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IT was still dark, though pest seven o'clock, on the morning which succeeded the
fire, when a somewhat strange scene occurred at the house of Sir Rupert
Harborough in Tavistock Square.
The baronet, in his slippers and dressing-gown,
cautiously descended the stairs, guiding himself with his left hand placed upon
the balustrade, and conducting a young female with his right.
They maintained a profound silence, and stole down so
carefully that it was easy to perceive they were fearful of alarming the
But while he was still descending the stairs, leading
the young female, who was fully dressed, even to her bonnet and shawl, the
following thoughts passed rapidly through the mind of the baronet.
"After all, it is absurd for me to take this
trouble to get my new mistress secretly out of the house. Why should she not
walk boldly in and out, night or day, I wonder? 'Pon my honour, I have a great
mind that she should! But, no - whatever agreement exists between me and Lady
Cecilia, a certain degree of decency must be observed before the servants, and
for the sake of one's character with the neighbours. After all, prudence is
perhaps the best system."
His thoughts were at this moment interrupted by steps
upon the stairs, which evidently were not the echoes of those of himself and his
He paused and listened.
Those steps were descending with great apparent
caution, and yet a little more heavily than was quite consistent with entire
The baronet led his mistress hastily after him, crossed
the hall, and then drew her along with him into an obscure corner near the
"Silence, Caroline - silence," he whispered:
"it is most likely the housemaid."
The baronet and his mistress accordingly remained as
quiet as mice in the corner where they were concealed.
Meantime the steps gradually grew nearer and nearer;
and now and then a low and suppressed whisper on the stairs met the baronet's
A vague suspicion that some adventure, which those who
were interested in it were anxious to conduct with as much secrecy as possible,
was in progress, now entered the mind of Sir Rupert Harborough. He accordingly
became all attention.
And now the steps ceased to echo upon the stairs, but
advanced towards the front-door.
The hall was pitch-dark; but the baronet was satisfied
that two persons - a male and female - were the actors in the proceeding which
now interested him; and all doubt on this head was banished from his mind when
they halted within a few feet of the corner where he and his mistress were
Then the whispering between the two persons whose
conduct he was watching re-commenced.
"Farewell, dearest Cecilia," said the low and
subdued voice of a man.
"Farewell, beloved Fitzhardinge," answered
the other voice, with whose intonation, in spite of the whisper in which it
spoke, the baronet was full well acquainted.
Then there was the billing murmur of kisses, which
continued for some moments.
"When shall we meet again, dearest ?"
demanded Fitzhardinge, still in the same low tone.
"To-night-at the usual hour I will admit you,"
returned Lady Cecilia. "Sir Rupert goes to France to-night with his
splendid friend Chichester."
"Thank heaven for that blessing!" said the
Grenadier Guardsman. "And now, adieu, sweet Cecilia, until this evening!
But, tell me, before I depart - shalt I always find you the same warm, loving,
devoted, fond creature you now are?"
"Always-always to you," was the
Then kisses were exchanged again.
"And am I indeed the first whom you have ever
really loved? am I the only one who has ever tasted the pleasures of heaven in
your arms, save your husband ?" continued the officer, intoxicated with the
reminiscences of the night of bliss which he had enjoyed with his paramour.
"Oh! tell me so once again - only once!"
"You know that you alone could have tempted me to
weakness, Fitzhardinge," answered the fair, but guilty patrician lady:
"you alone could have induced me to forget my marriage vows!"
"Now I shall depart happy, my beloved Cecilia,"
said the officer; and again he imprinted burning kisses upon the lady's lips.
He then turned towards the front-door, and endeavoured
to remove the chain: but it had become entangled with the key in some way or
another; and he could not detach it.
"What is the matter ?" inquired Cecilia,
" This infernal chain is fast," answered the
officer; "and all I can do will not move it."
"Let me try," said the lady; but her attempt
was as vain as that of her lover.
"What is to be done?" asked Fitzhardinge.
"God knows!" returned Cecilia; "and it
is growing late! In half-an-hour it will be daylight.. Besides, the servants
will be about presently."
"The devil!" said the officer, impatiently.
"Stay," whispered Lady Cecilia: "I will
go to the kitchen and obtain a light. Do not not move from this spot: I will not
be a moment."
She then glided away; and the officer remained at his
post as motionless and as silent as a statue, for fear of alarming the inmates
of the house. His thoughts were not, however, of the most pleasureable kind; and
during the two minutes that Lady Cecilia was absent, his mind rapidly pictured
all the probable consequences of detection-exposure, ridicule, law-suit,
damages, the Queen's Bench prison, the divorce of the lady, and the necessity
under which he should labour of making her his own wife.
This gloomy perspective was suddenly enlivened by the
gleam of a candle at the further end of the ball, and which was immediately
followed by the appearance of Lady Cecilia, with a light.
Still the corner in which Sir Rupert and his paramour
were concealed was veiled in obscurity; while the the baronet obtained a full
view of the tall Guardsman, dressed in plain clothes, standing within a couple
of yards of his hiding-place, and also of Lady Cecilia, attired in a loose
dressing-gown, as she advanced rapidly towards the place where her lover awaited
But when Cecilia reached the immediate vicinity of the
front-door, the gleam of the candle fell upon [-375-] that
nook which had hitherto remained buried in obscurity.
A scream escaped the lady's lips, and the candle fell
from her hands.
Fortunately it was not extinguished : Sir Rupert rushed
forward and caught it up in time to preserve the light.
Then, at a single glance, those four persons became
aware of each other's position.
A loud laugh escaped the lips of the baronet.
"Sir," said the officer, advancing towards
him, "for all our sakes avoid exposure: but if you require any satisfaction
at my hand, you know who I am and where I reside."
"Satisfaction!" exclaimed Lady Cecilia,
ironically; for she had recovered her presence of mind the moment she had
perceived the equivocal position in which her husband himself was placed in
respect to the female who stood quivering and quaking behind him: "what
satisfaction can Sir Rupert Harborough require, when he admits such a creature
as that into his house ?"
And she pointed with a disdain and a disgust, by no means
affected, towards her husbands paramour.
"Creature indeed!" cried the young woman, now
irritated and excited in her turn : "I think I am as honest as you, my
lady, at all events."
"Wretch!" murmured Cecilia between her teeth, as if
the sight of the creature filled her with abhorrence and loathing.
Ah! haughty lady! thou could thyself sin through lust:
but thou couldst not brook the sight of one who sinned for bread!
The young woman, over-awed by the air of insuperable
disgust which marked the proud patrician at that moment, recoiled from her
presence, and burst into tears.
"Come, enough of this folly," said Sir
Rupert, impatiently: "we shall have the servants here in a moment. Perhaps
you and this gentleman," he continued, "will step into that room for a
moment, while I open the door for my little companion here."
Lady Cecilia tossed her head disdainfully, darted a
look of sovereign contempt upon the abashed Caroline, and beckoned Captain
Fitzhardinge to follow her into the adjacent parlour.
Sir Rupert retained the light. He opened the door, the
chain of which had only become entangled round the key, and dismissed his
paramour, who was delighted to escape from that house where the terrible looks
of the lady had so disconcerted her.
The baronet then repaired to the parlour, and, having
locked the door to prevent the intrusion of the servants, threw himself upon the
"Well, on my honour!" he exclaimed,
bursting into a loud fit of laughter, "this is one of the most pleasant
adventures that ever I heard or read of - 'pon my honour!"
"Have you requested me to wait here in order to
contribute to your hilarity, sir?" demanded Captain Fitzhardinge,
"My dear fellow," returned the baronet,
"let us laugh in concert! Oh! I can assure you that you need fear no
law-suits nor pistols from me!"
"Fear, sir!" ejaculated the Guardsman:
"I do not understand the word."
"Well - expect, then, if that will suit you
better, my dear captain," continued Sir Rupert Harborough. "You see
that my wife and myself act as we please, independently of each other."
"Sir Rupert!" exclaimed Cecilia, who was by
no means anxious that her lover should be made acquainted with the terms of the
agreement into which she and her husband had entered a short time previously,
and the nature of which the reader will remember.
"My dear Cecilia," observed the baronet,
"is it not much better that your friend should be made acquainted
with the grounds on which you have admitted him as your sworn knight and only
"Cease this bantering. sir," cried Captain
Fitzhardinge "Have I not already said that I am willing to give you any
satisfaction which you may require ?"
"And must I again tell you, my dear fellow,"
returned the baronet, with an affectation of familiarity, which only made his
words the more bitter, -" must I again tell you that I have no
satisfaction - that I have none to ask, and you none to give? But I cannot allow
you to consider me a grovelling coward :- I must explain to you the
grounds on which my forbearance is based."
"Proceed, sir," said Captain Fitzbardinge,
"You will then allow me to retire to my own room ?"
exclaimed Lady Cecilia, rising from the chair in which she had thrown herself.
"No, my dear," said the baronet, gently
forcing her back into her seat: "you must remain to corroborate the truth
of what I am about to state to this gentleman."
Lady Cecilia resumed the chair from which she had
risen, and made no reply.
"In one word, Captain Fitzhardinge,"
continued if the baronet, "there is a mutual understanding between my wife
and myself, that we shall follow our own inclinations, whims, and caprices,
without reference to the ties which bind us, or the vows which we pledged at
church some years ago. All this may seem very strange: it is nevertheless true.
Therefore, I have no more right to quarrel with Lady Cecilia on your account,
than she has to abuse me on account of that young person whom you saw in the
house just now. Now, then, my dear captain," continued the baronet, his
tone again becoming bitterly ironical, "you may at your ease congratulate
yourself upon being the only person that Lady Cecilia has ever loved, and the
only one on whom she has ever bestowed her favours with the exception of her
"Then I am to understand, sir," said the
officer, perfectly astounded at the turn which the affair had taken, "that
you do not consider yourself offended or aggrieved by the - the "
"Not a whit!" ejaculated the baronet. "On
the contrary - I have no doubt we shall be excellent friends in future."
The captain bowed, and rose to depart.
unlocked and opened the door for him, and then ushered him, with affected
politeness, out of the house.
When he returned to the parlour, he found Lady Cecilia
red with indignation.
"What means this scene, Sir Rupert," she said,
"after our mutual compact ?"
"My dear," answered tine baronet, calmly,
"you treated my little friend in a most unpleasant manner, and I thought
myself justified in retaliating to a certain extent. Besides, I was
compelled to give an explanation to a man who would have otherwise looked upon
me as a coward for failing to demand satisfaction of him."
"But did you not consider that you have rendered
me contemptible in his eyes?" demanded Lady Cecilia, burning with spite.
"Never fear, said the baronet., "Confiding
in your sweet assurances that be alone has ever possessed your love, and that
he alone, save your husband, has ever been blessed with the proofs of that
affection, he will return ere long to your arms. Besides, am I not going to
France to-night with my
splendid friend, Chichester ?"
"This is cruel, Sir Rupert. If an accident made
you acquainted with the conversation which passed between us "
"An accident, indeed !" interrupted Sir
Rupert Harborough, laughing affectedly. " 'Pon my honour, the entire
adventure is one of the drollest that ever occurred! But let us say no more
upon the subject! Adhere to the compact on your side, and do not insult my friends
"But a prostitute in my house!" ejaculated Lady
Cecilia, still loathing the idea.
"And my wife's paramour in my house!" cried Sir
"Oh, there is something refined in an amour with
one's equal," said Lady Cecilia; but a wretch of that description "
"Enough of this I cried the baronet. "The servants
are already about: let us each retire to our, own rooms."
this suggestion was immediately adopted.
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