument in your hands - a mere machine - an automaton —"
    "Do not press me upon this head, Walter," interrupted Mr. Stephens, hastily. " You must not as yet be led to comprehend the magnitude of my views: you must have patience. Surely I have given you ample proofs of my good feeling and my honourable views towards yourself. Only conceive what would be your present position without me; not a relation, not a friend in the wide world to aid or protect you! I do not say this to vaunt my own conduct: I am merely advancing arguments to prove how confident I am in the success of my plans, and how sincere I am in my friendship towards you. For, remember, Walter - I always forget your sex: I only look upon you as a mere boy - a nephew, or a son, whom I love. Such is my feeling: I am more than a friend; for, I repeat, I feel a paternal attachment towards you !"
    "And I entertain feelings of deep - yes, of the deepest gratitude towards you," said Walter. "But the motive of my constant intercession to be admitted more into your confidence, is to be convinced - by my own knowledge - that my present conduct tends to facilitate no dishonest, no dangerous views. Oh! you will pardon me when I say this; for there are times when I am a prey to the most horrible alarms - when fears of an indescribable nature haunt me for hours together - and when 1 seem to be walking blindfold upon the brink of an abyss !"
    "Walter, I am surprised that you should thus give way to suspicions most injurious to my honour," said Mr. Stephens, whose countenance remained perfectly collected and unchanged; "for the hundredth time do I assure you that you have nothing to fear."
    "Then wherefore this disguise? why this constant cheat relative to my sex? why this permanent deception ?" demanded Walter, in an impassioned tone.
    "Cannot the most rigorous honesty be connected with the most profound prudence - the most delicate caution ?" said Mr. Stephens, adopting an attitude and manner of persuasion. "Do not judge of motives by their mere superficial aspect: strange devices - but not the less honourable for being singular - are frequently required in the world to defeat designs of infamy and baseness."
    "Pardon my scepticism," said Walter, apparently convinced by this reasoning ; " I was wrong, very wrong to suspect you. I will not again urge my anxiety to penetrate your secrets. I feel persuaded that you conceal the means by which our mutual prosperity is to be effected, simply for my good."
    "Now you speak rationally, my dear, my faithful and confiding Walter," exclaimed Mr. Stephens. "It was just in this vein that I was anxious to find you; for I have an important communication to make this morning."
    "Speak: I am ready to follow your instructions or advice."
    "I must inform you. Walter, that in order effectually to work out my plans - in order that there should not exist the slightest chance of failure - a third person is required. It will be necessary that he should be conversant with our secret: he must know all; and, of course, he must be taken care of hereafter. To be brief, I have already fallen in with the very individual who will suit me; and I have acquainted him with the entire matter. You will not object to receive him occasionally as a guest ?"
    "My dear sir, how can I object? Is not this your house? and am not I in your hands? You now that you can command me in all respects."
    "I thought that you would meet my views with this readiness and good will," said Mr. Stephens. "To tell you the real truth, then - I have taken the liberty of inviting him to dine with us here this day."
    "To-day"
    "Yes. Are you annoyed?"
    "Oh! not at all: only, the preparations —"
    "Do not alarm yourself. While you were occupied with your toilet, I gave the necessary instructions to the cook. The old woman is almost blind and deaf, still she knows full well how to serve up a tempting repast; and as I am believed by your three servants to be your guardian, my interference in this respect will not have appeared strange.
    "How could they think otherwise ?" ejaculated Walter. "Did not you provide those dependants who surround me? Do they not look upon you as their master as well as myself? Are they not aware that the villa is your own property? And have they not been led to believe - with the exception of Louisa, who alone of the three knows the secret - that the state of my health compelled you to place me here for the benefit of a purer air than that which your residence in the city affords?"
    "Well, since my arrangements meet with your satisfaction," said Mr. Stephens, smiling, "I am satisfied. But I should tell you that I invited my friend hither not only to dine, but also to pass the day, that we might have an opportunity of conversing together at our leisure. Indeed," added Mr. Stephens, looking at his watch, "I expect him here every moment."
    Scarcely were the words uttered when a loud knock at the front door echoed through the house.
    In a few minutes Louisa appeared, and introduced "Mr. Montague."

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